Custom References and Why They Are Necessary


In our last post, we discussed how you can use our SpotOn! Verify software to compare a measurement of a printing device to a reference such as GRACoL 2013. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, there is another way to use this information that might give you results that are more useful.

The Problem With Using RPCs

Reference print conditions (RPCs) such as GRACoL 2013 can be helpful as an aim or target to achieve because they are based on a composite of different devices. Therefore they are achievable targets. Because of this, they are generally accepted throughout the printing industry.

The problem is that there isn’t a reference print condition for every printing process. Often you are trying to aim your printing devices to a reference that isn’t for your industry. An example would be printing signage on vinyl using GRACoL 2013, which is an offset on coated stock reference and not inkjet on vinyl.

In Tolerance, But Not Consistent Color

Another issue is that being in spec to an industry standard doesn’t mean that your printing device is producing consistent color. At no time can you actually hit the bullseye of the target to which you are aiming. It’s just not possible. The results will always be a bit off.

What happens if you are off to the left one day by an acceptable amount (within tolerance) and the next day you are off to the right by an acceptable amount (again, within tolerance)? Both prints are within tolerance to the target, but they are off to each other by more. This becomes a color shift that you and your customers can see.

As an illustration of this, we often refer to our Bonnie and Clyde scenario. In this instance, Bonnie and Clyde were two separate printers of the same model using the same inks and substrates and printing the same jobs.

The client was frustrated because when each machine was measured and compared to GRACoL, they both were within tolerance to GRACoL based on industry standards. However, the two printers were visibly not printing the same. How could two printers that were both within accepted industry tolerance of GRACoL be producing such obvious color differences?

Image of Bonnie and Clyde bullseye 1

The answer can be determined by these bullseye charts. As you can see, the two printers are both within a reasonable range of the GRACoL standard. But just because they are both within that range of GRACoL doesn’t mean they are in a reasonable range of each other.

Take a look at this second bullseye chart below in which we compare Bonnie and Clyde to each other instead of GRACoL.

Image of Bonnie and Clyde bullseye 2

In our client’s situation in which they desired their two printing devices to produce consistent color, it would make more sense to measure and compare the two machines to each other than to an industry reference.

Monitoring A Single Printing Device

This same methodology works in a situation where someone wants to monitor a single printing device over time.

Once you have that device where you want it (usually targeting some industry reference like GRACoL), take a measurement and make that your baseline for comparison in SpotOn! Verify. Continue taking measurements comparing each measurement to the new baseline you created. The resulting charts SpotOn! generates will show you exactly how much your printing device drifts away from that baseline you created.

The next step is to establish tolerances for the amount of drift. When the device drifts outside those tolerances, take corrective action (usually maintenance or recalibration of some sort depending on the device) to get it back in tolerance.

Color Management Is A Process

Managing color is a process that needs to be verified on a regular basis. The goal should be to keep color consistent.

To do this, it is necessary to create a realistic baseline or target. This realistic target should be based on how your device prints on a given substrate in your shop.

Monitoring the device to itself in this fashion will result in graphs in SpotOn! that show the variation of this device to itself over time. If you define a reasonably tight tolerance, you can keep your device printing visually consistent over a very long period of time.

Of course, you can make this process more robust by monitoring multiple printing devices to a single reference like the Bonnie and Clyde example. You can also use this method to determine how much of a difference there is when switching to a different substrate. Sometimes you can find that several substrates print similarly, yet others can print very differently.

By making these comparisons using your custom reference, you can determine which substrates will require their own calibration and profile. Plus, you will learn how much substrate contributes to color differences.

Ready For A Demonstration?

If you would like to learn more about how SpotOn! Verify can help you produce consistent color with your printing devices, we would be happy to give you a free online demonstration. Contact us to schedule a date and time!

Image of Trend Graph SpotOn! Verify

How Working With Trends In Verification Software Can Help Control Printing Devices


In our last blog post, we talked about how process control should never stop in your color management strategy. We explained that it’s just as important to maintain your printer’s profile as it is to maintain the printer itself.

To create and maintain a profile, you must incorporate two things into your process: a measuring instrument and some kind of verification software like our SpotOn! Verify to validate the profile.

But how does that work?

Following The Trend

 After you create a profile for your printing device, SpotOn! Verify allows you to measure and validate a control strip printed from your device using the new profile. That measurement is compared to a specified target such as GRACoL® 2013. By comparing the profile to a target, we can verify the accuracy of the calibration and ICC profile.

Another thing that verification software can do is save these measurements so users can track the performance of their devices over time. If you notice that your color is starting to drift, you don’t necessarily have to re-profile your printing device. Instead, you can print the chart, measure it and again compare it against your target. If it’s drifted too far away from that target, then you might consider re-profiling the printer.

Image of Trend Graph SpotOn! Verify

The Answer Is In Consistent Reporting

SpotOn! can also show you how your most recent measurement compares to previous measurements through trend reports. Showing the trend of the printer’s performance over time can help in the overall maintenance of the printing device and help you decide when it’s time to re-calibrate and/or re-profile.

Measuring printer consistency should be developed into a daily routine. The more frequently you measure, the easier it is to understand the behavior of your printing devices and track their consistency over time.

In this way, you are actually taking control and managing your devices rather than being surprised that what you printed last month doesn’t look the same today.  You can’t manage anything if you aren’t taking measurements and evaluating the results.

Image of hands of car driver on steering wheel, road trip, driving on hig

I like to use driving your car as an easy to understand analogy. Keeping your car in its lane is like keeping your printing devices printing consistently.

When customers ask how frequently they should measure their printing device’s consistency, I ask them how long they can close their eyes while driving down the road. I know that’s a bit extreme; but the concept is still the same.

If you want to stay on the road, you have to pay attention to where the car is at all times. If you want your printing devices to print consistently, you have to pay attention (take measurements and analyze the results) on a regular basis. Maybe you don’t have to do this as frequently as you do driving a car, but at least daily should be a bare minimum.

You have to decide how long you want to go without knowing if your devices are printing consistently. Define the frequency and make it a shop policy.

Image of Process Control

Process Control Never Stops In Color Management


Or More Appropriately, Process Control SHOULD Never Stop in Color Management

I had an instructor in a class I was taking say, “You can’t have color management without process control.” I thought about that for a bit and decided he was right.

One of the biggest constants in color management for printing is maintenance. The physical condition of the printer needs to be maintained. The environmental conditions of the printer need to be monitored. And of course, the profile of your printer needs constant process control if you want to achieve consistent and predictable color.

Image of Process Control

You Need A Strategy And Software Is Key

To create a profile and maintain a profile, you need two things: a measuring instrument and some kind of verification software to validate the profile. This is a huge part of process control.

SpotOn! Verify is a flexible powerful tool that helps you clearly define performance and control your print process. The Visual Match Scorecard shows you how visually consistent devices are, and the software provides tracking and trending data to help you print consistently over time.

Image of Bonnie Visual Match

So, Wait. What’s A Profile?

If you’re going to have a good color management strategy with process control, you need to understand what you’re trying to maintain.

A profile is a characterization of how a printing device prints at that moment in time when the profiling chart was printed. It takes into account all the variables that could affect printing such as environment, media, ink, substrate, print speed and resolution – again, at that moment in time.

Changing one of these variables can negatively affect the quality of printing. Therefore, the profile has to be maintained so that it can accurately do its job.

Process Control Through Verification

Let’s say you’ve created a profile for your printer that is giving you great quality print jobs. A couple of months later, you start to see that quality shift in the wrong direction.

Maybe you had to replace the ink or a printhead. Maybe you’re using a different brand of substrate than you were previously. Maybe the temperature or humidity changed in your printing environment.

What can you do?

Before you decide to re-profile the machine, it would probably be worth your time to print out a control strip, measure it against a specified target and use a verification software system to view the results. Many applications allow you to record the status of your printer over time.

By measuring charts and keeping a trend report, you are better able to see the results of how your printer is performing. You may find that the change you’re so worried about isn’t significant enough to warrant re-profiling the printer or you may find that it’s time to re-calibrate the machine.

If you do regular checkups on the profile of your printer and its performance through verification, you are using process control to maintain the condition of that printer.

In our next post, we will talk about how you can use those trending reports in verification software to control printing devices.

If you are interested in a demonstration of SpotOn! Verify, please contact us to schedule a time.

 

Image of SCCA

How Substrate-Corrected Colorimetric Aims (SCCA) Work in SpotOn!


Recently, we have been trying to highlight various features within the SpotOn! Analyze and Verify software that both users and non-users may not know exist.

One of those features was Visual Match Scorecard. Another is SCCA or Substrate-Corrected Colorimetric Aims and that’s what we would like to discuss today.

What Is SCCA?

Substrate-corrected colorimetric aims refers to a mathematical formula that approximates the L*a*b* values on a different substrate.

According to the Idealliance site when describing SCCA:

“The value of SCCA in the G7 Master process is that it allows a print or proof made on a non-standard substrate to be judged for its “relative accuracy,” i.e. how it would appear to an observer in the absence of a comparison proof.”

That is why SCCA is referred to as substrate relative.

The SCCA Calculator

A while ago, we helped develop an SCCA calculator for Idealliance. It’s free and anyone can access it. You can view the calculator here.

If you take a look at the image below, you can see that in this example of the calculator we are referencing GRACoL 2013 (CRPC 6). The L*a*b* values of the substrate (first column and row under the Analysis chart) are 95, 1, -4.

On the left, we can choose a test chart, like the TC1617, and measurement condition, like M1. In the fourth option down on that left-hand column, we can alter L*a*b* values for our desired substrate. In this example, we changed the b* value to -6 instead of -4.

Back under the Analysis chart in the second column, you can see how the SCCA calculator adjusted the values for CMYK, RGB, and neutral colors based on the desired substrate’s b* value change.

In the third column labeled “Deltas,” you can see the effect of the substrate change on the CMYK, RGB, and neutral patches.

Image of SCCA

SCCA in SpotOn!

From the SpotOn! startup splash screen, you can choose Settings (the wrench and gear icon in the image below).

Image of SpotOn! startup screen

Choose to change the settings of Analyze/Verify in the top menu and choose Tolerance Sets (highlighted in blue below). The ability to turn on substrate relative or SCCA is one of the options in a tolerance set. We suggest picking an italicized tolerance set (system default tolerance sets) that doesn’t have SCCA turned on (G7 Targeted has it turned on) in the list at left and making a copy of it (duplicate). Then you can turn on the SCCA option by checking the Substrate Relative checkbox and Saving that tolerance set with a new name. I usually add SCCA to the end of the tolerance set name so I know that SCCA is turned on for that tolerance set vs. the original where it is off.

Image of Settings Screen

When Should You Turn On SCCA?

When you verify your print and your problem areas are in the whites or lighter colors, it’s often due to the difference between the substrate being printed on and the reference set substrate. Try using the new tolerance set you just made that has the SCCA or substrate relative option turned on.

Image of Substrate Patches

It’s important to note that substrate correction isn’t always the answer, but it can be a powerful tool in SpotOn! just like the SCCA Calculator.

Visual Match Scorecard: A Pictorial Explanation


SpotOn! users are probably pretty used to gauging their print consistency by just the basic pass/fail metric. Perhaps they don’t even venture from this Verify screen (as seen below) where the control strip is measured. Maybe this screen has enough information for them. But maybe not.

We’d like to explain how the Visual Match Scorecard in SpotOn! works at a higher level than just a pass/fail.

Image of SpotOn! Verify Control Strip

This was a verification of a press run, which is why it’s a single row control strip. The pass/fail metric is popular because it can show the press operator problems with CMYK or gray. But it doesn’t show you what the color is going to look like and that’s what makes Visual Match so much more effective. With Visual Match, you are getting an assessment based on the visual appearance between the print and the reference or proof.

For this particular press run, measurements were verified and compared to GRACoL® 2006 over time. Here’s a report of that press run over time using the pass/fail G7® Targeted metrics.

Image of Visual Match Scorecard Blog Pass-Fail Device Graphs GRACoL

 

Pretty confusing as to how that press run went, right?

Now let’s take a look at a report of that very same press run using the Visual Match Scorcard.

Image of visual match report new

 

The Visual Match Scorecard allows you to see the results of each measurement in a single metric, making it much easier to compare those measurements. In the report above, the measurement in yellow was the closest to GRACoL 2006.

Since that measurement was the closest to GRACoL 2006, we made that measurement the reference target. As you can see by the chart below, the last two measurements now stand out among the rest as having no visual difference from one another. (See the green bar color in the chart below.)

Image of Visual Match Scorecard Reference 2

So, by using the Visual Match Scorecard feature, we’ve gone beyond just the industry standard pass/fail metric. We’ve included the actual visual appearance into the verification process. The goal is to not rely on a bunch of pass/fail metric values that are great production control metrics (like solid ink density) but don’t inform us about the consistency or quality of the color. While press operators might like this approach for running an offset press, it isn’t helpful from the client perspective of needing their color to match what was printed last time.

Suppose you as a printer were tasked with printing another company’s business card with a brand color. Then three months later, they hire a new employee and need business cards for that person. You print the new cards and the brand color doesn’t match. Obviously, the client is not happy.

Sure, you can run the print with a control strip, measure it and compare it to a target to get a pass/fail. But the customer doesn’t care if the print passes when compared to GRACoL 2006. They care that the two business cards with the company brand color don’t match and are very visually different.

We recently published a blog post where we used a bull’s eye target to display the differences between two printers. A client had two printers of the same make and model. They used both printers to print the same job. Over time, the prints began to look visually different. When compared to GRACoL 2006, both printers passed. But when compared to each other by making one printer the reference point, they were far apart. That’s because the printers drifted in different directions.

Image of SpotOn! Bulls Eyes

On the left is the comparison of each printer to GRACoL. On the right is the comparison between the two printers. The colors represent the colors used in the Visual Match Scorecard.

The point here is that while the individual printers may result in a pass status, they may still be unable to print consistent color compared to one another. If you are only relying on the pass/fail metric to GRACoL, you wouldn’t be able to identify the true visual difference between the two printers. Visual Match Scorecard provides a true visual assessment that helps you better “see” your color consistency. When the Visual Match score indicates a change in color accuracy, you can actually see that difference.

If you would like a personal online demonstration of how Visual Match Scorecard works, please contact us and we will get it on the calendar!

Image of SpotOn! Dashboard

New Users And Frequent Users Alike Benefit From SpotOn! Demos


SpotOn! Analyze and Verify as a software package has a lot to offer. In fact, there are so many invaluable features and charts that it can seem overwhelming. And as we discovered in our previous post, some of our frequent users aren’t necessarily aware of some of the features within the software.

Look At All The Data!

When you look at the SpotOn! dashboard after measurement for verification, it may appear like there is too much data to absorb all at once. We believe that it is good to include as much data as possible in our software solutions (and we are always trying to improve upon it) because our current users and prospective users all have different color management strategies and workflows.

Image of SpotOn! Dashboard

Indeed, no one will probably use every single data chart and feature available in Analyze and Verify. Every client of ours has to decide what data is pertinent to their own facility’s workflow.

Personal Demos Available Upon Request

Often, we find ourselves chatting with current clients for other reasons and we ask them to describe their workflow to us. We can almost always recommend a certain data chart or feature that they can use to assist them in their color management strategy.

But until they reach out to us and talk to us about their workflow, we can’t make such recommendations. That’s why we want to put out the word that we are happy to schedule a personal online demo via Zoom where we can discuss your individual and your facility’s needs. We try to keep the demos to an hour or less, but we also want to make sure we answer all your questions.

What do the demos look like? Well, we are glad that you asked! Last month, we had a demo for a current user and a potential new user. We recorded it and below is a sample of some of the features we discussed.

If you would like to schedule a personal demo of SpotOn!, please contact us and we will be happy to pencil you in! Enjoy the video.

A SpotOn! User Learns New Features For Workflow


Last month, we published an interview with one of our clients who we referred to as “Jane.” She shared how she used SpotOn! in her color management workflow and what she considered essential features. You can read that blog post by clicking here.

We discovered during our interview that while Jane is a frequent SpotOn! user, we had the opportunity to help her with her workflow. There were some features in SpotOn! that she either wasn’t aware of or wasn’t using to her benefit.

For example, we realized Jane was exporting her results into an Excel spreadsheet so that she could share the data with multiple facilities in her company.

Image of Excel Chart Data

We were able to show her through a Zoom meeting (Zoom really is popular right now, isn’t it?) that SpotOn! has a reporting module where you can view a Verify Device Report. It’s easier to read visually and using this feature would save Jane some steps in her color management workflow.

Image of Verify Device Report Multiple Devices-1

 

In addition, we told Jane the store of Bonnie and Clyde, two identical inkjet printers that were originally calibrated to match the GRACoL® specification. Over time, both printers drifted away from the GRACoL target and then later the two printers were no longer printing the same as each other. The same file printed on both printers turned out very differently and it was quite noticeable.

However both printers were still technically passing the GRACoL specification so how could they be printing so differently?

We showed Jane our bullseye visual. The printers did drift, and they drifted in different directions. So while they both were within tolerance of the GRACol specification, they were far apart from each other visually.

Image of GRACoL Bull's Eye

 Above: Both printers compared to GRACoL.

Image of GRACoL Bull's Eye

Above: Printer 2 compared to Printer 1.

SpotOn! has many features in both Analyze and Verify. And as we have seen, even our most robust users aren’t necessarily aware of all of those features or how they can be of use in your color management strategy.

If you are a SpotOn! user who would like to learn more about the program’s features or if you are considering incorporating SpotOn! into your workflow, contact me to schedule a demonstration.

A SpotOn! User Shares the Benefits of Visual Match Scorecard


It’s easy for the developers and dealers of color management software to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of that software. We can use online demonstrations to explain how it works. We can talk to you about it at trade shows or during onsite training. We are always looking for better ways to explain our features; such as Visual Match Scorecard.

What we can’t do is tell you about the software as it is experienced by someone who decided to invest in it and use it as part of their daily color management strategy. So, we found someone who could.

Jane* is a regular user of our SpotOn! Analyze and Verify software. She also incorporates our Visual Match Scorecard feature into her everyday profiling.

We wanted to tell Jane’s story about her color management process and how SpotOn! is now a part of her strategy to maintain consistent color.

During a recent conversation with her, we realized that no one could tell her personal story but Jane herself. So, in a traditional question-and-answer style, we interviewed her. We invite you to read on and find out more about her path.

The Interview About SpotOn! Visual Match

Q: What kind of processes, substrates, printers, etc. do you use?

Jane: My company prints grand format dye sublimation prints on textiles. We use both the transfer and direct method of printing. We also use UV and latex printers. We have the capability to print on any rigid substrate as well as soft signage.

Q: What are your color management pain points or what issues do you run into most often?

Jane: One word: gray. To be more specific, neutral gray.

People have multiple opinions about gray and throw out the term without actually realizing what they are asking. Gray, by definition, is neutral. This means that there are no colors in it. Many people think that a color that does not have much chroma is gray, when in reality, it is a color.

One of the other problems I have run into is people are stuck in the dark ages of printing where relying on eyes and memory was the way to color manage. We have tools, like spectrophotometers, and software, like SpotOn!, that are driven by data as a means of measuring and analyzing colors, profiles and consistency.

Q: You’re a regular SpotOn! user. How do you use it most?

Jane: Regular might be an understatement. Not only do I use it every time I profile, but also when verifying profile validity. SpotOn! has been a game changer for me as a color manager. I use it to see how close our profiles are within different tolerance sets as well as how the profiles measure over time.

Editors Note: The image above is an actual report from one of Jane’s verifications. Step one is to get as close to an industry specification as possible, using Verify to compare to published specifications like G7 Targeted.

Q: How does the Visual Match Scorecard fit into your color management strategy?

Jane: The Visual Match Scorecard is critical for my position. I measure the profile once I complete it to see how we compare to the tolerances set by Idealliance. Then I make that my reference with the plant, machine, substrate, resolution and a date stamp.

I use this reference to compare the machine/profile/resolution combination to itself and to different machines across the company’s different locations. I have set up a profile verification program for each facility in our company to send me a control wedge along with other control prints and a nozzle check every two weeks. The visual match score is recorded in a simple spreadsheet to track the degradation of each printer/substrate/resolution combination. It helps us visualize possible issues.

Editors Note: The Visual Match Scorecard excels when it’s time to compare today with weeks or months ago when the baseline print was created. In the world of grand format dye sublimation there can be significant drift but maintaining a good visual match score has proven to be sufficient for the work Jane’s company produces.

Q: What’s the biggest color management challenge you have solved using SpotOn!?

Jane: Before I was hired, the most color “management” was having one profile that was created during RIP training many years ago. Our team members used their eyes and many workarounds to create an acceptable output. By managing the color and proving by numbers/science that we are now within industry standards, which they did not know about, was one of my initial challenges.

One of the biggest challenges has been using the data and visual match of our profiles over time to see if we have shifted and are within tolerances. We have been using the data I am able to pull from SpotOn! to prove when I need to re-profile, anticipate potential issues and confirm shifts we are seeing visually through data. I wouldn’t be successful in my position without SpotOn!

Q: What are the biggest advantages in using SpotOn! and Visual Match?

Jane: The biggest advantage of Visual Match is being able to see the consistency of a printer/substrate/profile combination. By tracking the performance of the printers, we are able to understand what variables are causing problems with data rather than relying on our eyes. Managing color across three facilities across the United States is not an easy task. This feature has allowed me to visually see how far the printers have drifted and when to get them back into tolerance.

Image of Jane's trending spreadsheet

Editor’s Note: During our interview, we discovered that Jane was exporting her data into an Excel spreadsheet to share with her different facilities. Since SpotOn! has powerful reporting tools that Jane either wasn’t aware of or just wasn’t using, we realized we had an opportunity to help a client with their workflow. The results of that opportunity will be published in our next blog post.

Q: In your opinion, what is the best feature of SpotOn!?

Jane: Visual Match Scorecard, without a question. It allows color management to go beyond tolerances and actually analyze profiles across multiple platforms. Two printers can hit the same tolerance but not visually match between the two. The human vision is limited and is different for each individual, but the data does not change and is not subjective.

Q: Tell us about your color management journey.

Jane: During my junior year, my school offered a class for printing and photography. I learned L*a*b* and printing techniques. Then in graduate school, I worked at two sister print facilities. Not long after graduation, I had the opportunity to work at a fast-paced fine art printing company to run their print department. Three years later, I took an SGIA Color Management Boot Camp with ColorCasters and decided to pursue color management. Now I am the color manager for three grand format printing facilities in the U.S.

*Editor’s note: Jane is a real person working with SpotOn! in a real-world printing environment. While she does prefer to remain anonymous for this post, we conducted the interview via email by asking questions which she replied with her answers. While her answers were lightly edited for grammar, spelling and punctuation, the answers given here are genuine.

A Year In Review With SpotOn!


2019 was a great year for SpotOn! Let us take you on a short year in review.

Earlier in the year, our own Bruce Bayne was featured on the IDEAlliance GAMUT Printing and Packaging podcast. The episode focuses on new BrandQ requirements and the Formula to Connect the Global Supply Chain. Listen to the podcast.

This year, we also completed some significant updates to both our Analyze/Verify and Flexo software. Both sets of software had two new releases this year.

Flexo Updates

Many of the 2019 updates to Flexo were general bug fixes. But there are two exciting features that are worthy to note.

Flexo is now able to measure SCTV, or Spot Color Tonal Value. The addition of SCTV allows users to calibrate tonal values of spot colors as defined in ISO 20654-2017. The methodology works with all inks and all printing conditions.

The other feature is the addition of a new measurement report. Now Flexo has two reports: a measurement report and a job report.

The difference between the two reports is that the measurement report shows a single measurement instance (although you could have multiple spot colors) while the job report shows the trend of all measurements for a job. 

Image of Flexo Measurment Report

Analyze and Verify Updates

Like Flexo, many of this year’s updates to SpotOn! Analyze and Verify were bug fixes.

Besides those fixes, here are some other improvements to the software:

  • Improved license check functionality to reduce error messages
  • Updated eXact driver
  • Improved Verify device report layout
  • Added instrument and mode to Verify when importing Barbieri data
  • Updated G7 Colorspace to 2019 specs

With the updates to Flexo, Analyze and Verify, Windows 32-bit operating systems are no longer supported. The minimum Windows configuration is now Windows 7, 64-bit. Operating systems below Windows 7 SP1 and Mac OS 10.10.5 will no longer be supported.

We are happy to continue to improve upon our products and services. We have already started working on Version 3 of SpotOn! and we are looking forward to its release in 2020.

If you have any questions about any of our software or other services, please email us at info@spotonpress.com.