The importance of ICC Profiles
ICC (International Color Consortium) promotes the use and adoption of open, vendor-neutral, cross-platform colour management systems. ICC-based colour management requires a minimum of two ICC Profiles. The Input Profile, or reference profile, describes the input or characteristic of the reference condition. The Output Profile, or separation profile, describes the press or output device and creates a suitable separation so that the output on the device matches the Input Profile. An ICC Profile contains all the characterisation data of the device, colouration information, tone value increase, paper white, grey balance, etc.
‘In a typical workflow, from photographer to ad agency to prepress department and finally to print, data can undergo a number of colour transformations or separations,’ explains John Panton. ‘This often happens unnoticed. For instance, a designer opens a document in Photoshop, places images in Indesign and creates PDF files. ICC colour management effectively translates the data form one colour space RGB, through Lab to CMYK, or from one CMYK space such as ISO Coated_V2 through device neutral Lab to ISO_Uncoated to make it more suitable for print on uncoated media,’ he adds.
‘Therefore, our aim when implementing ICC Profiles is to set up workflows that accurately transform or separate incoming data so that output is similar to intended input and fully predictable on the output device.’
Digital Distributors’ Seven Steps
So how, you may wonder, is this achieved? Digital Distributors has developed its Seven Steps to Reliable, Predictable Print methodology, which carefully controls every step of the process to achieve excellent printing standards.
Comments John: ‘Standardisation is crucial for reliable, predictable print in the production environment. This seamless integration, in accordance with relevant ISO standards, is exactly what the Seven Steps aim to achieve. The Seven Steps are not just about products, but more aimed at focusing on processes and process control.’
1. Creating Acceptable, Standardised Data PDF-X
2. Soft Proofing & Display
3. Data Separation, Press Matching & Ink Saving
4. Proofing Solutions to ISO 12647-7
5. Plate Making and Checking & Process Control
6. Print Production to ISO Standards
7. Control the Press
‘Our Seven Steps make it obvious that Digital Distributors’ focus is on the complete colour workflow needed for predictable print,’ John continues. ‘We use and market state-of-the-art monitor calibration tools for soft proofing and high-end digital camera profiling, and we distribute and support EFI ColorProof XF, the world’s top-selling proofing rips from EFI for Proofing, remote proofing and large-format inkjet production. Alwan CMYK Optimizer is used for image pre-flight and CMYK data re-separation and ink savings based on Dynamic device link profiles. This is an awesome technology and really makes a big difference to file printability by repurposing, standardising and harmonising separations for the final process, with the added advantage of ink savings. Further, with Alwan CMYK Optimizer you reduce waste, have faster makeready time and achieve better match to proof,’ John maintains.
‘We also market PressSign from Bodoni Systems, an excellent tool that not only helps printers to print in accordance to standards, but also provides direct feedback and CTP curve data to make corrections to the CTP system in order to meet the desired standard. Most other systems only report on the status of the final product.’
In addition, software from reputable suppliers, including QUATO, X-Rite and INK Zone from Swissbased Digital Information Systems, are used during these Seven Steps to support the processes and process control that ultimately result in standardisation and the efficient use of resources for exceptional print results.
Colour management in flexo printing
Shifting the focus to colour management in a packaging environment, John remarks: ‘Digital Distributors believes the packaging industry presents the greatest opportunity going forward. While colour management is pretty much engrained in the magazine printing environment, I believe colour management does not yet get the attention it deserves in the packaging world. Most packaging printers do not rely on ICC Profiles but rather on curves. This makes the packaging customer the furthest divorced from ICC colour management as we view it today. There are a couple of reasons for this.
‘In the offset environment, ISO Standards are clearly defined. Characterisation data are readily available for offset printing – for instance, ICC Profiles are available for different types of papers, gloss or mat, which assume certain values for CMYK colours and allow for tolerances. Even ink sets are standardised with ISO 2846. However,’ John stresses, ‘I believe colour management is important regardless of ISO Standards. One needs an efficient way to achieve good quality print results.
‘In the flexo environment, although the standard exists, there’s little in the way of resources such as characterisation data and ICC Profiles. Many people would argue this is due to most ICC Profiles and applications being limited to CMYK, while packaging makes use of a lot of special colours. However, today we do have multicolour profiling ability and the engines to re-separate colours for multichannels,’ John explains.
‘inkWIZE is one such tool that has the ability to re-separate colours through multichannel profiles. There are cases in which the Pantone colours can be substituted successfully with the normal CMYK colours and the use of ICC Profiles can be helpful in determining this. The cost saving benefit is obvious – ICC colour management brings about the use of fewer printing units, and reduces the number of colour separations.
‘More complex uses can include the useful role ICC Profiles can play when we want to substitute one of the primary colours (CMYK) with a spot colour. For example, Cyan is substituted with Pantone Reflex Blue, but we still want four-colour process work to look correct. This is relatively easily done with multichannel profiles. And one can proof and predict the result.’
Since the ICC Profiles contain all relevant colour and dot gain information about the process, John goes on to explain, the printer can see, proof and compensate for things such as minimum dot and bump-up curves. ‘We can use the description of the process to assign or create proofs or to re-separate and compensate for these typical flexo and gravure issues,’ he says.
Furthermore, printers with ICC Profiles can make them available to repro houses that supply jobs to them. When used at the design stage, these ICC Profiles ensure printers receive press-ready data from their repro suppliers, designers have made separations and proofs according to these profiles and, finally, the printer knows he can match this reference faster and more closely.
This becomes a two-way partnership between printer and designer/ repro house. The printer has faster make-ready and less waste, and the expectations of the repro house or brand owners are more easily met. Creating the ICC Profiles, however, remains the responsibility of the printer.
‘We help and provide training on how to reach the standards and how to standardise controls. In flexo and gravure printing for packaging, once printers understand the principle of printing to standards, we can make ICC Profiles for their presses,’ John adds.
‘When printers receive work from repro houses, they need to ensure they can print back to the standards. Therefore, measurable values are required at the press. These include the Lab value of solids and secondary colours, as well as any spot colours, the dot area (tone value increase) and grey balance or CMYK spread. Sadly, we still see too many printers with densitometers only. Printers require at least one spectrophotometer in the press room for proper colour control, even more so in the packaging industry that uses special colours. Remember that density tells us very little about colour.
‘Colour management in offset printing is largely working in CMYK, where it’s a relatively easy process. In packaging, the latest technology can handle multichannel profiles and advanced tools such as X-Rite’s Generic Output Profile (GOP) software, which allows for easy exchange of one spot colour for another, or for a primary colour to be replaced by a spot or special colour. GOP profiles can save significant time and costly trial runs.’
John maintains that a multichannel profile is the key for package printing. ‘In the past, this has been a limitation because it wasn’t possible to use in tools such as Photoshop,’ he says. ‘Most colour management engines could only handle CMYK and not multichannel profiles. That’s been the biggest challenge but potentially, also where the most benefits can be derived. Brand owners demand higher degrees of colour quality control, print buyers lead the way and request colour quality checks and reports of print runs. Tools such as Bodoni PressSign Print Buyers’ version and X-Rite’s Color Quality Software, that can measure a print control strip and generate compliance reports, are already used by a number of big brand owners.
‘For printers, whether in the offset or flexo environment, the real money is made and lost on the press. Therefore we do everything possible to ensure that when a job gets to press it has every chance to print correctly, as efficiently as possible. That’s where colour management comes in,’ John concludes.Digital Distributors T +27 0214235695 firstname.lastname@example.org www.digitaldistributors.co.za