Color management is the search for a system that will allow you to be able to have the color you designed on your computer screen match the PDF proof you sent to your client, the hard proof you get from your printer and the final printed piece that comes off the press both here and in Singapore.
Currently, and possibly forever, the most expensive color management system available will only bring the color on all those systems into an approximation of each other — your eyes are more accurate than almost any reproduction device. But color accuracy is getting better all the time.
In addition, there are different color balance standards, depending on what country you are in and what material you are printing on, such as:
Here are the steps required to have the color you see on your screen look that way on press. Equipment required can be had for less than $1000. The cost of the color proofs from your printer should be included in any printing estimate and are passed on to the client.
The preceding 10 steps are the most accurate way to work. They also legally protect you as long as the final printed piece reasonably matches the approved proof. (And this process also allows everyone several steps to catch the mechanical and typographic mistakes that should have caught before sending it to the printer.)
However, clients will press you to keep costs down and jobs tend to move more and more quickly through the studio. Great color takes time and therefore costs money. Please fight against the tendency to adopt "good enough" color management — itemize proofing and press-proofing in your job estimates and explain that it is required to guarantee a quality job.
At the same time, realize that for many clients, "good enough" color may just BE good enough. (All the client sees is an RGB "soft" PDF proof on their uncalibrated monitor, you only see inexpensive inkjet proofs from your uncalibrated printer, there's no press inspection.) Us old guys may not like it, but like much in life (VHS vs. Batamax, CDs vs. vinyl, iPad or Kindle vs. real books), price and ease win out over quality.
If you are doing "good-enough" color, at the very least get a good quality monitor calibrator and use it. Your eye will be responsible for the color, and if your monitor isn't calibrated, you're flying blind.
Traditionally, designers purchased the printing job from the printer and then added a percentage of profit before reselling the job to their client. But if your client only wants to pay for soft proofing AND has high color standards, you may prefer to have the client purchase the printing directly, so if there is a problem with the color you aren't left with a dissatisfied client, a bill from the printer, and no easy way to resolve the dispute.
Color management on the computer is dependent on .icc profiles. .icc profiles are little bits of computer code that say what colors the device that created it are capable of reproducing, compared to a recognized standard: generally LAB color, a mathematical construct that includes ALL of the colors the human eye can see. Files that do not have an .icc profile embedded in them are nobody's friend. If your printer receives a file without an embedded .icc profile, they don't have any idea what it's supposed to look like — it could be reddish, bluish, neutral — and will print it the way they think looks good. Cameras and scanners usually embed their profiles in the files automatically. But if you are creating original art in Photoshop or Illustrator, it's up to you to make sure your file has an embedded .icc profile. THose programs ask you if you want to embed the profile when you save the file.
PRINT SETUP. In Adobe Creative Suite, it's SIMPLEST to go to Adobe Bridge, go to Edit>Creative Suite Color Settings and synch all your Adobe applications to North American Prepress 2. This sets your RGB color to Adobe RGB (1998) and your CMYK color to SWOP (Standard Web Offset). SWOP is a standard press setting that your printer will have experience converting from.
However, it is best to check with your printer on how they want you to set up your files. Many printers have custom profiles for their presses, which they would prefer you use.
(Adobe Suite and Quark allow both CMYK and RGB images to be used in their files. There is a movement to send RGB files to be sent to the printer and have the printer responsible for CMYK conversions to match their press. This field is a moving target right now, so it pays to ask your printer if they support this.)
PRINT & INTERNET WEB SETUP. In Adobe Creative Suite, it's SIMPLEST to go to Adobe Bridge, go to Edit>Creative Suite Color Settings and synch all your Adobe applications to North American General Purpose 2. This sets your RGB color to sRGB (1998) and your CMYK color to SWOP (Standard Web Offset). sRGB is the standard RGB for Internet Web design; it does not have as wide a gamut as Adobe RGB for print reproduction, but if you use Adobe RGB and don't convert before using it for the Internet, your Internet images will appear slightly reddish.
[Problem: SWOP vs. Sheetfed, standard vs. ideal. Graphic designers, other than publication designers, rarely produce work for web presses. Web presses are for magazines and other really large runs. Most of the design work I do is for short-run sheetfed presses. So my setup preference is to go into Illustrator or Photoshop, go to Edit>Color Settings, select North American Prepress 2, and change the CMYK settings from SWOP to "U.S. Sheetfed Coated v2," and save those custom settings as "North American Prepress Sheetfed." That custom setting will then be available in Bridge. I do this because the gamut for a web press is smaller than that for a sheetfed press, and so I can get better quality if I use the sheetfed setting. To get the absolute best quality, get the profile for the press you're really running on from the printer you are using, and use that for adjusting your images in Photoshop, and for outputting pdfs.
Rick Hacker at printer HBP agrees with using U.S. Sheetfed v2 over SWOP for sheetfed presses, but they prefer to supply their own press profiles to clients.
Joe Wagner at Whitmore Printing says that they "prefer CMYK workflow for commercial print using our press profiles — just call and ask. If RGB files come in they need to be converted; and then there is an issue of charging for color management. And exactly what is the designer looking for on critical color issues – cosmetics, food, fashion, automobiles etc…..This should all be discussed up front. Digital, wide format and Giclee can be CMYK or RGB. And Adobe CS3's and CS4's mixed RGB and CMYK print workflow does work."]
When converting from one .icc profile to another, you can get choices in what is called "rendering intent." Here are some definitions.
Perceptual — Maintains white point. Desaturates colors overall so first gamut fits in 2nd gamut. Preserves color relationships.
Saturation — Converts colors to the nearest equally-saturated color, so color relationships change. Good for charts and graphs.
Relative Colorimetric — Best place to start. Maintains white point while adjusting colors to the nearest available color by the numbers. Particularly useful if you are converting to a larger gamut (with black point compensation turned on.)
Absolute colorimetric — Doesn't maintain white point relative to rest of image — can result in apparent color cast. Mostly good for proofing and flat color Illustrator conversions such as logos.
There is no need to convert 8-bit images to 16-bit images, as you won't gain anything. You don't need to convert Adobe RGB (1998) images to PhotoPro RGB, because you won't gain anything. You do want to convert sRGB to Adobe RGB(1998) if you are going to make changes to the file.
Note: The advantage of 12+-bit and PhotoPro RGB is that they are really hi-performance settings. The disadvantage is that it's likely that the other people in your office won't understand what they are dealing with — particularly about bit-depth. I recommend that you explain to your production manager or one fellow designer what you're doing and why, so when you're out sick other people won't get confused by your workflow. Or convince everyone to work this way.
Remember: Keep your Master RGB file and convert from it to other .icc profiles for each usage because each profile has a different color space, and constantly converting an image from one profile to another will degrade your color information, just like continually saving a jpeg will make it look worse.
It used to be you needed a RIP to render vector (Illustrator) art on an inkjet printer without getting "jaggies" on any line that wasn't a straight horizontal or vertical. Now that inkjet printers have such high resolutions (1440dpi+), this isn't such a problem. And the inkjet printer's overall color accuracy has greatly improved as well. But if you want to color managing your printer, the only way you can do it is with a RIP.
I asked Chromix (http://www.chromix.com) what they recommended, and here's what I got back:
"Wow, that's a big question. There are a lot of RIPs out there.
"We have made a point of not getting into the RIP-selling business. RIPs are often hard to understand and use, and a lot of times we suggest that people stay away from using a RIP unless they have a reason why they need to use one. We do sell and recommend the ColorBurst RIP [which works with Epson printers]. We know and respect the people who make it. It has all the right ingredients that a quality RIP needs to have: Linearization, per-channel ink limiting, total ink limiting, the ability to turn on and off color profiles. ColorBurst also has an unusual quality for a RIP in that it is fairly straightforward and easy to understand.
"We would only recommend the full-featured ColorBurst RIP, not the free version that comes bundled with some Epson Printers."
ColorBurst RIPs are pro-level and a bit pricey. But they are located in Ashburn, Va., so you can support the local economy.
There are four ways of setting up an inkjet printer to work with color management. Take and print your artwork directly through Photoshop to the printer with color management off for your baseline. Then try your RIP these four ways from your page layout program to see which prints closest to the original.
READ THIS FIRST
Color Management Primer, an overview. (Mentioned below as well.)
READ THIS SECOND
Color Workflows for Adobe CS3. (Relatively) simple instructions on how to set up CS3 for the workflow you need. There's some wishful thinking about how close we are to RGB workflows, however. Downloads as a pdf.
READ THIS THIRD
Working Spaces in Adobe Applications. Color gamuts, maintaining color gamuts, and picking the right color gamut in Camera RAW.
READ THIS FORTH
Working with images in a color management workflow. Steps for editing color in Photoshop.
READ THIS FIFTH
Color Management Myths. If you're like me and had heard little bits about color management over the years, well, some of it is wrong.
For more information on color management, check out:
Real World Color Management (2nd Edition)
(Real World) by Bruce Fraser, Chris Murphy and Fred Bunting. (Amazon reviews say it's the best book available.) Very geek but very highly rated.
Real World Adobe Photoshop CS3 (Real World) by David Blatner, Conrad Chavez and Bruce Fraser. If you thought you knew Photoshop, this book will kick your butt. Explains what all the different controls do in both Camera RAW and Photoshop, tells you which ones not to use, shows you a lot about non-destructive color correction and even some about correcting "by the numbers."
Two color management sites recommended by Chromix:
"Andrew Rodney has an extensive library of pdfs covering many aspects of color management and Photoshop tips and tutorials. For example, there is a 4-page "Color Management Primer" that explains the history of, and why we have and need, color management. His opinions are informed and objective."
"The Colorsync User's List has evolved over the years to go beyond Apple's Colorsync application, and has become a highly respected forum where the top color geeks around the world discuss color management, and thousand of others subscribe to the list just to read what they have to say."
Dodge Color, Silver Spring, MD, high-end color house specializing in work for the US Postal Service and offering a variety of photographic and digital services.
Chromix, Seattle, WA, provides custom icc profiles, great prices on calibrating equipment. Get their newsletter or check back issues for color management issues. Great for in-house profiling, not as strong with printing to press issues.
X-Rite, provides top-of-the-line Gretag-Macbeth and other calibrating equipment.
Apple: Their notes on Quartz color management