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.”
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.”