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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.

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By Stephen Beals

Every printing device has a specific color gamut—the widest range of colors it can possibly print, given the inks and substrates used in the process. The screen-printing process often uses brighter, more opaque inks than the commercial printer, and that’s an asset when it comes to printing brilliant spot colors or using fluorescents or other specialty inks. But that asset can quickly become a real problem when it comes to printing process color, something that we’ll cover a bit later. For now, the important point is that perfect color is often a technical impossibility. The science of color management is much more about controlling color and keeping it consistentent than it is about making perfect color.

When a color is out of gamut, that means there is simply no way a specific machine with specific inks and specific substrates can duplicate that specific color. What ink manufacturers attempt to do is provide consistent colors—but remember that different ink companies use different pigments to create similar colors, and these different pigments can have different effects on different substrates. For color management, it’s reasonable to stick with one ink manufacturer. Of course, in the real world, that is often difficult or impossible to do.


Color conditions

An important thing many screen printers often fail to take note of is the effect of viewing conditions on color perception. You’ve certainly had the experience of looking at fall foliage while driving along with sunglasses on. When you remove them, the color can shift pretty dramatically. The same is true of viewing color under fluorescent or incandescent lighting.

To keep things consistent (remember, color management is all about consistency), the printing industry has agreed—for the most part—on a standard viewing-light condition of 5000° K. This is a fairly pure, white light that closely resembles daylight viewing conditions. Of course, daylight varies too! But for the purposes of viewing color, it is desirable to use special fluorescent lighting that outputs light at 5000° K. Many print shops have viewing booths on site so that colors may be examined under controlled conditions (Figure 3).


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