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Just a Standard Revolution

Background

Below is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Australian print publication – Proprint (April 2007).

In this three-part series of articles, Yves Roussange, internationally recognised expert in colour management and Director of ColourProcess P/L, discusses what he sees as the next big step in Australian printing: the adoption of globally recognised standards in proofing and printing workflows.

Yves has over 24 years experience in colour management and has held the position of Director, Technical Division of the French printing industry body SICOGIF. Having sold his pre-press, high-end retouching and colour management companies in France in 2004, he is now based in Australia. Yves is working with local printing and graphic arts communities, using his skills, knowledge and experience to help them ‘raise the bar’ and consistently and cost effectively deliver higher quality results.

Standards based printing: the next wave

Australian manufacturing, particularly the sheet-fed printing industry, is typically an early-adopter of new technology. There are many highly sophisticated printing operations in the market utilising the latest technology from around the world, however, this technology is not necessarily matched by the use of internationally recognised standards to control and manage the quality and consistency of the output.

As the printing industry faces continued pressure on revenue, profit margins, asset utilisation and quality, I believe a change is coming, and coming fast. Widespread adoption of internationally recognised print standards is the key to the Australian market being able to consistently achieve the next level of quality and efficiency that some clients are already demanding.

Standards based printing: How did it begin?

Case studies – 1: the German car industry and printing.

In 2001 a German car manufacturer contacted FOGRA, (the German print industry’s technical and R&D body), with a simple question; “why is it that different printing companies are not able to consistently reproduce a digital proof?” It appeared that every printer, given the same material, would produce a different result. The car manufacturer did not understand the problem, because in the automotive industry colour accuracy is regularly achieved across so many different materials, eg. steel, aluminium, PVC, and carbon fibre compounds.

FOGRA’s answer was, “the printing industry does not currently follow printing standards consistently enough to avoid variability”. FOGRA has been working on procedures and standardisation for offset printing since the late seventies and has been the driving force behind the development of International Process Standard ISO 12647-2.

On the basis of this work the car manufacturer invited the advertising agency and the six printers working for his companies to a meeting where they were presented with the correct FOGRA ISO 12647-2 procedure and the means to achieve it. The printers practically had no other choice but to agree. Three months after the implementation of the new standard procedures by these six printers, the car manufacturer was surprised and impressed with the results. The six were now able to achieve much better consistency among them and also between the production print and the digital proof.

Case 2: the French cosmetics industry and proofing:

A similar situation to that described above had already taken place on the other side of the Rhine, in Paris. This time the meeting was between SICOGIF (the French printing industry body), a cosmetics manufacturer, their printing and prepress supplier, the add agency and the magazine publisher. The issue was the lack of consistency in proofing to match the requirements of the print standard, ISO 12647-2.

As you would expect, the people producing the proof believed they had been accurate and the printer maintained that he had done all he could to match the proof. After conducting a few tests and measurements it turned out that neither had been able to produce an accurate product: the proof had been poorly produced, using an incorrect colour reference, and the printer’s press was seriously out of balance. Nobody was working to a meaningful standard, with disastrous results.

From experiences like these the industry in Europe has come to realise they were facing some very important questions: what is a desirable printing standard? What should the reference for digital proofing be? How do we go about complying with these standards?

Solution: 1. Define an agreed standard

As any printer would know there a many factors that affect the quality of the final product. Apart from all the variables there are fundamentals like ink, substrate, press and printing process

So what are these current standards?

Inks

The colour of the offset inks and their transparencies are specified in the latest updated version: "ISO 2846-1:2006, Graphic technology - Colour and transparency of printing ink sets for four-colour printing - Part 1: Sheet-fed and heat-set web offset lithographic printing". This standard is primarily addressed to the ink suppliers and suitably equipped laboratories like the one at FOGRA. All the printer needs to know is where ink sets complying with that standard can be obtained. Other parts of ISO 2846 pertain to ink for other printing processes.

The link to Offset Lithographic processes

All offset guidelines issued by the trade associations of today are based on the ink specification ISO 2846-1. For instance, in 2006, the SWOP guidelines were amended to meet the specification for ISO 2846-1 inks. The even more important standard is "ISO 12647:2004, Graphic technology - Process control for the production of half-tone colour separations, proof and production prints - Part 2: Offset lithographic processes" and its amendment, “ISO 12647-2:2004/Amd 1:2007”. This standard creates paper categories and the tone value curves that go with them, as well as the colours for the solids that are to be achieved on the various substrates when using ISO 2846 inks. These colours are also the aims for digital proofing.

The GRACol7 specification of that US trade association, (to a lesser degree), and the ICC colour management profile "ISOcoated-V2 (January 2007)", (very closely), are based on the process standard ISO 12647-2. The colour management profile "ISOcoated-V2" matches the latest upgrade to the process standard ISO 12647-2:2004/Amd 1:2007, where minor adjustments have been made to the yellow solid and the secondary colours in order to achieve globally acceptable values.



Fogra Wedge - process based on L*A*B to the ISO standard and based on process standard ISO 12647:2004.

The revolution has started

As you can see a lot of work has already been done. There has been a huge upsurge in the use of international standards, mainly due to the combined effects of the new technologies of colour management, digital proofing and computer-to-plate. Judging by the course of events in Europe, I believe that it is a good plan for every printer or pre-press provider in Australia to invest some time into learning more about printing standards well before the print buyer starts to use it as leverage. Now is the time for forward-thinking Australian printers to join the revolution and to reap the benefit of the massive investment that has been carried out in Europe to develop tools and educational materials that support the application of the standards.