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Tools and Tips for Color Management

(August 2007) posted on Wed Aug 15, 2007

Having trouble managing color in your workflow? This article presents an overview of color management and introduces the solutions and techniques you can use to optimize your output.


By Stephen Beals

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Soft proofs are digital color proofs that you can send to the customer electronically in JPEG or PDF format. The caveat here is that both you and your customer must be using color-calibrated monitors to assure you are both looking at the same thing.

Monitor-color calibration is probably the easiest and least expensive first step to color management. A product like the new Huey from Pantone sells for less than $100 and does a good job of keeping your CRT or LCD monitors consistent. You even get a regular reminder to check the calibration in case you’re one of the many people who tends to let things ride.

 

The keys to color management

Calibration and consistency are the keys to effective color management. In the proofing stage, that means all of the processes involved in creating the proof need to be monitored on a regular basis (daily calibration is often needed). Inkjet proofing devices have become increasingly popular because of their consistency. Some new inkjet devices, notably Hewlett-Packard’s Z series of inkjet printers, have built-in spectrophotometers to make the calibration process quick and painless. They actually calibrate themselves automatically whenever needed.

A good spectrophotometer is a basic component of any device-calibration system. The price of these units has come down into the range where even small print providers can afford them. One of the industry standard spectrophotometers, X-Rite’s GretagMacbeth EyeOne (the same type of unit found in the HP Z printers), sells for around $700. More automated versions sell for about twice the price. Spectrophotometers pay for themselves over time by keeping the process consistent and eliminating errors and remakes. Knowing exactly how your equipment prints and monitoring any changes is critical to increasing production efficiency. The more time you can save in tweaking color, the more productive your employees and machinery will be.

Color management is more than hardware, though. Good software is important for profiling and maintaining your color workflow. Many of today’s digital Raster Image Processors (RIPs) are designed to use profiles created to the standards of the International Color Consortium (ICC). These profiles are designed to compare how a printing device actually prints in comparison to known color targets. Basically, you output a color grid consisting of known and measured color values and print them on the device you’re profiling.

 

The color-profile process


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