Magazine Article


Why is Color Management Golden? Add it to Your Workflow and Find Out

You know the frustration of being unable to produce prints on your high-end inkjet printer that match what you see on your monitor. While there's no way to preview exactly how the screen image will reproduce on paper, with a systematic process it's now possible to achieve output results that will impress the most discerning critic.

SP&D invited Andy Hatkoff, vice president, Electronic Color Systems, Pantone, Inc., to walk us through the color-managed workflow that eliminates variables, wasted time and materials. The tour begins with calibrating and profiling your monitors. Read on…

1. You can eliminate your number one variable in the design and print process by calibrating and profiling your monitor. By doing so, you will be setting your display to a known state and defining its reproduction characteristics. To calibrate and profile a monitor, you need a colorimeter. Many good colorimeters are available today, the PANTONE COLORVISION SpyderPRO among them. Simple to use, the SpyderPRO will accurately calibrate and profile any monitor. For optimal results, calibration should be performed at least every two weeks. Where color accuracy is critical, calibrate your monitor every day.

Initially, Mac users should calibrate and profile their monitors to a daylight color balance of 5000K and a gamma of 1.8. For Windows users, settings of 6500K and a gamma of 2.2 are recommended. Once you know your monitor and feel comfortable judging color output, you can customize the color temperature and gamma to suit your personal taste. If you want your Mac and PC to look the same, or if you're creating content for the Web, regardless of platform, you should calibrate to a gamma of 2.2.

2. When your monitor is calibrated and profiled properly, you can proceed to the second most important step: profiling your inkjet printer. The idea here is to make the colors reproduce as closely as possible to what you see on your calibrated monitor.

Since there are no industry color standards for inkjet printers, every manufacturer creates its own printers, drivers, and inks. Epson, Canon, and HP don't consult each other for the final output. For that reason, and because inks reproduce differently on different media, it's important to profile each and every paper/ink/printer combination.

Most manufacturers of printers, inkjet paper, and inks provide free profiles via a download link. If your monitor is calibrated, these profiles should get you within a reasonable tolerance for good color reproduction. However, because the profiles are created on someone else's printer, they will rarely be 100 percent accurate for your particular printer. For optimal results, you should create a custom profile for your printer.

Again, there are many products on the market at a variety of price and sophistication levels, among them ProfilerPRO and ProfilerPLUS from PANTONE COLORVISION.

3. Inks are the next factor in the printing equation. Ideally, use inks that reproduce the widest range of colors. Inkjet printers use at least six distinct colors and reproduce the largest gamut of colors possible - larger than any offset press can reproduce. But just having six inks is not enough. Most original equipment manufacturers' (OEM) inks have a more limited color range than some third-party formulations.

The key to accurate color matching - from monitor to print - is to create a closed-loop color-managed system in which you control all variables…

Inks that have a much wider color gamut than most OEM inks, such as PANTONE ColorVantage inks, are important if you're attempting to accurately reproduce the colors you see on your screen. If the OEM ink set you are using cannot reproduce the yellow, red or violet you see on your monitor, it will reproduce that color the best it can, which might not be accurate.

While some manufacturers will tell you the warranty on your printer is void should you use inks other than theirs, this only applies to the print heads themselves, the only part of the printer directly affected by the ink. Even so, a properly formulated third-party ink will not cause damage to your printer.

4. The fourth step in the calibration process is matching ink to paper. Two types of ink are widely available: dye and pigment. In general, dye-based inks have a larger color gamut but a shorter life, while pigmented inks have better lightfastness and durability, but limited color range.

If you are printing for commercial purposes, the short life of dye-based inks is not as important as the larger gamut. If you are printing for fine art, then longevity becomes more important. Recently, significant improvements have been made to pigmented inks that increase their color gamut to meet or exceed that of dye-based inks. ColorVantage is a good example of superior pigmented inks that rival dye-based inks.

5. The final consideration for reproducing what you see on your calibrated monitor is the print driver. Every printer comes bundled with its own print driver created by the OEM. These drivers are often very good, however, using Raster Image Processor (RIP) technology, some third-party products can provide the experienced user more control over the printer's output.

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