Will colour ever be clear and simple?

Barney Cox
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

At the final Digital Ad Lab meeting of 2008, many of the topics were related to colour, including proofing and accreditation of printed output.

The haphazard approach our industry takes to colour reproduction is exemplified by the fact that an ISO standard for proofing didn’t really exist until the introduction of ISO 12647-7 last year. Until then, proofing was dominated by proprietary systems where the manufacturer’s brand was deemed to provide the assurance of quality and consistency. Alternatively, open, but more complicated, systems that relied on a bit of characterisation here and a measurement there could be put together if there was enough knowledge and trust between all the parties for whom the proof was, err, proof.

With ISO 12647-7, there is at least a colorimetric target with tolerances to aim for, and fortunately, the target is the same as set out in ISO 12647-2 for offset print, but with the tighter tolerances that you’d expect for a single proof compared with the course of a production run. However, whether ISO 12647-7 becomes widely used for hard-copy proofs remains to be seen; in ad land at least, there appears to be a drive from clients at big brands to do away with hard-copy proofs entirely. It is easy to see why when sending a hard-copy proof is estimated to add £65 to the cost of any insertion. Advertisers are keen to save £65 per job as well as cut the time taken for a proof to dawdle along behind the digital file. However, printers are stuck in the situation that taking advantage of soft proofing where they need it – by the press – costs dearly and there’s currently no return on investment.

Burden of proof
According to St Ives group technical director John Charnock the typical cost for press-side proofing for a web-offset press is £150,000. Some suggest that the solution is to do away with proofs altogether and to just run to the numbers. One response at the Ad Lab meeting was: Print to the numbers. If you put a proof into the mix, the minders will have an opinion, and that’s when you have a problem.

That might be so in an ideal world where all the niggles of image reproduction have been ironed out, but that isn’t the world we live in. Vagaries of the print process remain that can’t be eliminated with standard printing conditions and automated colour measurement just yet. As long as that remains the case, there are still markets where the minder’s opinions of a proof matter and where an operator can get closer to an art director’s aim than closed loop colour control.

Which segues nicely into the latest in the development of an accreditation scheme for UK printers based on ISO 12647. The scheme, which is currently being considered by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), includes a requirement to have a colour management policy. This should make it easier for firms with the accreditation when sorting out the thorny issues of proofing within the workflow.

A crucial aspect of the proposed certification is that it is accredited – that is, the certificate and its assessors are approved and policed by UKAS. This was essential to ensure clients had confidence in the standard and those policing it, according to colour manage-ment expert Paul Sherfield of The Missing Horse Consultancy, who has been instrumental in developments as chair of the BPIF technical committee.

The potential problem without accredited certification is that colour control could end up like proofing was previously, being policed according to commercial interests rather than public standards.

Barney Cox is executive editor, Print Group Haymarket

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