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Best Practices in Color Management Yield Best Results

To a printer,To a printer, color management is all about reproducing color on a printing press to match a target.

March 2010 by Jean-Marie Hershey

Color management (CM) commonly refers to the methods employed to ensure quality reproduction of four-color process printing. From the perspective of the printer, converter, or trade shop, color management is all about reproducing color on a printing press to match a target. From the brand owner's perspective, however, color management is about managing the appearance of the brand. The former requires a set of hardware and software tools to measure and control color. Brand color management views color management as a collaborative tool to share accurate color across the packaging supply chain.

Color management's value

Simply put, explains Marek Skrzynski, director of graphics, R&D at CSW, Inc. (www.cswgraphics.com), a provider of integrated services for packaging based in Ludlow, Mass., "Color management today should be a given. If a prepress provider doesn't have it, it shouldn't be in the business." For CSW, he explains, "The light went on in 1994. Since then, we've continued to expand the role of color management in our operation. Today, CM isn't just a desktop prepress tool, but rather a critical part of what we call 'image engineering'. Everything starts with the color profile."

Jason Hess is graphics technology manager for The Multi-Color Corp. (www.multicolorcorp.com), a global provider of label and packaging services based in Batavia, Ohio. The company performs gravure, offset, and digital work with a variety of label styles, including in-mold, shrink sleeve, heat transfer, pressure-sensitive, and cut-and-stack.

"For the thousands of labels we produce, traditional four-color process is the exception, not the rule," Hess says. "The average job we work on would be seven-, eight,- or nine-color, and would be made up entirely of spot colors. So when we talk about color management in packaging, we're really talking about building continuous-tone images out of spot colors."

"Taking into consideration the hundreds of different spot colors we have to be able to simulate, and factoring in the consumer brand libraries and ink systems for the various printing modalities, you wind up with a tremendous number of variables to manage," Hess says. "No company could put all those variables into a press profile. We needed tools that would enable us to capture all of this color data without running ten thousand different fingerprints."

According to Hess, it has been in just the past couple of years that the software tools have become available on the packaging side of the industry to begin to transform color management from an art to a science. For example, he explains, "In the past, we had to work with very expensive analog proofing systems to produce a proof that would reasonably predict what you might see on press. Not only was the process costly, it was also very time-intensive. Because speed-to-market is so important, it helps enormously to have access to a variety of tools designed to simulate press results before we go to print." For Multi-Color Corp., those tools include not only handheld devices and automated strip readers from X-Rite (www.xrite.com), but also integrated tools like the Equinox software from EskoArtwork (www.esko.com) and Kaleidoscope, also from EskoArtwork, which features a built-in ink book system and a database for conventional spot colors. "We use Equinox as the input tool for extended gamut color, and Kaleidoscope for digital proofing," Hess says.

 

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