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Color Separations Revisited

(February 2010) posted on Mon Jan 25, 2010

CMYK color separation remains prevalent in most print shops, but read on to learn about some powerful alternatives.

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By Rick Mandel

Classic separations include cyan, yellow, and magenta with a skeleton black for depth and more shape in the shadows. A couple of techniques assist in this process: GCR (gray component replacement) and UCR (under-color removal). Most hue value within the CMY color space is produced by the combination of two of the three primaries. The third color, known as the graying component, is designed to move that hue toward gray (decrease saturation).

UCR is the process of eliminating amounts of yellow, magenta, and cyan that add to a dark neutral (black) and replacing them with black ink during the color-separation process. GCR involves the use of black ink to replace CMY values that add to gray all along the tone scale. GCR only adds black to the CMY equivalent of what would print as a gray. Both of these methods can reduce CMY ink usage; however, they can change a graphic’s intent.

Today’s ICC-based technology is excellent at predicting what will happen to color on press, but it relies on this same predictive concept to create a color separation. Said another way, ICC-based separations craft color based on the output of a printing method at some given moment in time, but neither the separations nor the press can ever precisely reproduce that moment again.

The art of optimized printing based upon known print conditions and the art of creating an optimized color separation seem to be lost to us in favor of standardized print conditions. However, this doesn’t mean that standardized print conditions don’t belong in print production—by all means, they do. But once a premium printer can run with the G7 and ISO crowd, what can the business do to differentiate itself through improved color reproduction?

New color-separation software
I was introduced to a color-separation solution at SGIA 09 in New Orleans that merits discussion. The product is called ICE-server, created by FineEye ( ICEserver is designed to replace the traditional CMYK color separation. It’s a post-processing methodology used after the native file is built (usually by our client).


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