We’ve Got a Guy Who Does That

A big part of what I do as a color consultant involves helping printers to achieve better quality and efficiency through process control, color management and enhanced communication.  Not all printers understand the need at first, but most do finally see how their operation can achieve gains that make the small investment worthwhile.

One of the toughest challenges is answering the manager who says, “We’ve got a guy who does that”. It sounds likely at first. Most shops do have somebody (usually in the prep department) with an interest in color management and lots of ideas for improving the operation. Some of the very best color consultants I know were once guys like that, carrying out a full load of retouching, assembly, troubleshooting and platemaking duties in the course of a day, and doing their best to handle color management duties in their free time between rush jobs.

But is it really accurate to say, regarding color communication issues, that “We’ve got a guy who does that?” I’d say that it’s very unlikely, in part because even if you already do have a guy who could do that, he probably isn’t being allowed to.

I mentioned the many wonderful color experts that I know who started off in  (often) the prep departments for quality printing companies, then eventually went off on their own to pursue careers as independent color experts. Why did they leave good jobs to take their chances living by their wits? (Assuming that it wasn’t for the money, and I smile as I say this). I think that there are several good reasons, and these reasons also explain why you probably don’t have a guy who does that:

  1. Really expert color guys aren’t that easy to find. There just aren’t that many real color experts hanging about.
  2. Expertise takes practice. Even the best in-house color experts are usually too busy with production work to focus on the details of color management and process control, and don’t always get a chance to polish their CM skills.  We all know that this is true: when a rush job needs to get out the door, everything else stops, and these days, with personnel cutbacks at every corner, nearly every job is a rush job, with barely enough hands on deck to get it out. Color management is a luxury when you are scrambling to get the work done.
  3. Color production is collaborative. There is really no such thing as individual color management, because it involves all sections and all departments. Every job travels through multiple departments, which means that a color expert, even a very skilled on, working in a single department, can improve only a portion of the process.
  4. Establishing good color management and process control requires that procedures be set up and followed, and these procedures usually require a new kind of relationship between press and prep departments, a relationship where the press department is required to be responsible to the prep department in hitting specifications and reporting to the prep department. One problem: Peers don’t tell peers what to do. The prep manager (who is usually the in-house color guy) has no authority over the press manager, and so can’t  really demand anything at all from him. Result: the required new procedures are never put into place.
  5. Authority flows downhill. This is an extension of point 4. The in-house color guy rarely has the authority to make significant changes, and the plant manager or COO rarely has the expertise or time to implement these changes himself. Result: as above, very limited success.

Even when there is a very talented color guy in-house (and it happens), he will rarely have the time or authority to make the needed changes needed for real improvement in the overall process. The role of the outside color consultant is not only to provide a level of  expertise and experience not often available in-house, but also to bring in the independence and perspective that can only come from the outside. The outside color expert is often the push that is needed to allow the inside color expert to finally be allowed to do his job.

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