Digital Print Color Management
For digital printers, color management is important, but when trying to match specific color to the original artwork file – across a range of different medias, printers are often confronted with many frustrating problems. Through all of the tweaking and adjustments to solve this, most printing companies have no idea if they are actually color managed correctly because there are so many variables. This is a huge problem in the industry that results in many re-prints before the color is actually matched, which is a major time killer.
Our clients place a high value on the color accuracy and consistency of their printed materials, specifically for branded signage imagery in retail stores. Driven by this, we have worked very hard over the years to become experts in the field of color management. Regardless we were still throwing away graphics and wasting time because colors didn’t always meet our high expectations.
So, at the beginning of 2015 we entered into a consultation partnership with one of the leading experts in the world in digital print color management, Matias Bilbao and his Dallas based company, Yellowcase.
For over 15 years Matias Bilbao has been working with printing companies all over the world on digital color management and is considered by many to be the best. He knows all too well how valuable color accuracy is to not only the client, but the printer as well.
Last week Matias was in Spring Lake helping us calibrate our printers and we had the chance to ask him some important questions about color management.
How did you get so well-known as an expert in print color management?
Matias: I was shooting photography commercially and I had just finished up my undergraduate degree in biology, with the goal of going into Biomedical Photography. So I did my undergrad studies in biology and just finished up my graduate degree in Photography and Digital Imaging. After finishing up I absolutely fell in love with photography and imaging, and gave up on medicine. I then became a professor at the University of Miami for a couple of years. During that time I continued photographing professionally, working with music bands such as 311 and Incubus. I ended up shooting a big cover for EMI Records of a Latin singer, who was very well-known at the time. After shooting I went to a photo lab on Miami Beach, which is no longer there mind you, but the prints they gave back looked nothing like the my image, color-wise. The color was very very poor. It was printed on a very high-end machine, a Light Jet, which at the time was built by Symbolic Science and now owned by Canon. It is a photographic printer, it prints with lasers onto paper like Kodak, Fuji, and traditional silver halide paper. So I asked if I could calibrate their printers, so that my images would look correct. They surprisingly let me do it. My work came out properly, but so did everybody else’s. After that the owner of the shop asked me how much to keep doing this for us. I told him I didn’t know as I didn’t do this for other people, I’m a photographer. I ended up going in a couple days a month there to keep them up to date on the color management and I ended up training them on what they were using at the time, which was Onyx software rip.
It became much more involved than I had originally planned or they had even planned. You know, I was teaching Adobe Photoshop, several other Adobe Programs, I was teaching photography lighting and all sorts of stuff. There was a lot of things other than color management that I ended up taking on at that, let’s call it a consulting job. From there it just kind of spread. Word got around, as I never really marketed the services or advertised them. It became obvious and this is the really important part. They now had something that the other printers did not, which was color consistency and color accuracy. It was obvious that they were able to secure some accounts that were difficult to take because of color. That motivated me because I could see the value.
What role should printers play in color management with clients and how has it changed?
Matias: More importantly it is what role do the clients play? It takes open communication between both to get the best results that everyone is happy with.
“Somebody may design a file with 300 layers, transparencies and clipping paths, so unless you are the one who designed that file it can be difficult to communicate where the problems are coming from.”
As a commercial photographer years ago I would go to the photo lab and say this is what I want, and my part was done. You would walk away and the rest was up to the printer. Nowadays the end result influenced as much by the printer as the artist or designer. Unfortunately the dynamic still remains the same as it did 15 years ago. They send you a file, and subconsciously or consciously leave a lot of stones unturned. Somebody may design a file with 300 layers, transparencies and clipping paths, so unless you are the one who designed that file it can be difficult to communicate where the problems are coming from.
Do you have any specific stories about communication problems between printers and their clients?
Matias: I recently got a call from a client, who was having an issue with a file from a large restaurant chain and didn’t know what was wrong. The ad agency had defined many of the Pantones manually, meaning instead of selecting them from the color book in Adobe that would properly define the Pantone, they would just simply type in something like PMS 259. Well, RIP software is designed to look for Pantones exactly how they are named by Pantone, the word Pantone written out 259. So they couldn’t figure out what was happening. This was an issue from both the printer’s side for not checking that and how the agency set the file up. There were still other problems of course, but the point I’m making is there is still a disconnect between the relationship the printer has with the artwork and the relationship the customer has with the artwork. In this case, my client the printer felt uncomfortable calling the customer with their issue. Granted this is something they could have fixed themselves because, this was a simple fix. Printers feel that calling their clients can end up risking the job. It is somewhat of an insecurity. It is a never ending cycle. They don’t address these issues because they are afraid to communicate with the customer, instead of seeing the value in it. If they talk to the customer and explain the issues in a tactful way and work to correct them together, it will benefit both the printer and their customer in both the short and long run. Their artwork comes in correct meaning the printer can offer them better pricing which means their turnaround is going to be better, which means their quality is going to be better.
” There is still a disconnect between the relationship the printer has with the artwork and the relationship the customer has with the artwork. “
But printers are still being held hostage by their insecurities, that they would rather pass it on to their employees and I mean that quite literally. The manager making the call not to call the customer is not the one having to resolve the issue, so they pass it on. Unfortunately the employees are sometimes not capable of addressing these color issues.
What is your advice to printers and clients about color management?
Matias: The advice I would give from this would be for the clients to work more closely with their printer and be open to their advice. My advice to the printer would be the same, but would be to stay more ahead of the curve technologically speaking than their customer. It is empowering for the printer to be equally great if not greater at understanding color than the ones submitting the files. It is hard to be helpful when you know less than the client.
It was no longer based on cost per square foot because that’s what they ask when they are bidding these jobs out. These bids are a quantitative comparison rather than a qualitative comparison. Now you are offering a product that the other person can’t offer and a service that the other person couldn’t offer. Especially when it comes to signage companies, that is non-existent. It is purely a commodity measured in square feet, turnaround and price.
The funny thing is that in their minds no matter the cost they can expect the same quality for the guy who is charging twice as much. In no way do they think there is a tradeoff between the discount they are getting and the quality. But the funny thing is that if your workflow is spot on and the color is a non-issue you can charge less. That is the holy grail in printing.
Do you have any examples of how valuable color accuracy is to Brands?
Matias: So I was doing a job, it was a decent sized client in the US and they were in Orlando. This was early 2000s and they had an old Arizona Solvent printer and this company had part of the Disney account. Obviously a huge account. We are running Onyx and running on the Arizona, when the computer crashes. Now the Disney job was next in line, so they ask me how long is it going to take to get back up and I tell them it is going to take about 45 minutes. All things considered with the computers just crashing and everything is down, 45 minutes was very nominal amount of time. Well, the owner was there, a sales guy and a couple of the managers and when I said listen it’s going to be about 45 minutes and Disney says we can’t do it. Everybody was panicking. I said to the owner, ‘Do you trust me?’ he said, ‘Yeah.’ So I told him to tell Disney they can wait or take it someplace else. Now when you tell an owner of a company that he has to send Disney someplace else, it’s shocking would be an understatement.
I told him the printer would be up and running in 45 minutes and the prints would be done in a couple of hours and you will probably have it done EOD if not first thing tomorrow. Well, Disney decided to take it someplace else. The next day they came back and they said we printed it somewhere else and the color was horrendous, we need you to do it. Well what we said is guess what you’re at the end of the line. We have other jobs that stayed with us. You know what Disney did, they stayed and waited. That’s Florida, that’s everybody and that is when they realized they had something of value that their competition didn’t have. It meant so much to Disney that they were willing to wait.
Are you seeing Printers acknowledge how color management affects workflow?
Matias: I was at a shop in New York and I was having this conversation with the owner. I tell him that we need to address color management. He only wanted training from us in workflow and Caldera. I tell him that we need to address color and he says, “Well, color isn’t really that big of a thing to us’. I then ask if he reprints things. He says, “Yeah, sometimes the color is off.” So let me get this straight, we were talking about automation. So he wanted to automate things so things would print faster, which is great and I’m all for that. So I ask him, ‘What good is printing things faster if you end up having to reprint?’ and when you are doing things in greater quantities you are just losing money faster in a shorter period of time. He started laughing and said you’re right and now I calibrated one of their printers. After seeing the results even though I wasn’t there to address color management he needed the other 24 printers to be calibrated. They didn’t have a problem until they saw what a correctly calibrated printer was capable of.
Tell us the difference between profiling and calibrating?
Matias: It drives me nuts. People, they talk about profiling like that is what color corrects your printers. First of all you don’t profile your media or your printer. You actually calibrate your media on that printer, profiling is actually just one step of the calibration. Profiling is the easiest step in the calibration.The reason why profiling became the term to use among photographers instead of calibrating is that when you are not using a RIP software you print directly to their Epsons, HPs, Cannons, Aqueous printers directly from Photoshop. If you do it that way, you can only really make a profile one step. Everything is built in to the printer driver software. So they always called it profiling to calibrate your media. Truly an entire calibration has multiple steps. I always try to clarify that. It is like a pyramid, if your first step sucks then the rest of the steps suck.
As part of our on-going print color management strategy, we will be featuring Matias in upcoming blog posts to share more of his expertise and experience, so stay tuned. If you have any questions about print color accuracy and consistency please give us a call at 800-962-3119 to discuss. We’d love to hear from you.