Turning Customer Color Complaints into Gold

Customer complaints are a part of virtually every industry, no matter how great your product is or how tight the standards of operation. One common customer complaint in this industry often relates to color—inaccuracies, fading, and other issues that may be easily resolved or prevented in the future. In fact, customer complaints may be used to the PSPs advantage. Our experts weigh in on this timeless topic.

Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Matt Crawford, Eastern region sales manager, Onyx Graphics, Inc. starts off by stating that many shops do not understand or use a color managed workflow. Crawford offers advice to those that do.

“Customer complaints about color accuracy open a door to a conversation between PSPs and their customers about color management, as well as setting appropriate expectations,” states Crawford. “These conversations can help the PSP build credibility, lead to higher margins, and turn skeptical customers into loyal ones. And—it may sound crazy—these conversations can help print service providers turn away the jobs that are too big of a risk.”

Jan Morovic, senior color scientist and master technologist at HP Graphics Solutions Business, says: “Each printer, ink, and substrate combination has inherent limits for the variety of colors it can match, meaning that any colors outside this range will necessarily be inaccurate. I encourage PSPs to be proactive in discussing color accuracy with potential customers who are likely to be more receptive to providers that openly work with them to get the print right.”

Mark Geeves, director of sales and marketing at Color-Logic concurs that using a color workflow is crucial to achieving success.

“Color management enables printers to predict and control colors on the final printed piece,” says Geeves. “But metallic inks and metallic substrates do not respond to conventional color management. Customer complaints about metallics were the driving force behind the development of our Process Metallic Color System. Using the system, printers create their own swatch books, using their own printers, and thus can guarantee customers that the metallic colors and special effects seen on the swatches can be reproduced correctly.”


Build an Effective Response

Many clients can be appeased if their complaints are responded to professionally and in a timely manner. It is equally important to offer the client resolution and options.

Crawford says, “I find that most color complaints come from not setting appropriate expectations from the beginning. There are inherent limitations to the variety of inkjet printers available. Even with the newest high-gamut printers, a 90 percent ‘hit rate’ of the Pantone Coated library is the best that can be expected. There is no way to get the remaining 10 percent out of the printer. The issue is simply the ink in the printer. For example, it can be hard to match Pantone Yellow with many printers on the market today. Pantone Yellow is brighter, more pure, than the ink in most printers. Once an inkjet printer puts down 100 percent yellow, the only options are to add magenta, cyan, and black. There is no way to make the yellow brighter or more chromatic. No matter how the color is mixed or managed, the PSP can only get as close as the ink in the printer.”


Create a Workflow

The experts agree that using an effective color workflow system prevents and solves problems that may arise in the press room. What do PSPs have to do to set up an accurate digital print workflow?

Morovic states, “Accuracy can mean different things to different customers. For some, accuracy is about minimizing measured color differences, while others think of it as matching their preferences and expectations. In all cases, once the customer’s expectations are understood, fulfilling them requires accurate ICC profiles both for the content received from a customer and for the printer and substrate on which it is to be produced. Having all components of a workflow well defined, profiled, and calibrated allows effective delivery on customer preferences. Whether the intent is to match the customer’s content as accurately as possible or to make the most use of the available printed color gamut, a well characterized workflow is the basis.”

Geeves suggests tackling problems at the very beginning of the process. “Accuracy is based on having the print process calibrated and under control before production begins,” says Geeves. “Printers should establish the production process—and the materials, inks, and coatings involved—before they are used to produce a finished print. This begins with calibrating the print engine through the RIP, and then regularly monitoring the print engine for drift to determine when calibration is required. Printers also need to monitor their substrates, inks, and coatings to ensure these key elements of printing have been consistently manufactured. All printing processes—including digital—must be regularly measured to guarantee consistency in production. Process control is critical when metallic inks or metallic substrates are used, since ICC profiles do not exist for these items.”

Crawford offers this advice: “A color managed workflow requires accounting for the following three variables:

Input Profile: It is necessary to know in what color space the file was created. This is the direction necessary to help the customer see the color he is expecting. An analogy I use for printing is coloring with crayons. If I need to reproduce artwork that was made by coloring with crayons I would need to know what brand of crayons was used to create the original.

Output Profile: The output profile defines the “brand of crayons” in the printer, plus the ink and media being used. To be sure files are accurately reproduced, a profile made specifically for the target material must be used.

Printer Calibration: Even with accounting for input and output profiles, PSPs can still have issues if the printer is not printing the same way as when it was profiled. Printers can drift over time, depending temperature, humidity, etc. In order to account for that, PSPs need to keep their printers calibrated.”


Meet Expectations

There are many factors in meeting a customer’s color needs from the designer to the finishing process. Customer expectations also weigh heavily on the printed piece and determine whether a PSP has gained a loyal client or has alienated a potential sale. How does one meet a client’s color expectations?

Morovic says, “In a carefully color managed workflow, a lot can be done to give a customer assurance about the printed output they will receive. An accurate ICC profile for the printer and substrate to be used and a calibrated, large-gamut display allows for an accurate soft-proof to be shown before any resources are wasted. Not only is this the most cost-effective alternative and a way for the customer to make and accept trade-offs in an informed way, but it also allows for easy up-sell. If the color changes introduced as a result of printing on a chosen substrate are unacceptable, a soft-proof with another substrate can easily be shown, and the customer can make an informed choice about how their specific job is best printed.”

Managing color expectations can be tricky,” says Crawford. “The worse possible scenario is what I call “negotiating color” after the job is printed. It is really important for the PSP to set expectations with the customer prior to print. The worst case is to have to re-print a job that has already been printed. The best way to set an expectation is to make a sample/proof on the production printer and target material for the job. That way the customer will see exactly what he will get.”