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.

Tricks to Matching Multiple Printers


Calibration of a single printing device is not always the easiest task, and matching multiple printers to one another is an even bigger challenge. One question that has come up frequently, especially with the rise of digital printing, is “what is the best way to profile multiple devices of the same model?”. If you are trying to achieve a close visual match between printing devices, there are three key things to consider before putting ink on the sheet:

1) Printer gamuts have to be pretty close between devices. This of course has a lot to do with substrate texture and ink texture (rough textured media and/or UV inks both exhibit more light scattering properties due to their roughness vs. solvent on glossy substrates).

2) It is necessary to evaluate more than just the worst ∆E value. You need to know how all the patches in a control strip compare in ∆E, not just the worst or the average. When choosing a control strip,the more patches, the better, as long as the chart doesn’t become too large for practical daily use. The more patches under 1 ∆E, the more likely the printing is visually close, as you are comparing all patches in the strip to themselves and ranking them on visual closeness.

3) You can’t compare to an industry reference, like GRACoL, when visually comparing devices. You have to compare one device as the reference to the other, because that’s what you’re looking at in the viewing area. You can’t see GRACoL, as there is no perfect GRACoL proof, but you certainly can see the difference between printer A and printer B, so make printer A the reference when comparing those two devices. Hopefully with grouping tests you can compare multiple devices to one device.

Tight calibration of the device and the ability to truly recalibrate back to the same known state the device was in when profiled is key. From my experience, the automated “recalibration” process does not always work well in the field. Some RIPs are better than others, but the bottom line is for true recalibration to work successfully it has to be a two-part process. First, you have to achieve the same solid ink value that was in the original calibration, and second, you have to then create the same curve along the values between 0% and 100%. Most RIPs do the latter, but few actually do the former during the automated recalibration process. This is important, because if you can’t fully recalibrate the printer, the original profile is eventually going to be too far off the mark to be useful.

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Also consider: very rarely do two of the exact same devices that are exactly the same age print the same color right out of the box. I’ve proven this many times when evaluating color output data during calibration sessions. There is no way to successfully use a single profile for multiple devices that aren’t even close and achieve a tight visual match. My advice is to target the same source reference space (GRACoL as an example) for each device, then calibrate and profile each device as carefully as possible to achieve as tight a match as the RIP can provide to the source reference space. When finished you can compare how close each device is to one another by printing a test chart and comparing the measured results. Now that being said, RIPs that have iterative optimization have a much better chance of achieving a tight calibration between multiple devices than RIPs that can only rely on ink limits, linearization, and icc profiles alone.

You certainly can and should run comparison tests between all your devices (ideally on a single substate all devices can print on) to identify which devices are the closest to one another and group them accordingly. The point here is to get to know each and every device (it’s gamut, how consistently it prints, etc.). Maybe you get lucky and find several devices that actually are close enough to calibrate using a single profile. Only after going through the process of calibration and evaluating the results can you truly know the color capability of each device.

I have installed many pairs of Epson aqueous printers and have never found two that calibrate the same or profile the same, however, following the process described above will get them to the closest possible visual match.

SpotOn! Verify is the ideal tool for comparing the calibration results of each printing device. SpotOn! Analyze is the ideal tool for setting ink limits and examining the color differences between each printing device. Try them for yourself!

Real User Stories: Global Color Control


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Last year I was working with a well established company in Pennsylvania that specializes in ‘museum quality’ art and photography books. They were considering several titles for their first Asia production attempt, but the company was concerned the quality that their reputation was built upon would not be upheld by the new contract facility. Additionally, they wanted to implement a color control and monitoring process at their US factory.

The company’s ultimate objective was to bring the proofing of both facilities to within 90%+ of GRACoL 2013 target values using the SpotOn! Visual Match Scorcard. At press we matched the printing color to these accurate proofs. Achieving this goal would ensure their customers continued to receive the same high quality products regardless of where these items were printed, and the company would be able to efficiently control color in two facilities nearly 8,000 miles apart.

This was a job for color experts, so we asked Bruce Bayne from Alder Technologies to spend several days in the Pennsylvania facility and calibrate their new Epson SC9900 proofer. He also installed SpotOn! Verify to bring their quality monitoring and QC assurance procedures to the next level. Moving forward, Verify would be used to control the print process by monitoring and tracking the consistency and accuracy of proofs made in the US and abroad.

Next, the highly skilled Cathay America team used SpotOn! Verify to calibrate and monitor the Epson proofers at the printer’s new facility in Shenzhen, China. Verify’s Visual Match feature guided our calibration work and helped ensure proofers on two continents would match accurately.

Finally, the US based press was calibrated, and the Cathay America team calibrated the presses in China. Both were able to achieve GRACoL2013/CGATS/CRPC6 target values. This was the last step to bring all of the proofing and production devices into alignment.

The next step was to implement a global monitoring and QC assurance system (process control) that would allow our customer to achieve the same high quality presswork over time, regardless of where their books were printed.

Thanks to the support of Bruce Bayne, our China team, and SpotOn! Verify, our customer was deeply impressed by the quality of their first prints from Asia. Both the US client/printer and the photographer whose work we reproduced were thrilled with the quality of the images in this very impressive book. Most importantly, our US client was confident that he could print his high quality museum editions at our China facility.

Since this first successful printing last year, many more titles are now being produced with excellent color. This was possible because of our process control program enabled by SpotOn! Verify.

The details of our method are below.

Click Here to try SpotOn! Verify

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Using SpotOn! Verify to monitor and control presswork.

The printer had 10 fairly new, well-maintained Komori presses, each with an Intellitrax scanning spectro. But the intellitrax software was several generations old and didn’t report anything more that solid ink densities (SID).

This limited color data was simply not enough information to tightly monitor production printing and achieve the accurate and consistent color control that we required. The printed images were quite well known, and our client needed assurance the original images could be reproduced accurately.

We decided to print on a slightly larger press sheet so that we could add a second set of colors bars at the trailing edge of the sheet. One control strip was placed in each of the four alleys of the book pages, just below the Intellitrax scanner’s control strip. These 18-patch, custom color control strips were designed to be scanned by a i1Pro2. After scanning, the measurement data was sent to SpotOn! Verify.

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Press proofing key images before the production run. Notice the SpotOn! Version 2 color control strips  that run vertically. This allowed for SpotOn! Analyse to measure and display comprehensive printing data.

 

If the press has shifted too far out of spec, the ink can be levelled accurately by scanning the press color bar with X-Rite’s Intellitrax system. The next step is to scan the custom color control strips in each of the four alleys with the i1Pro2 and SpotOn! Verify to monitor compliance with CGATS21/CRPC6 target values.

Verify clearly displays the data from each scan for the operator to evaluate compliance with the CGATS21/CRPC6 target values. If the press is out of compliance, the operator can take further corrective action to bring the press back into tolerance before running color-critical jobs.

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Great color is within reach, and it can be maintained efficiently over time. What it takes is the desire to control the process.

 Joseph J. Pasky, Shenzhen

Test Form that Bob Signed

Patches: C, C50, M, M50, Y, Y50, Red, Green, Blue, 3/c Black, 100k, 25k, 25cmy, 50k, 50cmy, 75k, 75cmy, paper white

Click Here to try SpotOn! Verify

Which Wedge Is Best?


Recently, a color process control manager at a large print production facility wanted to know if there is a more comprehensive chart available for daily digital color evaluations than an 12647-7 proofing wedge. He pointed out the IT8.7-4 has too many patches, and the P2P51 has too many gray finder patches. Reiterating a thought we’ve all had many times, he asked: “Am I overthinking the value of additional patches?”

Great question!

There is a tradeoff between patch count and how effective a chart is at gathering QC information. There is also something to be said for both extremes; too many patches and too few patches. Too many patches on a noisy (grainy, low screen ruling, etc.) printing device can cause unwanted noise in the measurement data (like using a 1 pixel eyedropper setting in photoshop to determine the dot percentage in a noisy image). Too few patches and you are not sampling enough colors to accurately model how the device is printing.

I just dissected the TC3.5 patch set and found it to be lacking in the 3 color grays. There are not many patches and none are G7 compliant gray patches. In my opinion, this eliminates the TC3.5 for any G7 evaluation. In fact, most of the currently available charts are not very good in the gray areas, especially if you are trying to evaluate G7 compliance. Idealliance built the TC1617 to address this lack of G7 gray patches in the IT8.7-4, but even this chart has too many patches for day-to-day evaluations.

The 3-row 2013 12647-7 chart (the replacement for the 2009 2-row chart) was built as a very good compromise between patch count and patch value. It has a decent number of patches to effectively evaluate print consistency, which includes G7 compliant gray patches, the typical array of CMYKRGB tone ramps, pastel patches, saturated patches, and a good assortment of dirty patches. These dirty patches were purposely built with CMY values and then with 100% GCR values excluding the 3rd color and replacing it with K. This was done because many separations, especially those done with ink reduction products, are made with GCR these days. It’s hard to beat what’s in that 3-row, 84-patch control strip.

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The 3 Row Control Strip with key patches highlighted.

While considering charts and patch values, it’s almost more important to note the metrics and tolerances we place on these patches for conformance to specifications. If you look at the metrics we currently use for pass/fail, they are very CMYK printing press centric. Commercial print, specifically offset printing, has been the forefront of most industry standard and best practice development. Therefore much of the data gathering and evaluation is based on printing devices where C, M, Y, and K ink thicknesses are controllable by the operator. This means most metrics are tied to effective control of those ink thicknesses, which is largely irrelevant to the digital world.

We should be asking: “What are we passing and failing?”

For the G7 Colorspace metrics (currently the most stringent) we are evaluating:

  • Substrate – Paper color is good to evaluate
  • Solid CMYK – Very useful to press operators, but not much of a typical image or job is just solid C, M, Y, or K. This makes these patches poor for evaluating digital print consistency, especially visual consistency.
  • Solid RGB overprints – In my opinion, this is more important than Solid CMYK, as overprinted colors are what we see when we look at printed material. Still, these are only the solids, no tints.
  • CMY gray balance and tone – This is very important in controlling and evaluating print consistency, although it’s more important in print processes that lay down individual CMYK inks like offset.
  • All the other patches (pastels, saturated, dirty colors, skintones, CMYKRGB tints) are all lumped into a single metric called ‘All’ and then given a whopping average ∆E of 1.5 or 2.0 and a worst patch ∆E of 5.0 (95th percentile). That’s huge! A virtual barn door to let almost anything outside of grays and CMYKRGB solids pass.

These are not very visually oriented metrics and tolerances. So the big question to ask is what are you evaluating with your chart, or more importantly, what metrics and tolerances are you using to evaluate your chart? For G7 you could just use a P2P and eliminate the gray finder patches (columns 6-12), because the metrics are really only focused on CMYKRGB solids and the gray patches.

Bottom line, if we are looking for print consistency, we need to look at establishing new metrics that truly help us determine how visually consistent a print is. After a great deal of research, I believe this should be based on a cumulative relative frequency model (CRF) that evaluates all colors in a chart. In a CRF model, each and every one of the patches is relevant to visual consistency and is being counted within the evaluation. I have found the 3-row control strip does an excellent job of evaluating visual print consistency when using CRF. I’ve also performed the experiment in live production many times and have continued to get feedback from users who say using CRF and the 3-row control strip is the best method they’ve found to evaluate visual consistency.

If you would like to see the true power of CRF and real world metrics, try SpotOn! Verify. The trial is free, and our team will help you get started.

Real User Stories: Process Control for Seagate


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Long-time SpotOn! user and product dealer Joe Pasky at Cathay America offers insight into the value of process control…

EIGHT years ago, I was asked by Seagate Technologies (California) to help them G7 qualify the 6 printing plants that they used in China and Thailand which produced retail cartons for disk-drives. They were having difficulty with variations in the color appearance of similar product images that were printed at different factories, even though the files and proofs for these images were created by a single color-house in the States. Several runs of cartons were rejected and had to be reprinted; this caused delays in the product release schedules and extra costs.

The original strategy for press checks on new products was to ask the printer to produce a press sheet at make-ready that matched the supplied proofs as closely as possible. This best match was approved and became the master reference sheet for printing all subsequent SKUs that used those particular brand colors and product images.

The problem with this approach was that the printed product images approved at one factory were sometimes different from identical product images produced at other Seagate printers.

As we began to G7 Qualify each of the printers and train them to ‘print to the numbers’, the color differences between the master reference sheets at the multiple printing plants was greatly reduced.

When traveling to the States a few months later, I visited a Best Buy store. I took particular notice of the display of Seagate disk drives; cartons that I had approved several months earlier. Looking at the same and similar cartons side-by-side, I was disappointed to see a noticeable variation in color and balance. I took photos of the UPC codes to identify the printer and began an investigation.

As it turned out, the operators were not being vigilant in monitoring the color during the press run. We implemented a new sampling procedure where a percentage of sheets from the press run were pulled and time-stamped. These were measured by the QC department and reports from each production run were sent to the Seagate China office for review. This procedure required extra effort and attention from the press operators and supervisors, but after several months of monitoring, the printing consistency was improved and variation reduced.

Monitoring the press sheets was effective, but we also wanted to sample the individual cartons after they were formed. But once the carton was die cut from the press sheet there was nothing to measure. The press colorbars were gone. To solve this problem, we built a 7-mm, 14-patch control strip that was hidden in the glue flap and another control strip placed in the tuck-flap of the box. The patches on this strip included two brand-color patches, paper-white, CMYK, 3-color black, and the G7 tone value targets: 25k, 50k and 75k and 3-color, ¼-tone, midtone and ¾-tone tints.

We had the experience of using SpotOn! Verify software to check digital proofs. We realized that we could also use SpotOn! Verify to scan the printed control strips. We took samples of finished boxes from the production runs and used SpotOn! Verify to quickly measure and record the color data. SpotOn!’s reporting function helped us build a quality report and history for each of the production runs.

The press operators also began using SpotOn! Verify during make-ready to measure the control patches to be sure that they were hitting their G7 target values and assure that they would pass the QC department’s ‘pass/fail’ criterion. It was an excellent tool that was very easy to use in production. We no longer use proofs as a color reference; we’re printing 100% ‘to the numbers’.

Seagate was quite pleased with the results. For the past 6-years, each of the factories have been using SpotOn! Verify to monitor color on press and in the QC department, cartons from each of the factories and the images for each SKU were an excellent match to each other. All the printing plants were printing product images that were accurate and consistent from SKU to SKU and run-to-run. Color variation between boxes produced at multiple factories was practically eliminated.

Using SpotOn! Verify to measure these simple hidden color control strips that incorporate G7 data points has made it possible to monitor and improve packaging color reproduction of finished folding cartons across multiple production facilities. Any brand hoping to improve color consistency of printed packaging across a global supply chain could use this approach to improve quality and color fidelity.

Joseph J. Pasky

Cathay America

Shenzhen, China

jpasky@gmail.com

Analyze Is Here!


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Exciting news! Today, we’re announcing the launch of Analyze, the ultimate weapon for print industry professionals who are serious about printing great color. Analyze is a powerful addition to print management software that further increases the efficiency of the printing process. It presents detailed color data in a simple visual interface to help printers improve consistency and increase the accuracy of color calibration for all types of printing devices. It puts process control in users’ hands, helping deliver quicker turn times, reduced ink and paper waste, and improved profits.

In today’s competitive print industry, efficiency and accuracy are the keys to success, and Analyze also helps users streamline the G7 qualification process and maximize the results over time. We are thrilled to announce this significant step forward for the color industry, and we are ready to help you integrate it into your workflow.

Buy it now, or check out the full press release!