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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

Pantone makes a color-swatch book called Color Bridge (Figure 4). It clearly shows the effects of converting spot colors to process colors. The book also shows each Pantone Spot color alongside the best possible CMYK conversion of that color. And while this book can be a useful tool to have in a screen-printing shop, remember that the book is printed on white paper with offset-printing-ink pigments, so your results will be somewhat different.

You can also add other colors to the process inkset. Supplementing CMYK with orange and green allows you to print using the Hexachrome sys¬tem and significantly expand the gamut of color that you can print. But doing so also creates new problems. If you go to a Hexachrome system, all of the color profiles created for CMYK go out the window and must be redone with the new inks. The same goes if you wish to use rhodamine red instead of magenta or some other variation. Any time you change the mix, you change the color gamut and thus the profile.

But the good news is that ICC color profiles for CMYK inks work very well in a color-managed system. Using these profiles offers consistency and repeatability, and in this business, those two factors lead to profitability.

Color change is but one factor that can cause a screen printer to create a new color profile. Changes in mesh count or tension, screen exposure, dot shape or angle, line count, ink pigments (and ink manufacturer), squeegee profile or durometer, printing speed, and other variables may require the creation of a new color profile to get optimum results. You must monitor these variables carefully in a color-managed workflow because relatively minor changes can have substantial effects.


Not a lost cause

Many of you might conclude that color management is too expensive and too time consuming. And for some operations, that may well be true. If every job you print uses different inks, different processes, different operators, different presses, and so on, it just might not be worth it to invest in the hardware and software needed for color management. But for most screen printers, comprehensive color management is most likely time and money well spent. Color management can substantially cut make-ready time when your color is right where you expect it to be on the first print. Consistent proofs also make for happy customers, and not having to adjust colors in the middle of a run makes for happy press operators.

You can start with baby steps. At the very least, you’ll benefit from calibrating all of the monitors in your shop. When it comes to creating press profiles, start with the press that’s your biggest producer. You might be surprised how much more productive you can make that press with color management. And if you find a small investment makes a big difference, you can bring the profiling process to all of the output devices in the shop (and don’t forget color management also is a great tool for input devices like scanners and digital cameras).

Color management has proven to be an effective tool for increasing efficiency and consistency in the printing process. For screen printers, that kind of enhancement looks very good in the color of the bottom line.


Stephen Beals

Stephen Beals has been involved in prepress production for more than 30 years and currently works as the digital-prepress manager for Finger Lakes Press, Auburn, NY. He also is a regular contributor to The Big Picture magazine.


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