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Implementing Color Management in Tough Times

(March 2009) posted on Mon Mar 16, 2009

Tips to ensure color quality even when there's not much money to spare.

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By Stephen Beals

Can color management really be made easier and more affordable? In this time of economic turmoil, that’s something print providers are certainly wishing for. Here, I'll look at how various vendors have strived to make color management as easy to implement as possible.

Vendors have found that the fear factor seems to be one of the largest single impediments to shops putting a color-management strategy into practice. And even though a positive ROI on color management (CM) has been well documented over the years, print providers are increasingly reluctant to make any significant capital expenditures, particularly right now.

To help shops more easily pull the trigger on implementing color-management tools, the manufacturing community has been working to simplify the process in several ways: First, OEMs and vendors are integrating CM software into their workflow applications. This is being done by writing their own code into RIPs, adding OEM software with their own branding, or simply by bundling third-party software into various production packages. Second, manufacturers are keeping the software itself user friendly, and achieving a near-seamless integration of software and hardware. And, finally, OEMs are continuing to place an emphasis on training; no matter how good the software or how seamless the integration, there is still a degree of user training that must take place.

Where and when to color manage
In the early days of color management, vendors like Adobe began putting CM tools into its software products. The standard practice was to transform colors within programs like Photoshop. Print providers were largely the only ones concerned with managing color, and since they were often doing their work in a closed-loop environment, they could control color for their own output devices and didn’t need to be concerned with how the files would print in a different workflow. That has changed dramatically.

Today, files are widely distributed and printed on a large variety of devices. Print providers running wide-format devices must be concerned with how the same files will print on other devices in other plants, and whether a catalog printed on an offset press will match graphics in a P-O-P environment under fluorescent lights as well as the Web page featuring the same products. Not to mention matching the actual product when the end users get their hands on it.