Keeping Up with GRACoL 2013

When is a Proof Not a Proof?

“What you see is what you print” has been a common mantra driving innovation in proofing for many years.

Once you can be sure that the file you output in your local design office can be produced to the exact same standard across the room, across town or across continents, you can sit back and stop worrying about brand consistency, color fidelity, brightness, contrast and the reproduction of specials.

Standards exist to enable this ‘ideal world’ scenario. But there’s a hitch.

Brand managers, marketers and print buyers are continually looking for ways to differentiate their printed products to achieve optimum impact for their target market. And print providers try to satisfy these demands through a variety of means and techniques, from printing on different presses and by different processes, to offering unusual formats, sophisticated finishes, inks and substrates. Most of these create relatively few problems for many proofing standards commonly in use today, but dangers lurk. There is one, particularly inconspicuous print variable that can jeopardize the healthiest client relationship: stock type.

Algorithms have long-existed to ensure accurate proofing on visibly different paper stocks, such as specialist newspapers like The Sporting Times. But when it comes to substrates that are ostensibly just white, it’s a whole different ball game. With different spectral responses to inks, suddenly a long-cherished standard is out of its league, you have a client baying for a reprint, or you’re fretting at the delivery end of a high-tech press wondering whether it’s finally time to retire!

Getting to the (White) Point

Since 2006, the GRACoL dataset has been widely accepted in North America as the de facto standard reference print condition for commercial printing and proofing. Then, in 2013, the GRACoL Committee introduced a new dataset version. The main reason for the GRACoL 2013 standard, was “to keep up with industry trends.” Primary among these trends was the ongoing pursuit of brighter whites.

Just like laundry and teeth, whiter whites impress.

When it comes to print, they provide the perfect backdrop for a clean, fresh image where colors pop. Paper manufacturers (like their counterparts in the toothpaste, shampoo and laundry detergent industries) create on-trend substrates by using optical brightening agents (OBAs).

By absorbing UV light and reflecting it as visible blue, viewed in any environment where UV light is present, OBAs eliminate wishy-washy, off-white casts, making colors bounce with vitality. It’s an effect designed for the eye but which spectrophotometers couldn’t always measure consistently and accurately. In the circumstances, was a proof still really a reliable proof?

Working in close association with international (ISO) and US (CGATS) printing standards, the GRACoL Committee developed the 2013 dataset optimized to ensure the closest possible parity with seven printing processes. Its slightly bluer white point (95 L*, 1 a*, -4 b*) is in line with today’s premium commercial stocks, ensuring a quicker, simpler process when simulating proofs.

Although legacy 2006 image files and proofs are compatible with GRACoL 2013, the new standard draws a line in the sand for the commercial printing industry going forward: the difference between “good enough” and the “ideal print.”

The good news is that suppliers to the industry like CGS have honored their commitments by dedicating R&D to help their customers stay ahead of the curve in ensuring their digital proofs can guarantee any final offset print product. Tailored solutions include software, measurement tools, and proofing media that help implement the standards within day-to-day operations.

Profiles for GRACoL 2013, and other CGATS21-2 reference print conditions can be downloaded from the Idealliance website [].

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