Color Match to What?

By: Cory Sawatzki

Recently, I was visiting a large print facility. While touring the production floor and speaking with the operations manager about his newer technology investments, it quickly became apparent that the differences in capabilities between his different print methods, were overwhelming him. With the variability of substrates, file formats, front ends and finishing, it is completely understandable. However, there is a way to control print production expectations and align your quality control goals related to color.

In all of this, one problem he mentioned more than once was printing capabilities across different print technologies. He was concerned about the varying differences in quality and color between his offset, digital cut sheet, inkjet wide format and his flexopresses. The best approach to addressing this concern is to really think about what color to aim at in today’s hybrid printing environments in the first place.

You can own “certification” or “validation” software, and that is great. You should. However, if you don’t understand what passing is or what it means, it is as bad as your child coming home with a “Z” on their report card – the result is meaningless. For any “calibrated” print or proof to actually mean something, we must understand what the calibration is aimed at — and even a step further: why we are doing it. Do you truly care if you pass the standard? Or do you just want to be close, and make sure you are consistent day in and day out?


In the printing industry, there are ISO standards for different types of print. Some of the more popular aims are GRACoL, SWOP, SNAP, and Fogra. These are color aim points that have been developed to try and set an example for how a printer should print in different environments, on different substrates, and with different levels of print technology. They serve as a great tool, but they can also pose a dilemma for printers.

Let’s say that you have completed a G7 alignment on your offset press. Great, congratulations! Now, you are aimed at a GRACoL 2013 color space and passing with flying colors. The next step is to make sure that your digital cut sheet device matches your offset. When it turns out that production device doesn’t have the color gamut or the quality of paper necessary to pass this standard, is it time to give up? I’d say absolutely not. There are a couple plans of action that will work.

Your first route is to aim at a smaller gamut standard that is built to look very similar, but in a smaller color space. GRACoL 2013 is otherwise known as CRPC6. The rest of the CRPC aim points go from 7 down to 1. 7 being the largest Gamut, down to 1 which is the smallest. This makes it easy to identify a standard that your printer/substrate combination will hit so that you can pick an attainable standard.

The other, and sometimes more reasonable option, would be to get as close to any standard you determine to be reasonable for your shop and make that your internal standard. This way if you are using a paper that may not be to the standards of GRACoL 2013, or an inkset that does not hit FOGRA, you are not dead in the water.

Simply read the validation strip and make sure that all else is good. Then use those readings as your new standard. This will also allow you to have a bit tighter tolerance as the standard you are using came from your own press and print conditions.

Color match means exactly that. Match as close as you can to a standard that is important to your business. But also make sure that you stay consistent day in and day out. Repeatability is sometimes more important than a standard.

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