The need for color management solutions has grown exponentially as more and more photographers adopt a digital workflow or become more comfortable with the process. Manufacturers have responded with innovative hardware and software solutions-as well as workshops, DVDs, and other learning tools-to help photographers profile their monitors, printers, RIPs, scanners, and now even digital projectors.
Studio Photography asked color technology leaders for their insights on the evolving technology and their clients' needs. Here's some of what we learned...
"Industry awareness of the need for color management has vastly increased because there is a clearer understanding of the challenges photographers face working on images and the way color reproduces on the screen vs. the printer," says Mark Rezzonico, Vice President of X-Rite Photo Marketing (www.xrite.com).
As C. David Tobie, Product Technology Manager of Datacolor Inc.'s ColorVision Business Unit (www.colorvision.com) points out, "Photographers rely on color management basically to output prints that match what they see on their monitors. They need high-precision reading capabilities that are full featured, easy-to-use, and affordable. That's what we provide."
Matt Chilton, Marketing Manager, Digital Solutions, at Pantone (www.pantone.com) sees the subject from a slightly different vantage point. "Before the introduction of products like the huey and hueyPRO, photographers adopted a more ‘industrial-grade' solution from more traditional color management solution providers," explains Chilton. "Fast-forward to early spring 2006, and the introduction of breakthrough technology and sub-$100 products. Creating the product around the user instead of around the technology has led many to take the plunge into a color-corrected environment. The new, less complex approach may not replace photographers' existing solutions, but its more affordable, portable products may increase their capabilities with similar results."
Sometimes new color management products are a response to new products in the marketplace. "For example, inkjet printers with two levels of gray ink led to an increased interest in gallery-quality B&W printing, which led to our B&W printer profiling tools," points out Tobie. "And a growing interest in wide-gamut monitor calibration followed the release of more affordable wide-gamut displays. Our Spyder3 products meet the need for improved measurement of these displays."
Adds Rezzonico, "We've been receiving many calls from photographers lately, asking for projector profiling because they're lecturing or showing clients or prospects their work on LCD projectors. The X-Rite I1 Beamer makes it easy to have the projector match the computer screen." [Note: X-Rite purchased Gretag Macbeth last year, so Gretag products now bear the X-Rite name.]
"As photographers' understanding of monitor calibration increases, we're seeing more requests for color control on the output side," says Chilton. "Printer profiling and cross-reference tools to Pantone colors are a hot topic with our end-users. With our Spot to Process guide, the Colorbridge, they can speak to art directors and designers about reproducing colors properly in CMYK, which generally requires five or six colors to match the client's specification. This decision could make or break the design."
Other times, product innovation is driven by new technologies. "Newer, higher accuracy sensors were central to the design of the new Spyder3 display calibrator,' says Tobie. "Advancements in the range of LEDs enabled our patch-reading Spectrocolorimeter to produce results comparable to Spectrophotometers, at a fraction of the price."
"Printer manufacturers are always looking for the next best thing, as are camera manufacturers,' says Rezzonico. "X-Rite partners with leading manufacturers to ensure that we support the latest innovations. For our "X-Rite Picture Perfect Color Seminar," which visited some 30 cities from May to early October, we had the support of Marathon Press, Fujifilm, Epson, Adobe, Profoto, PocketWizard, Eizo, Tenba, and Sekonic."
As photographers' needs expand, technologies will continue to evolve to meet those needs. "Printers with less color shift under different lighting conditions are already improving the quality of prints end users can produce," says Tobie. "Next, LED backlit displays will reduce pollution and increase the life expectancy of monitors. The first LED displays released work beautifully with the Spyder3 calibrators."
Of course, monitor calibration is only part of a professional color workflow. "A true color workflow begins before capture, tailoring each project to the images' ultimate output. White balancing, monitor calibration, consistent color spaces, and proofing are all essential to protect yourself and provide quality images to your clients," says Chilton.