Me & my... Alwan CMYK Optimizer

Jenny Roper
Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A software package designed to take the strain out of building custom colour profiles by automating the conversion process

In Paul Warrick's job, no news is good news. As creative services manager at John Brown Media company, a good day at the office for him is one where the colour profiles that he has built for, say, the latest John Lewis magazine, have been up to scratch, so no one gets back in touch after the press pass run.

An even better day is one where Warrick forgets what a fiendishly complex process building colour profiles for different substrates and processes actually is, as his Alwan CMYK Optimizer software is busily working away behind the scenes to get it done for him.

"The whole idea of the Alwan software is that you don’t really notice it," says Warrick. "The good thing about it is I don’t really have to look at it, other than adding a cue every now and again."

And this, explains Warrick, is a very different situation to when this multimedia publisher’s in-house pre-press department was using another software package to create colour profiles. 

"Before we got the CMYK Optimizer software in December, that was all done manually, so when a magazine came down to the department, whoever happened to be working on it had to think ‘right I’m working on John Lewis magazine so I better change my settings for that,’" says Warrick. "Now the CMYK Optimizer automatically filters it through and changes the settings to what we need, so it does all our colour management for us."

Considering what a revelation John Brown’s new automated, user-friendly colour software has been, it’s perhaps surprising that the company didn’t install it earlier. Investment in the software only came at the end of last year when, during a complete overhaul and upgrade of the pre-press department’s workflow system, Warrick saw a demo of what the CMYK Optimizer software could do.

"We already had another system which was working fine and certainly did the job," says Warrick, explaining that investment in a new system wasn’t high on the department’s agenda before Alwan caught their eye, because it wasn’t a case of resolving a problem or improving quality.

Indeed, the end-result as far as the customer is concerned should be the same with the Alwan software as it always was. In fact, this is largely the point. Not only has the software eliminated the headache of manual profile building for Warrick and his team – who now leave this simple process entirely to him – it also provides an extra assurance that things won’t go awry.

"However good your staff are, there’s always the potential for human error with less automated software, especially when you’re busy," says Warrick. "You’ve got a deadline and half of the team are working on an uncoated catalogue and the other half are working on some other magazines, and someone comes in with a correction with something else that’s gone to press, so there’s the potential for real mistakes being made in sending wrong converter PDFs to press. But this new software provides an extra quality assurance safety net." 

Profiles pronto
The new software can also help to speed up turnaround times in a few instances, says Warrick. John Brown’s previous package, he explains, required him to go to the software manufacturer every time a new custom profile had to be created.

"If Sappi, for instance, gave us a custom profile for a specific type of paper we would have to go back to the manufacturer and say ‘we’ve got a new profile in, can you give us the conversion profile’," he says. "They would fiddle around with it and often take one or two days to send it back."

Now when an urgent job comes Warrick’s way from John Brown’s designers, such as an insert added last minute to a magazine, Warrick can have the profile ready in five minutes. This is because he can create the new profile himself using the output ICC profile rather than the software developer building it in.

This further enhances John Brown’s aim of improving cost, quality and efficiency by having a pre-press department in-house, he says. "We’ve just recently won back some repro work that was pinched off us by another agency because the customer has since realised the benefit of a designer and pre-press department being in the same building," he says, explaining that being able to very quickly tell a designer whether a colour is possible on a certain substrate is another way of ensuring innovative products through a close working relationship between the two departments.

Colour confidence
Another handy feature of the software, says Warrick, is that you can ring-fence certain colours you don’t want converting. "Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest, for instance, have both got their own corporate CMYK, and the old system just converted the PDF and we found that their corporate CMYK was changing slightly," says Warrick. "But with Alwan, you can choose not to convert colours."

Of course such a sophisticated bit of kit, as user-friendly as it is, still requires a fair amount of skill to use. And the training given by Alwan suppliers Colour Engine certainly equipped Warrick with this, he reports.

The support offered when Warrick has the occasional problem remembering how to do something is also apparently top-notch. And, with no service issues or technical glitches having yet arisen, these sorts of problems are the only ones Warrick has had to take to the supplier.

It is with full confidence, then, that John Brown is planning on rolling out this very same software to new branches around the globe. "A key focus for John Brown at the moment is spreading worldwide," says Warrick, explaining that the company now has offices in China, Hong Kong and South Africa.

"We’re considering putting in-house repro into the South African offices," he explains, "so this is where CMYK Optimizer comes into its own because we can buy a server, remote install all the software, copy all of our cues across and essentially manage it from over here."

With the software playing such a key and yet unobtrusive role in John Brown’s expansion plans, it is little wonder, then, that Warrick is so pleased with his investment and would wholeheartedly recommend it to others.

"I would have thought it would make life a lot easier for any company generating PDFs and converting to various different types of uncoated and gloss paper," he says, explaining that the software comes in many different versions besides the pre-press version that John Brown has, including one with ink saving capabilities aimed at printers.

In fact, imagining how much more difficult life might be for those printers, pre-press departments or repro houses yet to invest in CMYK Optimizer, or a similarly automated profile builder, is enough to bring Warrick out in a cold sweat.

"I can’t even imagine not having automated colour conversion software now," he says. "It’s a dreadful thought."


Special features RIP dot gain corrections applied to queues, accurate rendering of name spot and special colours, dynamic TAC handling, ink savings
Compatibility All print technologies supported, including packaging, sheetfed, web-offset, digital, design companies, agency, repro, corporate, print management, publishers
Workflow integration
Compatible with Alwan ISO 12647 conformance suite, hot folders, Enfocus Switch, Kodak, Prinergy, DALiM Twist, Agfa, Apogee
Input files
All major image formats, production and PDF files supported. Prepares files for new and old RIPs
Different levels of GCR (grey component replacement) offered
18 levels on a slider
From £5,990
Color Engine 020 3239 3330


John Brown Media was established in 1987 as a contract magazine publisher, but has since added a marketing, catalogues, large digital and pre-press department to its operations. Clients include John Lewis, Royal Bank of Scotland, Orange and Waitrose and the company has its own in-house pre-press department to enable the company’s designers to liaise closely with pre-press experts on technical issues.

Why it was bought...
As part of a process of backing up its workflow system in case of technical hitches, John Brown’s pre-press department decided to also upgrade the different components within the system. Creative services manager Paul Warrick realised that the process of building colour profiles could be made much easier by upgrading the department’s old colour management software to Alwan CMYK Optimizer.

How it has performed...
Warrick says he has been blown away by how automated and user-friendly the CMYK Optimizer is, reporting that profiles can now be generated much more quickly and in a way which leaves less room for human error. "I can’t even imagine not having automated colour conversion software now," he says. "It’s a dreadful thought."


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