Hitting the Spot with Recipe Colors

Accurately matching spot colors is a constant challenge to printers. Establishing  consistent process control is key, but success depends on a clear understanding of the fundamentals.

Custom colors are achieved a number of different ways:

  1. With custom color inks, used most frequently on offset and flexo printing. This is the most direct process, and depends on accurate ink color matching and consistent density on press.
  2. Through icc profile color conversion from lab color to final output color. Most used for inkjet and digital output. With accurate icc profiling and well-maintained printers with sufficient color gamut, this can achieve good results.
  3. With recipe colors…CMYK simulations of spot colors. Used in all forms of printing where the use of actual spot colors is not possible. Using recipe colors is a very common approach, but it has serious limitations and without rigorous color management and process control in place from start to finish, it is doomed to failure.

The Problem with Recipe Colors

A recipe color is valid only for a very specific set of circumstances, and will totally fail if any of these conditions change. For example PMS 188 may be reproduced with 60C 90M 50Y with one printing process, but require 55C 100M 70 Y for another, and 50C , 88M, 58Y for a third.

And even with the same printing process, the CMYK combination that worked six months ago may fail today if press conditions have changed.

Making matters worse, many recipe color combinations have an uncertain origin, at best. They may have come from a years-old swatch book, from a “best guess”,  from a Photoshop color library, or from a designer’s visual monitor match. In many cases, the color recipe will have been made with no reference at all to the actual press that will be printing the job. The result, in too many cases, is inconsistency, disappointing results, lengthy makeready runs, and inflated production costs as press operators struggle to modify color “on the fly”.

Bringing Order to the Process

The first steps towards establishing process control are well known: Establish a consistent process of measurement and monitoring of the basic elements of the print process, including ink color, density, overprint color, dot gain and gray balance, and implement consistent press practices that promote repeatability over time.

Shops new to printing to standards and process control may soon find that their old CMYK color recipes no longer seem to work, and the immediate reaction may be to abandon the concept altogether and revert to old seat-of-the pants methods, blocking progress before it as started.

In order for CMYK recipe colors to functions properly in a color-managed and process-controlled workflow, they must be matched to the actual printing standards that have been put into place. That means an end to color formulas based on guesswork, eyeball screen matches and blind faith.

With press standards established and firmly in place, accurate recipe libraries can be created from icc profile data derived from the actual press standard data. Alternatively, static CMYK recipies can be replaced by a true color managed workflow, where lab based spot colors are converted automatically within the rip.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

AM proofs and FM Presses: Resolving the Differences: Part 3 of 3


FM screening is prized by high-quality printers because of the enhanced detail and expanded midrange color gamut it offers, but color matching to a conventional proof can be frustrating. Even though modern inkjet proofs use FM screening and show no visible dots, the widely-used GRACoL color model is derived from traditional AM press runs and is impossible to match directly with FM offset screening.

I touched on the reasons for the color differences in Part 1 of this series, and went over the creation and uses of device link profiles in Part 2. In part 3, we will explore the pros and cons of the two approaches to AM/FM color matching: match the press to the proof or match the proof to the press.

Option 1: Matching the Proof to the Press

An icc profile made from a characterization run of the press using FM screening can be used to create a proof that matches the color appearance of the characterization press run.


  1. The proof becomes a good predictor of press color.
  2. Expanded FM midtone color gamut is preserved.
  3. No change in press workflow required.


  1. Proofs will not match traditional GRACoL proofs
  2. Extreme accuracy is required when creating the profile: precise process control during the characterization phase is crucial.

Option 2: Matching the Press to the Proof

In this scenario, the FM press characterization profile is used to create a device-link profile for the plating workflow. In effect, the press is being treated much like an inkjet device.


  1. Press can accurately match traditional GRACoL proofs
  2. Enhanced detail and freedom from visible screening is retained.


  1. Color Gamut is limited to GRACoL range…potential expanded FM midtone gamut expansion lost.
  2. Specialized press workflow required.
  3. Extreme accuracy is required when creating the profile: precise process control during production runs is crucial.

The bottom line:

If your main reason for using FM screening is fine detail and freedom from visible dots, and if you need to match customer’s supplied proofs, choose option two and use device link profiles to match the press FM color characteristics to traditional GRACoL proofs. However, if you want both the fine detail of FM printing AND the expanded midtone color gamut that FM offers, chose option one and match your proofer to the press with carefully created icc profiles from characterization press runs.

Either way, process control is a must

Whichever approach you take to FM printing, process control is an absolute must, both during the characterization runs and during everyday production. The stake you put in the ground during characterization is something you will have to live with moving forward: if it is unreliable, un-typical or un-repeatable, success in color matching will be impossible.

Plate curves can be used to match FM press runs to G7 aims for NPDC; but the higher native dot gains (TVI) of FM mean that stronger plate curves must be used in order to achieve these NPDC aims, and stronger plate curves mean increased variability on press. This means that tracking of TVI for all 4 colors, already an important variable on a press using AM screening, must be tracked even more closely when printing with FM screening.

Ideally, the process control system should be used on every production job, not just during the fingerprint run. It should track all major parameters: solids, overprints, TVI (dot gain) and NPDC (gray balance plus contrast). And all measurements should be shared in real time with the prep department, so that any changes on press can be tracked and compensated for via plate curves adjustments before they result in visible color shifts. I use pressSIGN from Bodoni Systems, but a number of other systems are available as well: the important thing is to track the process, maintain stability, and respond to changes when necessary.

I always keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Gray Balance, Measurement, Offset, Plating, Prepress, Press, Process Control, Uncategorized | Comments Off on AM proofs and FM Presses: Resolving the Differences: Part 3 of 3

AM Proofs and FM Presses: Resolving the Color Differences-part 2 of 3

The first installment of this series showed why offset printing using FM screening cannot completely match proofs based on a conventional AM-based GRACoL proof.

The mismatch can’t be fixed with curves, but it can be resolved with device-link profiles. We will discuss exactly how these profiles will be implemented into the workflow in the next installment; but for the moment let’s examine the challenges of producing a reliable FM press characterization profile.

Golfer Cropped

Golfer Cropped FM








AM-based GRACoL Proof                                         Offset Press with FM Screening

This isn’t nearly as easy as it may sound. Conducting a proper characterization run is a challenging process, and the stakes are high…all of our future press runs will depend on the data we gather during the press characterization.

Even the best characterization run is simply a snapshot in time that may contain unacceptable irregularities. In order to be truly useful, any proofing profile should be based on multiple press runs, carefully conducted, averaged together, and normalized to eliminate irregularities.

For the very technically-minded, CGATS/IDEAlliance TR015 outlines methods for establishing near-neutral gray-scale aims; however for matching FM offset printing to GRACoL we can take the much more direct approach of following the usual procedures of conducting a GRACoL G7 press run.

I use Bodoni pressSIGN to control the press run and to create the G7 NPDC curves to export directly into the plate rip. Other G7 certified tools are available and can be found on the IDEAlliance website:

Once aims for solids, overprints, and NPDC are achieved, I use a profiling program like i1Profiler to make the press reference profile. Ideally, the process should be repeated several times and normalized and averaged using a profile-editing program such as Color Ant.

With a reliable and accurate FM press characterization profile in hand, we are prepared to match proof and press. We can go either of two directions…match FM press to AM proof or match AM proof to FM press, and we will get into the pros and cons of each approach in the next installment.

Posted in Gray Balance, Measurement, Offset, Plating, Press, Print, Process Control, Uncategorized | Comments Off on AM Proofs and FM Presses: Resolving the Color Differences-part 2 of 3

AM proofs and FM Presses: Resolving the Color Differences Part 1 of 3

FM screening makes it possible to create printing of ultra-premium quality: not only does it result in a print with no visible dots, but it also creates colors with greater purity and saturation, particularly in the quarter to middle tone range.

Greater purity of color is a great thing; however since industry-standard GRACoL proofing is based on color from AM press runs, we are faced with an inevitable difference between AM_based GRACoL proofs and FM printing.

To dramatize the effect, I will illustrate the difference with an image with elements that  show sensitivity to the appearance differences often seen between AM based printing (conventional dots) and FM based printing (stochastic): A golfer with a slightly tanned face, a neutral gray sweater, and a green fairway.

Golfer Cropped

Golfer Cropped








AM-based GRACoL Proof                                         AM-Based Offset Press Sheet

When we compare an AM press sheet with a GRACoL proof based on AM-based characterization press runs, we are apple-to-apple, and we can expect a good color match across all elements. But what happens when it is not apples-to-apples, and we are trying to match an FM press run to an AM-based GRACoL proof?

Golfer Cropped

Golfer Cropped FM









AM-based GRACoL Proof                                         Offset Press with FM Screening

Now, I have exaggerated the effect of FM screening on image color for purposes of clarity; but it’s easy to see why FM presents both opportunities and challenges to the printer.

Thanks to the G7 gray balance approach, the neutral gray sweater matches on both proof and press sheet, but other elements in the photo have shifted. The grass on the golf course certainly looks healthy; but it is now much brighter and doesn’t match the proof that was approved by the client, and the golfer’s now bright red face could be a serious problem.

Can’t we correct for that by adjusting the ink levels on press? Lets give it a try:

Golfer Cropped

Golfer Correct Face








AM-based GRACoL Proof                                       Offset Press with FM Screening

In this example, we can see that the press operator has done a pretty good job of matching the flesh tone color of the FM press sheet to the GRACoL G7 proof by reducing the magenta; but there is a problem: The sweater has turned green and the grass has become absolutely electric. Clearly this won’t fly. The press operator can’t control color selectively, so the overall change that helped the flesh tones has made the grass and the sweater worse.

How about the opposite approach? Could we add magenta to dirty up the grass and get a better match to the proof? The result isn’t hard to imagine but lets take a look:

Golfer Cropped

Golfer Correct Grass








AM-based GRACoL Proof                                       Offset Press with FM Screening

Well, no surprises here. The press operator has achieved a nice match to the grass, but now the sweater is purple and the golfer looks like he has been in the sun too long. What to do?

One fairly straightforward approach is to create an icc profile from an actual FM characterization press run and use it either in the  proofing queue, or else within the platemaking rip. This isn’t nearly as easy as it may sound, and there are tradeoffs to both approaches that must be considered.

I’ll cover the complications of custom profile based workflows as well as the pros and cons of both approaches in the next installment.

I always keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Gray Balance, Offset, Press, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Color Patches for Beginners: A Process Control Primer (Warning: Not for Color Geeks)


Most of us are looking at a lot more color patches than we were just a few years ago, and we’re paying more attention to what we see; but which color bar is right? What are all these different color patches? Can’t we have a “one size fits all” set of color patches?

Not too long ago, the typical press color bar had four patches-one for each of the solid process colors. Today we see a wide variety of color bars for use on an equally wide variety of output devices, and they differ not only in the number of different color patches, but also in the information they are meant to convey: some are meant only to control elements of the printing process, others are focused purely on color verification.  (You can find a more detailed exploration of press control patches here). It can be confusing-so what’s going on?

Process, Predicted Result or Both?

Color bars can be grouped into two basic types, with an important degree of overlap in between. Typically, offset and flexographic presses use a color bar with a relatively small number of color patches that is used to control the process but which may be limited in its ability to accurately predict the final result. Profiled devices, such as many proofing or inkjet devices, on the other hand, may use color bars with a larger variety of color patches. These color bars can accurately predict  to the press operator for controlling the process.

As the industry moves in the direction of verified print quality, it is important to understand which color bars work best for each process, and which can provide helpful verification data. Let’s start with a quick listing of a few color bars you may have run into:

Pressroom Minimalism: the press density color bar

This is the simplest possible color bar. It has just the basics of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. It is obviously practical, can be scanned in just seconds, and is capable of giving a press operator needed direction for adjusting ink densities; but has absolutely no value predicting the final print appearance, or for giving the press operator more detailed information for controlling the press.

Speed: A+  Process control: D  Color Verification: F Best use: Closed loop inking system

Maximum detail: the IT8.7/4 Characterization Chart

In the US, the IT8.7/4 chart is the standard patch set for profiling. Its advantages are  obvious: it has LOTS of patches, so its accuracy in predicting the appearance of an image is very high. But it has far too many patches to read for process control, and it give no useful information to a press operator.

Speed: F  Process control: F  Color Verification:  A+ Best use: Profiling and press characterization

Verification First: the ISO 12647-7 color bar

 A very complete color bar, the ISO 12647-7 bar gives TONS of information from lots of different color patches…solids, tints, neutrals, and critical colors like fleshtones and pastels. This color bar can be accurate and very useful in verifying overall color accuracy, in terms of deltaE (average, maximum, percent out of tolerance, etc.), and is especially appropriate for verifying proofer accuracy.

The trouble is, with 84 patches this bar can still take time to read without automated scanning equipment, making it impractical for controlling color on a high-speed offset or flexo press.

In addition, while its wide variety of patches is very good for verifying overall color accuracy, many of the patches are unhelpful in giving the press operator direction for controlling the press.

Speed: C   Process control: C   Color Verification: A  Best use:  Proofing and profiled digital printing

Closing in on G7: The P2P Chart

The ubiquitous P2P chart is the standard chart for G7 qualification. It gives very detailed analysis of gray balance as well as primary ink solids, overprint ink solids, and a full range of tints, but doesn’t give the wide range of colors needed for profiling or proofer verification, and is too bulky for everyday use on a press.

Speed: D  Process control: C  Color Verification: A- Best use: G7 Qualification, NPDC curve creation

Effective Results in the Trenches: The enhanced press control bar

Speed: A   Process control: A  Verification: A- Best use: Press process control and color verification

The color bar most appropriate for controlling the process on an offset or flexo press is something I will call an enhanced press control bar. This type of color bar includes the basic CMYK patches on the old density-only color bars, but adds several elements from the P2P chart, in abbreviated form. It can be scanned quickly and when combined with appropriate software, can give the press operator detailed and practical information for controlling the process. And while it excludes some of the complex color patches on the ISO 12647-7 chart, it serves as a very good predictor of how these colors will reproduce, as we will see.

The enhanced press control bar typically includes these elements:

Solid CMYK patches for controlling density and tracking accuracy of the primary colors.

  1. Solid RGB patches. For tracking the accuracy of secondary colors and monitoring press conditions such as ink trap.
  2. Tints, for tracking TVI, or dot gain.
  3. Three color neutrals, for tracking and controlling gray balance.

These four elements represent things that the press and prepress and prepress teams can control directly. Knowing how the press performs in each of these key areas gives practical direction for maintaining the accuracy of the printing; and while this color bar does not include all of the colors of the ISO12647-7 bar, it does a very good job of predicting how these colors will reproduce on a printing press by reporting on the control points that influence these colors.

For example, while the enhanced press control bar does not include the browns and tan tones included on the ISO 12647-7 bar, it still does a very good job of predicting the accuracy of these colors on a press by reporting on the related colors that influence them. In this case, the browns and tans, which lie somewhere between neutral tints and red/orange colors, will be influenced by the same factors that affect these colors. In this case, red overprints will be very important, as will magenta and yellow tints, and gray balance. If these factors are under control on the press, the chances that our brown and tan tones will reproduce accurately are very high, even if we have not measured them directly.

Process control on a fast-moving press and color verification of a completed run are slightly different tasks; and the color patches ideal for each use may be slightly different. A well-designed enhanced press control bar combined with appropriate software gives useful information to both the press operator and the print buyer/brand owner, bringing their interests together and benefitting both.

I always keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Hard Problem of Expanded Gamut Printing


Expanded gamut is the buzz of the year, with endless discussions of the fine technical points of EG printing; but in the flurry of details, we may be ignoring the hard problem of expanded gamut printing: consistent process control.

Expanded gamut, or N-color printing is hot right now, though it isn’t really that new. A major push towards expanded gamut took place in the mid ‘90’s and earlier; and it can be argued that the “K” in CMYK was already an “N” color back in the earliest day: a hi-fi gamut expander for the deficient blacks in the original CMY color process.

The path towards true HiFi color is littered with failed attempts, and all sorts of explanations have been offered for the failures: “The gamut increase wasn’t that great,” “We get a bigger punch with a bump plate,” “Customers should be willing to pay for it,”  “It never really worked for us,” “The workflows are too complicated,” “I don’t know how to proof it.” And so on.

But every once in a blue moon we hear what is probably the most likely and honest explination for expanded gamut failure: “We just couldn’t control the process,” And I think that’s about right.

Nearly every expanded gamut solution that has been tested has shown good, and even excellent results…in the lab; but results in the field have not always been as successful.

Let’s make a quick listing (in no particular order) of a few of the leading EG contenders over the years:

  1. High density CMYK…just put more ink on the sheets. (Notably in flexo through the use of advanced plate technology).
  2. CMYK Max, or CMYK-CMYK..use a second hit of the primary colors for added punch.
  3. High Chroma Inks…use better quality inks (and ideally, papers) to achieve a higher chroma than standard inks can provide.
  4. FM screening…solid primaries will stay the same but screened areas will gain in vividness and clarity.
  5. N-Color…CMYK+RGB or CMYK+OGV or 6 color variations of the same approach…punch the color gamut out in the overprint areas where CMY combinations are weakest.
  6. Proprietary Systems…Various custom solutions supported by a number of graphic arts companies that specialize in color.
  7. The combination approach…multiple techniques may be combined for maximum results: High chroma inks+high densities+CMYKOGB+FM screening would seem to be the “all stops pulled out” approach.

One thing that most of these systems have in common is that they can produce remarkable results when implemented properly. The other thing that many of them have in common is that they too often fail to deliver the desired results “in the trenches,” Printers often find that they cannot rely on expanded gamut print to perform as expected, despite the proven excellence of the system in test conditions.

So what’s the problem?

Clearly the problem is not with the systems themselves, which are all capable of delivering results that range from “Pretty Good” to “Wow!!” but rather with the printers themselves, who are often not prepared for the increased process control demands required for success in expanded gamut printing.

In a sense, expanded gamut printing presents a perfect storm situation for printers, with higher expectations for quality combined with a process that may be more difficult to control than conventional CMYK printing. Let’s take a closer look at some of these factors:

  1. Raised expectations: Clients who anticipate improved quality through expanded gamut printing are disappointed when the results fail to sizzle. Printing that would have been acceptable as conventional CMYK is a letdown in EG.
  2. Tighter tolerances: Expanded gamut is coming into increased use in the packaging arena, where color tolerances can be tighter than in commercial printing. Logo colors, brand colors, custom colors and PMS matches are often specified in deltaE tolerances that could be considered unrealistic in much commercial printing.
  3. More variables: It’s easy to appreciate the fact that, for example, CMYKRGB printing, one popular form of expanded gamut printing, has more colors than CMYK printing-three more, to be exact; and that represents more things for the press operator to control, and more things to potentially go wrong.
  4. More complexity: This is related to point three, but in a slightly different way. A single solid spot color is controlled mainly by just three factors: the color of a single ink, the color of the paper and the density of that ink on press. When a solid spot color is simulated in an expanded gamut scenario, several different inks may be involved, and not just solids, but solids and tints together. The complexity can be orders of magnitude higher.
  5. Lack of preparedness: Many printers have been able to “get by” in CMYK or CMYK + spot printing for years with minimal process controls in place, guided by a good eye and fast seat-of-the-pants reactions. That approach never had a chance of working in expanded gamut printing.

So, given all the challenges to expanded gamut printing, what process control factors need to be controlled to master expanded gamut?

  1. Tight control over all primary colors. This would mean not only CMYK, but also, depending on the system being used, CMYKcmyk, CMYKOGB, CMYK RGB, CMYKOG, etc.  And the control of all the colors has to be colorimetric, not only density-based.
  2. Tight control over dot gain, including supplementary colors. TVI is far too often ignored in CMYK, and almost universally ignored in spot color printing, where the only concern is with the 100% solids. In expanded gamut printing, where most of the brand colors will involve tints of both CMYK and the additional colors, accurate TVI control is a must.
  3. Communication between press and prep. Plates and plate curves have such a strong effect on TVI that constant communication is needed from press to prep to assure that the press operators are getting the plates that will enable them to hit the mark consistently.
  4. A culture of consistency. The old habits of improvisation don’t go away by themselves. After years or even decades of running each job a little differently to get an eyeball match, many press operators are unprepared to strive to run consistently every time, and may even be unaware that it is a desirable goal. In order to succeed with expanded gamut, the values, software and equipment to do so must be firmly in place and used on every job.

Expanded gamut printing is an exciting development, and many of the required pieces are beginning to fall into place: sophisticated color management systems, efficient workflows, accurate proofing systems, advanced plating technology and exotic screening systems. But all of it relies on a foundation of accurate and consistent process control. That is the hard problem of expanded gamut printing.

I always keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Flexography, Measurement, Process Control, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Fingerprint Fails

Why Fingerprinting Your Press May be the Worst Idea Ever

Ever since printers became aware of standards and specifications, press fingerprinting-AKA press characterization-has been the gold standard for printers who care about standards and want to optimize their printing process; most often by using plate curves to match the press to a specified output target such as G7 GRACoL.

 The trouble is, fingerprinting rarely works as expected, and may be costing printers a great deal of money with little in return. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Fingerprint runs are expensive. A fingerprint has little meaning unless the press is set to even densities, is warmed up, settled down, and running at actual production speed. And printed on fresh sheets of paper, not the backsides of makeready sheets. That means using thousands of sheets of paper, plus ink and plate costs. Add in hours of time in prep, setup, running, cleanup and analysis time, and you have a cost of several thousand dollars for every fingerprint. Factor that by multiple presses and runs done several times each year and you have a very substantial investment of time and money in a process of dubious value.
  2. It’s only a snapshot in time. New technologies are constantly emerging, but current offset presses are subject to substantial variability, not only run-to-run, but even within a single run. Even well calibrated and properly running offset press may have TVI variation of +/- 4% within a single fingerprint run. A sheet picked from the low side of this tolerance envelope will be completely unrepresentative of sheets from the high side, and getting sheets that truly represent “normal” behavior can be a challenge.
  3. The Observer Effect influences results. A frequently-cited 1920’s study by General Electric revealed the so-called Hawthorne Effect: Workers unconsciously act differently when they know they are being watched.  In the case of a characterization run, it often means that the press operators are not using the same procedures during a fingerprint run that they use on everyday production work. The result is characterization data that doesn’t accurately reflect real-world conditions.
  4. They don’t stick. If you conduct a fingerprint run twice a year (and how many really do?) your average data is 90 days old, and things change quickly over time. Summer shifts to winter, rollers wear in, blankets wear down or are changed, new consumable suppliers are brought in, or current suppliers bring in new batches of chemistry or ink. The plate curves that worked so well on the day of the fingerprint run may be hopelessly out of date even a few weeks later. The chances they will still be relevant to conditions five or six months down the line are vanishingly small.
  5. Emotional investment leads to fear of change. The cost of conducting a proper fingerprint run involves a substantial psychological investment in the process. The result is often a rigidity of approach and reluctance to change even when it is clear that the current plate/press/proof relationship is broken. This fear is often expressed in terms of legacy jobs, as in “We can’t change the plate curves now, we have a rerun of last June’s job coming up in a few weeks and we’ll never be able to match it if we change the plate curves now!”

So, if fingerprint runs are expensive and ineffective, what is the alternative to flying blind if we want to truly print to standards every day? How can the artificial division between fingerprint press runs and real production run be eliminated?

  1. Integration. The measurement data needed for monitoring press performance and color accuracy needs be integrated into the production schedule, rather than existing outside of it.
  2. Continuity. The data that is needed in order to regulate the system needs to be collected, not once or twice a year, but on every single press run. Seeing real data every day makes it easy to spot trends before they become problems. A small corrective action can be taken before the shift has become visible, eliminating the problem of matching previous runs.
  3. Communication. The information required for effective teamwork needs to be shared in real time. A twice-yearly or month-end quality meeting does very little to advance the process. The information visible to the press operator needs to be visible to prepress and other team members at the same time, so they can collaborate for success.
  4. Actionable Information.Raw data about delta E’s or pass/fail scores won’t get the job done. Both press operators and prepress operators need more. They need to have practical information that gives them specific guidance on what specific actions they can take to improve results.

Even a few years ago, continuous tracking of press performance simply wasn’t practical; but today we have the ability to monitor every press run and share information between the press department and prep department, as well as other interested players in the ink and QC areas.. We can skip the dedicated fingerprint run because now every run can (and should) be a fingerprint run.

I always keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Measurement, Press, Process Control, Teamwork, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Top 5 Reasons for Printing and Buying Print to Standards

Not all printers love standards: Some like to think that they already print “beyond” the standards; others feel that printing to standards is an unnecessary burden that gets in the way of production. Here’s why printing and buying to standards is the best thing that ever happened to printers and buyers alike:

1.    Printing to standards puts all printers on a level playing field. Equipment lists are fine, but jobs are ultimately judged on quality. The printer who can show his skill printing to standards can compete with anyone, even the big guys with the latest equipment.

2.    Buying print to standards gives the brand owner access to a wider pool of qualified printers. The old model of basing print decisions on personal relationships limited access to only a small number of printers, usually within a local geographical area. Buying print based on standards allows the buyer/brand owner to all printers capable of hitting the specifications accurately.

3.    Using print standards offer clear guidelines to continuous improvement. Print standards are based on specific measurable targets, so tracking adherence shows exactly what areas need improvement. Intelligent software also shows exactly what needs to be done to improve results without guesswork.

4. Buying print to standards assures consistent quality throughout print campaigns. Verifying print quality to standards ensures brand integrity through scientific, repeatable measurement and data evaluation of packaging.

5.   Not everybody can do it. Like so many other things, “Hitting the Numbers” is easy once you know how; but not everybody knows how. Mastering standards puts the printer who can do it into an elite group defined by quality.


I always keep my posts informative and product promotion free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Measurement, Print, Print Buying, Process Control, Software, Standards, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

They Never Go Out to Lunch Together

I was talking about press and prep issues the other day with my friend Larry Erwin, a trade veteran with 40 years of experience in and around pressrooms, and I mentioned to him that I thought that communication between press and prep was a big issue.

“Well, prep and press don’t communicate” said Larry, “They don’t even go out to lunch together.”

It took a minute for it to sink in, but then I realized that Larry was right: Press operators and prepress workers are friendly to one another when they pass in the halls. In the best shops they try always to work as a team; but they don’t very often take lunch together.

Why is that? And what does it tell us about press-prep teamwork? More importantly, are separate lunches a symptom of other communications issues that could be costing the company money?

A part of the reason for separate lunches is physical distance: Prepress departments are almost always separated by a soundproof wall, and in many cases the pressroom may even be in a completely different building from the prepress department. Workers don’t usually have a reason to go out of their own work area, and this lessens the chance to the casual contacts that lead to lunch sharing.

Press operators who get ink underneath their fingernails and wear ear protection while running a roaring offset press may see themselves as being different from prepress operators who sit in front of computers in air-conditioned rooms listening to podcasts through their Dr Dre earbuds.

But the biggest reason press and prepress operators don’t go out to lunch together is because they think that they don’t have anything to talk about. No shoptalk. No comparison of experiences. No collaborative projects: just different guys on different sides of the wall doing different jobs, without much to say to each other about it.

But this idea of separateness conflicts with the reality that press and prep are members of the same team, working together on every single job that goes through the shop, and the lack of communication between departments, reflected in separate lunches, is costing the company untold thousands of dollars every year.

How can we turn this around? Sponsoring company lunches with prearranged seating to put press and prep together might seem like the obvious answer, but we know that wouldn’t work. Press and prep will communicate when they discover that they have common interests and challenges, and when they discover that they can help each other to achiever greater results together than they could achieve alone.

The reality is that prepress is at the service of the press department. It is their job to help and support the press operators by providing them with accurate proofs and accurate plate curves. To do this job well, they need current and accurate information from the pressroom, but press operators sometimes misunderstand and can even resent pre press operators coming into the pressroom and asking questions.

As always, communication is key, and effective communication leads to enhanced as all players learn to work together on the same team.

Standard pressroom measurements, such as density, dot gain and gray balance, matter to the prepress department because having this information enables prepress operators to provide the best possible support to the press operators, and to make their jobs on press easier.

 always keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Prepress, Press, Teamwork | 5 Comments

Sherlock Holmes Top 5 Print Tips

The great detective had a good deal to say that applies to printers, and anyone who wants to improve color quality and reduce waste could learn a good deal from mister Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes Print Tip #1: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” A Scandal in Bohemia

Is the magenta too high? Is the cyan too low? Is the yellow dirty? Is there a trapping problem with the reds? Before you waste one more minute on theories, get the facts. You can scan a 40 inch press sheet in 15 seconds. Do it now.

Holmes PrintTip #2: “Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.”-The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Are you really still trying to do print by the seat of your pants, or with an inadequate hand-held densitometer? Holmes would despair. You need data to deduce. In print, that means measurement: solid ink values, overprints, TVI, and gray balance. Get the data first.

Holmes Print Tip #3: ‘There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.’-A Study in Scarlet

Does “printing by the numbers” still sound like a new and experimental approach to printing that is too theoretical for real world production? Take a look  at any old and tattered pressman’s trade school textbook from the past. Every apprentice learned about density, dot gain, gray balance and more. Printing “by the numbers” is the way it was always supposed to be done. Isn’t it time we got back to doing it?

Holmes Print Tip #4: ‘Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person.’ -Silver Blaze

Communication can be difficult when the presses are in one building and the prep department is in another; but without communication, success is impossible. It is now possible to scan a full press sheet in seconds and share the measurements instantly with the prepress department. If you aren’t doing it you should start now. It’s elementary.

Holmes Print Tip #5: ‘The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.’-The Sign of Four

Printing on a tight schedule can become an emotional matter, especially when things start to go wrong. It is easy for us to get our backs up and become defensive when it feels like the finger of blame is pointing our way. The great thing about measurement is that it takes emotion out of the equation and gives us all a clear path for moving ahead to printing success as a team.

 I always keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Measurement, Print, Process Control, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How Many Colors Do You Need?

Most printers and print buyers are familiar with color bars used to maintain quality, but how many color patches do you really need? And which ones? How do we find the balance between not enough information and too much?

The four-color set: not enough.

The basic CMYK solids color bar many printers use is definitely NOT ENOUGH.  This is the rough equivalent of the crayons that are given to kids at the restaurant when they go out with their parents. Every kid knows that this skimpy selection is good for nothing more than scribbling on the paper tablecloth cover, and it is just about as useless for printing.

We don’t need to get too technical here. Everyone has seen press sheets with perfect CMYK densities that simply don’t match the proof in any way. That should really be no surprise, since most images have very little solid color image content. This is probably what caused many to feel that “running to the numbers doesn’t work.” Well, it does work, but not with that skimpy 4 color coloring set.

The eight color set: a little better.

The smallest official Crayola coloring box has eight colors. That is just enough to do some basic coloring activities, and can also give at least a rough idea of what is happening on press. The eight color set would include CMYK solids plus 50% tints of CMYK.  This yields a lot more information about the actual appearance. That is easy to understand, since most images are composed primarily of different tints of color.

The nine color set: better yet.

Adding just one additional color to the basic eight color patch set increases the usefulness of the color bar tremendously, if we choose the right color. A patch of CMY tints representing neutral gray is a component of the G7 specification, and is very effective. The logic is very simple. Most colors in real printed images are neither solids nor single color tints. Most are combinations of multiple tints. A three color neutral made of CMY tints is a good guide to what is happening when multiple tints print together. In addition, gray is one of the colors that the human eye is most sensitive to.

The twelve color set: getting better.

The twelve color set is probably the minimum that most  kids feel comfortable coloring with, and it is a good minimum for printers and print buyers as well. Adding red, green and blue to the patch sets takes advantage of an old pressman’s trick. Back before densitometers and all the rest, pressmen know that the red that you got by printing yellow over magenta was more important than either the yellow of magenta was alone. So they watched those three colors like a hawk.

The twenty-four color set: now we’re getting there.

We can finish up the process by adding 25% and 75% to our tints and gray patches and well as adding in 3 color solid an paper as well. That’s it. Twenty-four crayons would make any young Crayola artist happy, should do the same for any printer or print buyer.

Do we need the sixty-four color box with built-in sharpener?

No, not really. A color bar with 24 patches gives us enough information about press conditions to know with confidence how well our job is printing on press. And with easily available and inexpensive equipment and software, a 24 color bar can be read and deliver a full print quality report in ten seconds, letting us know instantly know if a print job meets specifications or not. No guesswork, no head scratching, no stressful onsite press OK.

Every kid loves Crayolas because coloring tells a story. With an adequate color bar and the ability to measure it quickly and easily, your color bar can tell a story too.

© 2014 Color Clarity

I always keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Gray Balance, Measurement, Print, Print Buying, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Print and Brand Identity. Why Don’t We Analyze?

Brand owner used analytics to establish their color image. So why don’t they do the same to maintain the integrity of their printed colors?

Marketing is one of the most analytics-driven activities imaginable, yet even with powerful color reporting now available for print, brand owners still rely on unreliable eyeball judgment to evaluate the accuracy of their brand colors in print.

Why this disconnect? Is it because the same people who use objective analysis to gauge buyer’s most subjective and interior responses to their brand image feel that color somehow escapes this sort of scrutiny? Or is it because, even after mastering the intricacies of metadata analysis of complex marketing campaigns, color accuracy verification seems just too complicated to approach?

I imagine that it may be a bit of both. The idea that “color is just too subjective to measure” has been deeply  ingrained in print culture for decades, and well-meaning efforts to promote print specifications has at times created a cloud of confusion and technical jargon that is off-putting to the print buyer of brand manager.

So, how about a new start, based on what is available today?

Print buyers and brand owners can now analyze and track the accuracy of the color reproduction on their collateral and packaging print products. Using available and affordably equipment and software, printers can now provide their brand owner clients with meaningful data confirming accurate match to approved brand color targets.

And it doesn’t need to be complicated. We all know how to interpret a cumulative test score: an 80% score is better than a 60% score, and a 90% score is better than an 80%score. Print delivered with a detailed scoresheet based on industry-recognized metrics can easily be understood even by a non-specialist, and gives the buyer a clear guide to evaluation of print quality from all their print vendors.

Color is one of the most important factors in the brand identity of any product or company. Print color accuracy deserves the same level of analysis that goes into the overall marketing program.

I always keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here. Or contact me directly at glenn@colorclarity.net

Posted in Measurement, Print, Print Buying, Standards, Statistics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

What If the Construction Business Were Run Like the Printing Business?

As graphic arts professionals, we think of ourselves as technically savvy. But are we really as sophisticated as construction workers?

The role of management in a process control program is complicated because, despite lip-service to standards, there is such a strong tradition of running presses by eyeball that enforcing “running to the numbers” is often discouraged in favor of just getting the next job out. What would happen if other business were run like the printing business?  For example, the construction business.

Imagine a framing crew that is highly skilled, experienced and efficient in every way except for one detail: they don’t use tape measures. Instead they rely on eyeballing all their cuts; and because of long years of experience and great skill, they do pretty well at it, with most cuts accurate to +- about an inch or so.

Sure, they have to spend a chunk of time on shimming up wood that they have cut too short of jamming in pieces they cut too long, but overall the results are pretty good. The boss, who has worked most of his career with eyeball framing crews, worries sometimes over the large pile of scrap lumber stacking up in the corner but figures, “What can you do? That’s just the way the construction business is”.

Now imagine that one day a worker shows up on the job site with a tape measure in his pocket and starts measuring each piece of wood before cutting it. The other workers, experienced in the eyeball technique, would probably see him as a lightweight and would be little inclined to follow his example, seeing it as a waste of time and sign of inexperience. They might even ridicule his approach and he would have little chance of establish tape measure process control on this job site.

This is where the role of management comes into play.

If the construction business were run like the printing business, the tape-measure using worker might be ignored, or might even get a sit-down talk along the lines of “We understand you are taking time between cuts to use this tape measure thing.  We are glad that you are conscientious, but there is work to be done and the time that you are wasting measuring each piece of wood could slow up the project if we let you keep it up. Besides, we’re making custom homes here, not cookie-cutter shacks, so every piece of wood needs to be cut differently; you should understand that”.

Or, more hopefully, we can imagine the manager with an open mind to new ideas. The conversation in this case might go a little differently: “I understand that this tape measure approach you are using can reduce the time we spend shimming and forcing the fits on our framing projects, and could even reduce waste wood on the scrap pile. That’s fantastic! I’m going to see that all workers are equipped with tape measures and I’m going to make sure that all my managers make sure that their workers know how to use a tape and make sure that  all future projects use tape measures for process control .

Well, we aren’t in the construction business. We’re printers, and real process control is still talked about more than it is done, but we are making progress and things are getting better.

Now if only management would insist on it….

I try to keep all my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are interested in the subject, please check out my other posts, and be sure to browse my website for more information on accurate color and effective prep-press-buyer collaboration.

Posted in Measurement, Press, Process Control, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Will This Year’s Process Control Resolutions Last?

One of the most frequent calls I get is from printers who have had great success with process control but now find it slipping away from them as they drift back to old habits. In the grind of deadline production first successes can easily be forgotten. What causes process control projects to flounder and how can we get them back on track?

  1. Start from the top. Until management decides that process control is a priority on every job, it simply won’t happen. Even dedicated prep and press operators can’t make process control happen on their own. There must be a cast-iron mandate for process control from upper level management.
  2. Do the achievable first. Hitting all the numbers-solid lab values, overprint lab values, TVI and gray balance-can be overwhelming at first for operators used to running with outmoded seat of the pants methods. So start with what you’ve got. Get a sheet to density on every single job without exception. That won’t get the job done on it’s own but never mind. Find out why and move on.
  3. Set up regular accountability. It is important for all departments to meet and go over the results. What is working? What isn’t?  Why not? And no scapegoats. Passing the buck and pointing fingers won’t work here. The point is to build a team.
  4. Expect difficulties. Yes, things will go wrong and there will be times when you will be tempted to chuck it and go back to seat-of-the-pants printing. Don’t do it.  Nobody said this was going to be easy. Keep remembering those great looking press to proof matches you got every time you actually hit all the numbers.
  5. Have the tools. For goodness sakes, you aren’t going to make process control happen with a dusty old hand-held densitometer. Affordable tools now exist to scan full sheets in seconds and deliver the results to press and prep departments in real time. Get those tools now and learn how to use them!

I try to keep my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are a buyer, brand owner or printer interested in the subject of color communication, please check out my other posts and browse my website for more information on achieving effective prep-press collaboration. If you would like to learn more about process control and brand color verification with pressSIGN, please click here.

Posted in Print, Process Control, Standards, Teamwork | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Still Waiting for that Aha! moment

Everybody has heard about printing to specifications, but many printers still haven’t had any sudden flashes of inspiration over it. Are they missing something, or is printing to specs more a pain in the *** than anything?

Everyone has had, at one time or another, a sudden flash of inspiration that says, “I got it!” “Wow!” “This is Amazing!”

For some it’s the moment they first really visualized what Einstein meant when he said that gravity was curved space. For others, it’s the moment they suddenly notice that their little finger fits perfectly into their nostril,or that they could also peel a banana from the pointy end.

In either case, the sensation is an unmistakable feeling of amazement, insight and joy. And then the lingering appreciation of “Wow!” “This is really cool.”

I’ve been around a lot of printers when that look of joy spread over their faces as they suddenly see how the process control pieces would fit together to change printing for them forever.

But I’m not thinking about those guys.

I’m thinking about all the other printers who kinda sorta get the idea of standards based printing but find it more trouble than it’s worth. They redo their G7 qualification every 12 months and print “pretty much to standards” the rest of the year but don’t get too focused on it because, “Hey, we’re selling print, not color bars!”

Those are the guys I worry about. As far as process control is concerned, they’ll make the motions of doing it, but they feel like they’re being told to tuck their shirts in. Their customers push them for the numbers, and they aren’t seeing much return on the effort it takes.

What they are missing is that, when all the pieces are put into place-proofing, lighting, plates, and press-printing becomes a thing of ease as waste and makeready times decrease while quality increases.

One of the greatest things about printing to specifications is that everybody can play. No single brand of software or hardware is required. It can be done with new or old equipment. And it enables even small printers to compete with the big guys head-on.

So what is keeping some printers from having that Aha! moment about process control and printing to specifications?

It must surely be a sort of doubt…..not doubt about a particular product, but doubt about the whole concept of printing to specifications and process control  Something like the opposite of an Aha! Moment. We might call it a Nawh Moment. That’s the moment we think, “It couldn’t work that well.”, “It isn’t worth the trouble.”, “We’re too small” “I’m not ready.”

But there is another element, preventing printers from fully grasping the implications of printing to measurement, and it is what is sometimes called failure to connect the dots. I don’t particularly like that as an expression because it seems unflattering; but it does convey the idea of how someone could understand individual points within the print process, while not seeing how, when all put together by way of measurement, standards and communication, a much greater result can be achieved.

But I’m happy every time I see a printer that gets it. Printing is a old industry, but never too old for an Aha! moment.

Posted in Process Control, Standards | 1 Comment