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Imagers Adopt Range of Solutions to Take Challenge Out of Color Management



In the early days of digital imaging, color management posed one of the key challenges for those eager to make a successful venture into this new class of services. In this industry, where color accuracy is synonymous with quality service, lab owners and managers found themselves unexpectedly overwhelmed with problems in trying to make sure the image they output matched the client's expectations at input.

Today, though, digital service providers have a range of workflow, RIP and color management solutions that allow them to meet or exceed client expectations with optimum color on every job. As many have found, though, there is no blanket solution when it comes to color management. Rather, the tools they employ must now take into account the almost random mix of devices used to capture, display and deliver prints from digital files, as well as the lab's workflow.

Custom Photo Images uses LaCie monitors for viewing files before printing, each dedicated to a single output device. The monitors are calibrated with Gretag Eye-One software, based on ICC profiles provided by Onyx for each of the output devices.

Color Under Control

Peter Lorber knows too well the challenges lab owners like himself once faced in digital color management. He describes his company, Custom Photo Images of Boca Raton, FL, as a full-service digital commercial lab. The company started as a photo lab, but Lorber says the only silver work it does these days is in C-41 and black and white. Most demand now is for digital display graphics, large-format prints and panoramic images, rendered on Epson and Encad printers.

By the time the company first ventured into digital services six years ago, customers were already asking for the convenience and creative control promised by digital imaging. As Lorber soon learned, however, for all its promise, digital brought distinct challenges of its own.

"Right from the beginning, color management was a major problem and headache," Lorber says. "When we could get it right, it took lots of effort, and no matter what we did with our RIP, there was no way to guarantee consistent color all the time. Every job seemed to present its own headaches."

He continually explored and experimented with possible solutions for color management. Then, within the last year he finally found a solution that could meet his expectations for reliable color management in the PosterShop software from Onyx Graphics. Now available in version 6.0, the workflow solution for large-format output combines the RIP with preflight tools, color management and print queue functions. Despite its mix of features, the software also emphasizes ease of use with a Web-based user interface for job submission and management.

Peter Lorber of Custom Photo Images offers digital display graphics, large-format prints and panoramic images, rendered on Epson and Encad printers.

Lorber now has color management under control: "I didn't expect a program this sophisticated to be so user-friendly, but I just don't have to worry the way we used to about color management. It has the right combination of speed, accuracy and user-friendliness. Our workflow is now automated to the point where we really don't have to worry about the color unless a customer insists on a match on the color before we print."

The lab uses LaCie monitors for viewing files before printing, each dedicated to a single output device. The monitors are calibrated with Gretag Eye-One software, based on ICC profiles provided by Onyx for each of the output devices.

"The ICC profiles are incredibly good," Lorber adds, offering past experience with an Encad printer to make his case. "We had been so frustrated with that printer that we rarely used it because we couldn't get the results we needed." Calls to tech support were fruitless; no matter what was tried, the quality came up short, and no one could provide satisfactory answers as to why.

After installing PosterShop and the Onyx profile for the printer, he was pleasantly surprised: "It turned out all we needed was a better profile, and we were able to get it from Onyx." The Encad unit now gets the heavy use he originally purchased it for, producing everything from 10 x 30-inch color output to 10 x 30-foot prints of digital files.

File-by-File Review

At the full-service Phopar, Inc. consumer/commercial lab in Appleton, WI, owner Ozzie Rapp has adopted a piecemeal approach to color management after experimenting with many options over the years. Rapp's customers are heavy users of digital, as digital services now represent 70 percent of his business. With a reputation as a supplier of top-quality photo prints, he found himself challenged when trying to meet those expectations on the digital side.

"When we started offering digital printing, color management was one of the biggest issues we faced," he recalls. "We tried many different approaches, including automated color correction solutions, and none worked every time." Finally he decided the only sure solution for consistent digital color would be to review and correct each image file before printing.

He now feels he has color management under control, thanks to the iCorrect software tools from Pictographics International Corp. The Photoshop plug-in lets users quickly review an image on-screen, then automatically adjusts colors based on the intended output device with a few clicks of the mouse.

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