By Jodie Steen

As a color management consultant, the most common question I get is, “How do I make sure I’m getting accurate color?” Image creators and editors want to know that the image they are seeing on screen is representative of the file, that the display matches what comes out of the inkjet printer, and that the printed proof ultimately matches what shows up on press. It’s a tall order, but it’s not impossible!
The display is, in my opinion, the best starting point. No matter what role you play in the imaging process, everyone has to view images on a screen. While inexpensive LCD displays might work for less color-critical applications, a graphics monitor offers the ultimate in color control. A graphics display, such as the Eizo CG series, will produce better gray balance, smoother transitions in tone, and better evenness across the screen as compared to a standard LCD. These monitors have more control for contrast and color and also come with their own calibration software. This means that you can see an image with the utmost accuracy. When you consider that the cost of these displays has come down significantly (with prices starting at less than $1,400), and that the display will last about four to five years on average, this can be a wise investment. No matter which monitor is being used, calibration is a must. Try using a calibration system like the Eye One Display II with Eye One Match software (by X-Rite) if the display doesn’t come with its own calibration software. Even if it does, you will still need a calibrator, called a Colorimeter.

Once the display is profiled, it’s time to take a look at the printer. The most common brand is Epson–everything from small desktop models all the way to professional wide format machines. No matter what printer you are using, the key concepts for getting accurate color remain the same.
The key rule is to pick one way to color-manage files. Color can be managed through an application, such as Photoshop, or through the printer’s driver. The best way to send files to print is to select a color profile in Photoshop, as seen in the print dialog box here:

Then, the color management should be turned OFF in the printer’s driver. The same concept is true no matter what brand of printer you are using. You may wonder, “Why is there even an option in the driver for color managing the printer if the color is so much better when managed in Photoshop?” This exists for programs that don’t allow you to apply profiles, such as Preview for example. When there is no option for applying a color profile in an application, the printer’s driver can be used instead.
Color profiles are automatically installed when you install the printer, and there are usually several options based on the printer, paper, and ink combinations. If you want accurate color using a different paper, then a custom printer profile is a good option. You can only create a custom profile if you have a Spectrophotometer, a special device for reading color. If you don’t own one, or don’t want to invest the time and money into learning how to create profiles, then you can have a profile built by a color specialist. This can be done on site, or through an online profiling service.
If you want to know what a file will look like when it’s printed on a press, then you will need a proof print. Gone are the days of needing a Matchprint or a Kodak Approval. With advanced RIP software, such as GMG, a wide format printer, and the whole system set up properly, inkjet proofs provide extremely accurate color. Making a proof print is different from making a regular old print on your Epson printer. RIP software is a key component in getting the printer to hit a specification, such as SWOP or GRACoL. SWOP is the spec that is used in the US for web presses; an example of this is magazine printing. If the file is being printed on a sheetfed press (such as a poster) in the United States, then you would use the GRACoL specification. Most retouching houses have systems that are set up to make these types of proofs.
Another thing to look for is the control strip, as seen here:

You have probably seen this strip on prints before, and you may have wondered why it’s there and what to do with it. This control strip acts as a snapshot of the printing condition. With the right tools (such as an Eye One Spectrophotometer, and a color application capable of reading the strip, like Measure Tool), you can scan the strip and compare the measured data to the data of GRACoL or SWOP. This way you can see how far off the printed proof is from the specification. These values are measured in “Delta E”, which is simply the difference in colors. A delta E value of 1 would be extremely close to the specification, whereas a higher value would suggest that the proof does not match the specification very well. A high number is also an indication of a bad proof. Sometimes you may see a printed label on the proof that shows the Delta E values. In this case, the proof provider has done the work for you, measuring the proof before it leaves the shop and verifying that the proof matches.

No matter where you fit in the imaging process, accurate color is critical for everyone. At the most basic level, calibrating the monitor is a good start to getting accurate color. From there, understanding how to print to an inkjet printer allows you to manage the colors in-house. If the next step is handing a file off to an outside printer, then providing a proof print that matches SWOP or GRACoL is the best way to predict what the colors will look like on press. Whether your color needs are basic or complex, setting up a color-managed environment saves time, money, and perhaps most importantly, frustration.


Jodie Steen: www.