The Color Management Secret I Learned at thINK

Posted on by Greg Cholmondeley | No Comments »

by Greg Cholmondeley, Workflow Practice Director, Caslon & Company

thINK logoI attended the thINK conference, sponsored in part by Canon, back on the 11th and 12th of October and learned something really interesting about color management and inkjet. Now, it would be difficult to NOT learn something with dozens of educational sessions and hundreds of customers, vendors, top Canon executives, and other interested parties, but I found this one nugget of knowledge to be surprising in a good way.

Color management seems to be the hot workflow topic of 2016 and probably will be for 2017 as well. Processes and measurements have become much more standardized and solutions are now out that make it easy, achievable and affordable by just about everyone – not just highly-trained color experts. There are generally two areas of focus with color management: calibrating presses and profiling press/paper combinations. Both are reliant upon each other in order to reliably deliver consistent results.

Now, high-volume production inkjet presses have been around for several years and, while color management has been important, it hasn’t been as top-of-mind for inkjet as it has with toner-based presses because, frankly, production inkjet quality hasn’t been as high. It’s been fine for transactional and transpromo work as well as for low-cost educational workbooks, but it’s been far too washed out for most commercial applications. And, if that’s the best you can do, why bother killing yourself managing the color.

Well, that has changed. The image quality of the VPi300 is impressive and some of the future product prints Canon showed were nothing short of spectacular. Some of this is due to the new presses and some of it is due to improved media. Whatever the reason, inkjet color management now needs to mean more than “how to I adjust the web speed, fan speed, saturation, and heat to get as much intensity as possible without soaking the paper.” It needs to focus on how to get consistent, high-quality results for mainstream commercial applications and it needs to employ the same types of solutions being used today for toner-based presses.

The surprising thing that I learned at thINK was that the color on high-quality, production inkjet presses doesn’t vary like it does on their toner-based counterparts. Let me say that a different way: Once an inkjet press is calibrated, it stays calibrated. I, of course, heard this from Canon technical experts, but I also heard it confirmed by customer after customer to the point where I now believe it.

This is huge. One major hurdle with color management on toner-based presses is that you need to recalibrate and reprofile on a regular basis. Charge corotrons, developer, toner, and how it all mixes together change over time and even slight environmental changes can wreak havoc with tightly calibrated systems. So, companies struggle to test and manage color on their toner presses daily, by shift, or before critical print jobs. The fact that, with inkjet, you can calibrate and profile a press and media combination once and be done with it is incredible.

Now, I should also add that doing that initial calibration and profiling is more time consuming with inkjet because drying time is required prior to measuring the output. With toner-based presses you can measure the output as soon as it comes off the press. However, with inkjet system you might need to wait a few hours before taking those measurements – and you might need to repeat the process several times for each press and each media. So, that means that the initial calibration and profiling of your new digital inkjet press might take days instead of hours, but it also means that once you’re done, you’re done.

So, while there were many sessions on growing business, designing for inkjet, workflow automation, big data, and omni-channel marketing; learning the differences between color managing inkjet and toner presses is what really caught my attention. I look forward to next year’s event and suggest that, if you’re using or are in the market for production inkjet equipment, you put this event on your 2017 calendar. I’m sure you’ll learn something valuable as well.

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