Ask the Experts

Overcoming challenges in colour management

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Think Digital talks to Tom Lloyd, a Canon Business Consultant specialising in colour management about some of the challenges facing Print Service Providers (PSPs) and their customers in the era of multichannel communications.

Tom is part of a Canon team that works with companies, brand managers, agencies and PSPs to develop easy-to-use colour managed workflows for print, web, mobile and other publishing formats. The solutions delivered involve using colour managed workflows to better prepare prepress work and create press-ready files to recognised standards, as well as working with PSPs to deliver training to their customers and staff as needed.

What is the biggest colour management challenge today?
We live in a multimedia world with an ever-increasing number of channels across which we can publish. These can include everything from lithographic and digital print through to desktop and tablet computers, social media, mobile phones and more. Yet, if you go to most corporate companies today and ask to see a copy of their brand guidelines, these will almost always be 20th century documents that don’t take multichannel publishing into account. These guidelines tend to be based around the Pantone® matching system, which uses 13 primary colours and thus has a wider colour gamut than CMYK (the four-colour model used for some printing presses). Files need to be prepared with the end destination in mind, and this is best achieved by automating this process with bespoke PDF export workflows. The solution is to communicate, educate and automate.

Why is this a problem?
When you have graphic applications set up one way and a print workflow set up another way, you’re going to end up with file conversions taking place. The more often this happens to a file, the more gets lost in translation and the greater the likelihood that the output won’t reflect the colour intended at the design stage.  Many users are unaware of the different ‘under the hood’ colour settings with Adobe CS & Acrobat, and run with default settings, which are optimised for screen and not print. Getting colour defaults set correctly, working with calibrated monitors, and understanding how soft-proofing works will save time and money, as well as delivering accurate, predictable results.

What does this mean for brands and companies?
A lot of organisations haven’t given enough thought to how they maintain their brand identity across the different channels that they’re publishing to. This not only presents challenges in the sense of retaining brand control and consistency, but also in terms of cost efficiency and waste when it comes to time spent correcting files or colour errors in files sent to print. Companies spend hundreds of thousands on brand creation, maintenance and protection, but failing to look at the production stage can let the whole process down and cause them to fall at the final fence – producing the piece of print that their customers see.

And what does it mean for PSPs?
Without a doubt, the biggest colour management problem for PSPs is files that are not fit for their destination. Badly created documents are inevitably difficult to print, so if someone submits an unsuitable file and the PSP then pre-flights it and finds problems with it, they’re left with two choices. They can either reject the file and ask the customer to rework it, or they can spend time trying to fix it themselves. While the first option may cause delays, the second places the PSP at risk of being in the wrong if an argument arises about the colours later. There is a real need for PSPs to understand how to automate good file creation, and educate their customers about why files need to be set up correctly and maybe even offer consultancy to them on how to do this.

How can brands and PSPs work together to overcome this challenge?
From a brand point of view, most of the problems originate at the document creation stage, so putting the right workflows in place can help to eliminate a lot of these problems. This entails analysing the entire workflow from start to finish and then creating different colour workflows to make it easy to select the correct colour settings for the document’s final destination – whether that is print or online. By ensuring that documents are packaged with the right colour settings, brand owners can ensure that their brand identity will be consistently portrayed across the various media channels being used.

At the PSP level, getting the production workflow right is also vital, so colour calibration across all devices in the workflow is important. However, there is a lot of misunderstanding that colour management is all about what happens at the printer level, but while that is very important, if you have badly prepared files then all the printer profiling in the world won’t fix that.

In essence, the three most important elements are communication, education and automation. Talk to your customers to understand their requirements from print, educate them regarding file preparation, and offer to create bespoke Acrobat PDF workflows that they can share to guarantee consistency.

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