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.

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!

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.

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!

Color: Get in the Driver’s Seat


Anyone who has been in the printing industry very long knows how difficult it is to achieve and maintain great color. Today, customers constantly demand higher quality and more consistency from their print suppliers, which makes color management a critical piece of any successful print business.

Color management processes, tools, and workflows vary from company to company, but they are all designed to bring out the best in each graphic, substrate, and printing device. Printers, presses, and monitors are calibrated to achieve an expected result. Prepress workflows are streamlined, and pass / fail metrics are put in place to verify jobs before they go to press.

These foundational steps optimize performance and accuracy the moment they are implemented, but they don’t control the effects of time. Running jobs, performing maintenance, and even the weather will impact printed color. Still, accuracy is a consistent customer expectation.

Industry leaders control their processes and produce the same high-quality color with consistency over time, taking both color management and profitability to a whole new level. Not only do they calibrate their equipment and streamline their workflows as a part of their color management protocol, they collect performance data over time to decode printer behavior. This enables them to address issues quickly and effectively and achieve superior performance day after day. These pros can anticipate issues before they start and cut crippling color surprises off at the pass.

Accuracy and efficiency are critical to thriving in this industry, because high performance is a widespread customer expectation. While color management practices vary between companies, process control can be applied to any color management system to maintain peak performance. It’s what separates the best from the rest.

Being right once is good. Printing the right color the first time every time is how 21st century pros blow the competition away. They get in the driver’s seat, turn on process control, and leave the past in the dust. Where are you sitting?

OBAs: New Lights for Viewing Booths (Part 2)


In our last blog we discussed optical brightening agents, or OBAs. If you recall, these are the additives that make whites whiter.

Click here to read the previous post.

OBAs caused issues when they were first introduced to printing substrates, because viewing booth lamps were not designed to activate them. In addition, spectrophotometer lamps didn’t align with the viewing booth lamps, so they ‘saw’ the paper color with OBA content differently than we ‘saw’ the paper color. (Spectros will be discussed in the final blog of this series.) The industry began correcting this misalignment in 2009 by updating D50.

D50 has been the long-time standard lighting condition for the print industry. Until 2009 the standard (ISO3664) defined D50 to contain little to no UV radiation, meaning it didn’t quite simulate natural daylight. This also means prints enhanced with OBAs looked different when being approved in a viewing booth than they did outdoors. Obviously that’s an issue for prints meant to see the light of day.

In 2009 D50 received an overhaul to more closely simulate natural daylight. UV radiation was added to viewing booth lamps so OBAs would fluoresce, or appear whiter and brighter, during visual approvals. As a result, OBA-rich paper stock looked similar outdoors and in the viewing booth under the new 2009 standard.

NOTE: Change always takes time, so it was a few years before the last of the lamps rated to the pre-2009 D50 standard were purchased and installed. Unfortunately, many people only replace their lamps after they burn out, so although manufacturers no longer sell the old product, many booths still have the pre-2009 lamps. Some even have both the old and new D50 lamps in the same booth at the same time

The point of having a viewing booth is to standardize lighting conditions and avoid color surprises. Having conflicting lighting conditions in the same viewing booth does exactly the opposite. Speaking of bad ideas, daylight or grow light lamps are not the same as D50 standard lamps. Grow lights (5000K lamps) are not D50 lamps and should never be used in a viewing booth.

Sunshine

The new D50 standard lamps added UV light to viewing booths so visual approvals done inside looked similar to prints viewed outside. This was an important advancement for accurate print approvals on production paper stocks. Unfortunately, proofing stocks were slower to catch the OBA craze. This caused problems as shops began to replace their old lamps, because press sheets with OBAs and proofing papers without them no longer matched under the new D50 lamps.

As complaints rolled in, viewing booth manufacturers offered a quick fix: A UV filter was placed in front of the lamps to block UV light, and, in effect, converted the new lamps back to the old standard. This allowed proof stocks and press stocks to look the same again, because the OBAs didn’t activate with the UV radiation blocked.

This was a Band-Aid approach. The real issue was the proofing stock needed to incorporate OBAs to match the press stock. We are still in flux about how much OBA content proofing stock should have, but today you can purchase proofing and press stock with similar OBA content.

As time goes on, viewing booths and proofing papers will align with the industry’s use of OBAs. Visual approvals will contain fewer surprises, and the lamp challenges experienced after 2009’s D50 upgrade will become a thing of the past. We will all breathe a sigh of relief, turn to our spectros, and begin the journey once more.

Stay tuned for our upcoming blog on spectrophotometers, OBAs, and how D50 and M1 fit into the mix.

Color Nerds Explain the Basics – Color Spaces


Color Basics

Color is dynamic. We all see it a little differently, because color is the physical response of the eye to light + the mental interpretation of those responses. This makes printing color accurately a bit tricky until one has a basic understanding of color space.

First, all color starts with light. The color of a physical object is the result of projected light reflecting off the object. Your eyes + brain interpret what gets reflected, and the result is the color you see. A red apple, for example, reflects red wavelengths of light and absorbs all others. You see the reflected red wavelengths. As ambient light decreases, colors appear to fade because there is less light and, therefore, less color.

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Pie process control

Using Data: The Process of Pie


One of the best parts of the holidays is the food, especially the pie. Specifically the homemade variety created by someone with a tried, true, and consistent process… Grandma’s finest beats the store-bought variety every time. Believe it or not, color management is much like pie construction. Blend the right components to roll out a great foundation (the delicate, flaky crust), adjust files to print properly (create a flavor-packed filling with just the right thickness), and print multiple jobs using the same process (pecan, apple, chocolate cream, etc.).

We’ve taken some time to research in-house color management processes at a variety of digital printing facilities over the past few months. Our findings show the same core principle is true in both printing and pie making: process is everything.

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4 Keys to Color Consistency – Hardware


This is the 2nd blog in this series. If you would like to read the first one click here 4 Keys to Consistent Color – Series Intro

When it comes to printing consistent color there are two pieces of hardware that matter most:

  1. A Consistent Printer
  2. A Measuring Device

The Printer

There is no such thing as a consistent printer! Printer variance is inevitable. One that varies very little over a week is much better than one that prints one way at 8am and quite differently at 5pm. The key is to monitor your printer’s consistency over time to both understand how variable it is and to know when to take corrective action if it varies too much. Variations can be minimized by setting up a process control program whereby you regularly measure the printer’s performance. Additionally, process control software allows you to track any variation and take corrective action should the printer’s performance go outside defined tolerances.

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