Colour has always been a tricky beast to tame. In the present climate, you have to be able to match colour on offset and digital presses to standard printing conditions, such as ISO 12647, while providing reliable remote and soft proofs. As a result, any tool that claims to make it simpler to manage colour in this increasingly complicated environment is always going to be welcomed.
“Tools today are separate and so there is room for lots of confusion, with a high risk of human error and inaccurate results,” says Kodak GCG Enterprise Solutions director of colour, Arjen Van Der Meulen. “We asked customers what their problems were with colour. They came back and said that it’s difficult to understand and that there were different languages used to describe colour at each stage of the workflow. We recognised there was an opportunity to deliver existing tools in one platform to simplify colour.”
Kodak is just one of a number of different companies taking a stab at making colour more integrated and intuitive through its ColorFlow software. Smaller players, such as Alwan Colour Expertise and GMG, have made products that expand the application of their colour expertise beyond their core separation optimisation and proofing tools. Pre-press giants Agfa, Fuji and Screen have also packaged up their colour and quality assurance tools.
But Van Der Meulen says ColorFlow goes further than just bundling different colour products into one package and has coined the phrase ‘colour relationship management’ to explain one of its key new concepts.
“In the past, no-one made the link between plate curves and ICC profiles,” he says. “ColorFlow manages curves, profiles, device links and spot colour relationships – we make a link and show how they affect each other when one changes.”
That integration between all the different parts of the process that interact to affect colour reproduction is an important step to automating what is one of the remaining black arts in print. It also eliminates many sources of error.
“The most pressing challenge with colour today is ensuring the right settings are applied,” says Van Der Meulen. “Even with the best profiles, if they’re wrongly applied, it doesn’t create good colour. We don’t ask the workflow operator to assign profiles: they define the setting and ColorFlow defines the whole colour management process. For example, if the operator specifies matching Fogra 39, ColorFlow sets the right profile, with no need for manual intervention.”
Working to Fogra and Gracol characterisations as a way to hit ISO 12647 is one of the key parts of ColorFlow. The software fully supports the ISO colour standard and the forthcoming ISO TS (technical specification) 10128. In the production of the tool, Kodak has incorporated its press characterisation tools and the experience it has built up over the years from its US-only product Press Aim and the earlier work it contributed to defining the SWOP specification.
ColorFlow is designed to support digital, litho and, for the first time, flexo output. Built into it are the tools to work with the grey balance or the tone value increase (TVI) approaches. Its support of the grey-balance approach, which is seen as a more modern method, is based on a lot of proprietary colour technology that came from the Imation acquisition, which has never previously been commericialised.
ColorFlow takes away the time-consuming and expensive press time associated with running to standard conditions. Once a machine has been set up to run to a certain characterisation, such as Fogra 39L, there’s no need to run another test to check results and bring the press back into line, as ColorFlow automatically makes adjustments to the plate curves. Van Der Meulen says the software is even clever enough to anticipate changes.
To do that, the software is tightly integrated into Prinergy (although it will work with third-party systems) and, if installed, it replaces the previous RIP curve management tool Harmony.
For those that want to preview the effects of implementing a print condition before committing to a press run, it is also possible to do soft press profiling using Kodak’s Matchprint Virtual soft proofing system.
To keep on top of all of the variables that could affect colour, the package keeps a record of the print conditions for each job, including equipment such as proofers, platesetters and presses, as well as materials including plates, inks and paper. This sort of control is increasingly important as firms seek to manage colour across different types of print process, which is something that has moved on a long way since the launch of Kodak’s previous profiling product Profile Wizard.
With flexo support, the handling of special colours has become more critical and ColorFlow includes the Spotless technology for handling four-, five-, six- and seven-colour output for both print and proofing. Its support for digital devices includes all Kodak’s own toner-based products and those that its arms-length digital print software division, Creo PODS, drives. It will also support Creo’s forthcoming Stream high-speed inkjet presses.
One colour topic that has gained in importance recently – and one closely tied in to the move to standardised printing conditions – is ink-saving or separation optimisation. This is a tool available under the ColorFlow umbrella, but isn’t part of the standard package price. The software combines grey component replacement (GCR) with the desired total area coverage (TAC) to rebuild separations that use less coloured ink, have lower total weights and are more stable on press, as well as more predictable when making adjustments.
To match different printers’ practices, optimisation can be applied either on a page-by-page basis at the PDF refining stage, or to an entire plate at output stage. The page-by-page method is likely to be attractive to publication printers who don’t want to risk a claim for off-colour in an ad. As Van Der Meulen says: “If I was a printer, I would be very careful about adjusting colour on pages that pay.”
At the heart of ColorFlow is Kodak’s own colour management module (CMM). This means it knows when it’s dealing with print separation and, in the words of Van Der Meulen, the software “keeps blacks black and primaries primary”.
Kodak will be showing ColorFlow at Drupa and, following beta testing, the company expects it to go on sale in the autumn. It will be available standalone or as a bundle with Kodak’s workflows. These include Prinergy itself, as well as Prinergy versions Refine and Publish, which are aimed at agencies and publishers.
Its basic price of about $AU4,950 is comparable to similar products from rival suppliers. However, the price for the ink optimisation module has yet to be set.
The colour relationship management concept to simplify and automate colour set up is worthy of a closer look, but it’s worth doing your homework on rival systems too. This way you can judge the validity of Van Der Meulen’s claim that “there are a lot of competitive systems out there that compete with parts of ColorFlow package, but I don’t think there is anything else that offers the complete package”.
Supplier: Kodak Australia
Agfa Apogee Color
In the recent refresh of Apogee, Agfa has pulled the colour tools into their own module, including profiling tool ColorTune, Sublima screening and the new InkSave module.
Price ColorTune TBA
Alwan Color Expertise CMYK Optimizer
Having expanded from its roots as a separation optimisation tool, Alwan now offers different versions of the product for different stages of the workflow and calls it a colour pre-flight tool. Printers will want the top version that includes the ink-saving option.
Contact Alwan Colour
Fuji XMF C-Fit and Taskero Universe
C-Fit addresses two problems at different ends of the workflow: fixing and enhancing colour of supplied files and ensuring the colour reproduction of offset, inkjet and toner output all match to meet customer’s demands for consistent branding. Taskero Universe provides quality assurance and process monitoring.
Price to be set
Contact Fujifilm Graphic Systems
ColorServer is the core product in the GMG range, handling transformations between colour spaces, including a Fogra 39L characterisation. The firm also has InkOptimizer. At Drupa, it will introduce GMG Connect for tighter integration with pre-press workflows, such as Prinergy.
Heidelberg Colour Toolbox
It’s split into two modules: Profile Tool for device profiling and Quality Monitor to set print specifications and measure the results. Heidelberg press and pre-press customers can send plate corrections direct from press console to pre-press. Also includes ink optimisation.
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