“As the number of available inks grows, profiling requires more and more patches to print, so spectrophotometers’ speed and accuracy are very important, but profile builders and RIPs have to continuously evolve to facilitate profiling and their application in a more and more global and flexible workflow context,” says Arnaud Fabre, color project manager at Caldera.
Passler concurs: “Mainly two spectrophotometers have been a breakthrough. The Barbieri Spectro LFP is made for large-format, flatbed, and industrial printing. It is the only one worldwide that is able to measure automatically transparent (and reflective) media. It is specially designed to measure every kind of media, also very tricky and difficult ones such as textile, glass, backlit film, banner, cardboard, ceramic tiles, and so on.
“The Barbieri SpectroPad, a portable color measurement device, makes it possible to measure directly on the printer (without cutting the media), sends data through WiFi to the RIP, shows results immediately on the built-in screen. It also allows [the user] to check the color consistency on the output on the spot—immediately, without computer.”
Increasing Importance of Color Management
According to Brown, “Color management has always been important, but not too long ago large-format inkjet was primarily a one-off or very short-run specialty process. Compared with more ‘traditional’ high volume print methods, such as offset, where tightly controlled color workflows are the norm, large-format was more ‘shoot from the hip’ due to its short-run and specialty nature. But, over the past few years, as more affordable high-speed inkjet machines have come into the market, capable of long-run, unattended operation, and with the prevalence of RIP packages supporting variable content printing, color ‘drift’ is becoming more of a concern even for the smaller shops. When print orders go from one or two to one or two hundred, consistency is critical. Without a tightly controlled color managed workflow, without adequate process control checks in place, all you can do is hope and pray. The most profitable shops are the ones that have the controls in place to ensure that everything prints right the first time. In the end, those are the shops that succeed and grow.”
Harris views the issue from the customer’s point of view. “The brand owner has always valued brand color, but now expects accurate, consistent color as a given. And they expect the printer to do it seamlessly.
“With accurate color management, PSPs take cost out by doing the right things right—the first time,” adds Harris. “PSPs don’t waste time and materials with the ‘old school’ method of producing rejected files and attempting to reach color with a trial and error process. It’s now scientific. We measure colors, get them right, and have the data to prove to the customer that it’s close to the measurement standard.”
There also needs to be a focus on the customer’s needs. “Today, sales of print jobs are mainly based on lowest price (unfortunately). The only possibility to differ is quality,” says Passler. “And here, color quality is one of the most important points. Who offers better quality (also color) gets the print job and can possibly ask also higher prices.
“Furthermore, today brand recognition is very important. Big brand owners, especially multinational companies, expect their brand colors to be exact. If not, the prints will not be accepted.
Client demands, though, continue to increase. “The pressure to implement tighter in-shop process controls is growing, and print buyers—even small ‘mom-and-pop’ businesses—are demanding higher quality standards from their print providers,” says Brown. “The print market is simply too competitive, and large-format inkjet has become too mature, for any shop to survive by trial-and-error. Unless your process is well controlled and predictable, unless you can monitor processes over time to identify potential problems before they become serious deficiencies, there is no way to turn a profit in the long term.”
Passler says, “Color management will become more versatile, universal. The trend is prints on every kind of media, every substrate. Tomorrow we will print on media that today we are not thinking about. Same is for print technologies and different ink. Color management, in future, will have to take into consideration all of this.”