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DIY Color Management, in many cases, is a great, cost-effective solution.  You can easily make the case that, in this age of Color v2.0, using basic Color Management is easy and effective, and you’d be on-target.  So, why hire a consultant?

Solving Troublesome Issues

Obviously, you may consider hiring a Color Management consultant if you’re having trouble with some specific issues…  printers not behaving, monitors that seem to be out of whack, or you’re trying to do something like getting better press-proofing from a system that maybe isn’t the best at press-proofing.  Certainly, you can invest a lot of time and effort into learning how to do it yourself, but, at the end of the day, is that what you’d like to be spending your time doing?

Getting Good Information

Part of the challenge in using the “Google School of Color Management” is that you’re never quite sure of the information you’re reading.  Much of what’s online is fairly dated information…  practices and work-arounds from the days when Color Management was an imperfect science.  Other online sources are simply mistaken.  Much of what you read on the web is simply information that’s been parroted from previous sources, without any attempt to verify or validate the source.

Sorting the good advice from the bad is a formidable hurdle.

When things don’t work the way they should, it’s hard to know if the “solution” is simply wrong, or you’ve employed it incorrectly.  Trusting the advice of a trained Color Management consultant can save a lot of trial-and-error, yet be just as informative and educational as attempting a DIY fix.

Getting a Grip on Goals

The very first thing a good consultant will do is to start asking questions, and usually the first is “What are you trying to accomplish?”  Simply having a chat with a knowledgable consultant will help you get a fresh perspective on your production goals, putting an end to what often becomes a cyclical trail of confused concepts and goals.  Most often we see this when dealing with proofing and emulation profiles.  Are you trying to give your offset printer a print they can use for a target?  Are you trying to show your client a proof of what they can expect the offset press to do when reproducing their files?

Getting a Second (and Authoritative)  Opinion

One thing’s certain.  Where Color Management is concerned, everybody seems to have an opinion about how it “should” be done.  This can lead to a couple of scenarios…  either it’s just done wrong, or, because you have several cooks stirring the broth, you have a workflow that has no coherent method.  Either everybody is doing things their own way, or a process is a mix of mis-steps.  Within a workplace or team, it may be hard to get one voice, no matter how authoritative, to be heard.  Enter the consultant.

When a trained Color Management consultant is pulled in, and achieves results, generally a team will welcome the solution.  Training, documentation and explanations are a big part of what we do, and the efforts are welcomed.

Seeing Possibilities

More often than not, when we’re evaluating a client’s production there are several times the question “…did you know you can…?” comes up.  A fresh set of eyes, as well as a complete understanding of what the tools can do almost always leads to pushing the system a little further and getting a little more out of it.   These seemingly little suggestions can open up a whole new realm of capabilities for a team.  For instance, not too long ago, while working for a busy commercial digital print shop we noticed a pair of very good quality thermal CD/DVD printers humming away.  “Did you know we can profile those?  How is the color coming from them now?  Are your clients satisfied?  Do you have to work hard at getting good color on a CD or DVD?  Would you like to be able to match the color on the disk’s offset printed cover better?”

Simple questions…  but they led to some basic profiling, and a huge time and work savings for the CD/DVD printing operators, as well as a much higher level of print quality.  Translate that to more a profitable production and more pleased and impressed clients.

The Increasing Volume of Technology

Though more sophisticated technology generally makes a task easier, as technology becomes better it mushrooms into more areas of our daily lives.  Land-based phones gave way to cell phones, which now have blossomed into smartphones.  What you once simply picked up and dialed now is so sophisticated and powerful that some may need to take a class on how to operate their latest, greatest handheld device.  There’s not an area of our lives that remains untouched.

Yes, Color Management works, and is fairly easy to implement if you know what you’re doing…  but for many, it’s just one more piece of a technology puzzle they’d prefer not to wrangle with – especially if they can get fast, effective help.

It’s an honest question.  Why hire someone to come in and calibrate your displays when you can buy a calibration system for short money – often cheaper than one calibration session – and do it yourself?

It’s a simple answer.  When you buy a $125 calibrator, you’re using, well, a $125 calibrator.  When you hire me to calibrate your displays, I’m using the i1 Pro.  Besides being part of a complete system for building every kind of ICC profile, it’s a more accurate measurement device.  It costs more, too.  Think around eight times more.

The cheap calibrators are colorimeters.  They’re a basic device that measures color based on three filters.  For the cost, it’s an effective solution, but has some limitations.  The i1 Pro is a spectrophotometer.  A spectrophotometer measures light energy at various frequencies across the entire spectrum of visible light.  It’s more accurate.  And more expensive.

Is there a difference?  Yes.  I’ve done some fairly comprehensive testing on many types of displays, and in some cases a colorimeter will get you pretty close to the results of the spectrophotometer.  In some cases, it won’t.

Simple as that.

Is it a good idea to run a cheap colorimeter on your displays periodically?  Certainly, but it’s more of a ” better than nothing” scenario.  Is it a better idea to have your displays calibrated periodically with a spectrophotometer?  Emphatically, yes.

At the very least, it’s a really good idea to calibrate your display with your low-end device, then calibrate it with a good spectrophotometer, then compare the two profiles.  It will be pretty obvious if you can live with what you’re running, or if you need to consider moving up to a spectrophotometer.  You can then make the choice – do you need to buy one, or is it better to have someone come in and do it for you, with their equipment?

 

As the tools of Color Management get more sophisticated, using them has gotten easier.  Many times trying to get your head around how to handle your own Color Management is complicated by past processes (that weren’t that effective), internet “lore”, rumors and half-correct “advice”.  Today, with good tools, it breaks down into some fairly simple steps.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Use an accurate display.
  2. Color Settings in Photoshop.
  3. Color managing in Photoshop.
  4. Turning off Printer Color Controls.
  5. Understand your viewing light.

First, you need a good, “color accurate” monitor.  Simply, if your monitor can’t display a color, you aren’t going to be able to see it.  Make sense?  If you’re trying to hear the subtle tones of a Cello on your boom-box, it ain’t gonna happen.  You need good speakers.  Likewise, if you’re trying to see all the colors in that sunset you just shot on an personal or office-level computer screen, you’re not going to.  It’s simply not a ble to “shoot” that kind of color fidelity.  Here’s our favorite line of Color Accurate displays: the Eizo ColorEdge, for one example.

Second.  You need to calibrate it with a good device.

Calibrating a monitor with a good device like the i1 Display, shown here, ensures you’re working with the same standards as every other Graphics or Printing professional out there, if you calibrate it to the common industry standards.  Cheaper devices (and frankly, the i1 Display is not a lot of money) will give you inferior results.  Calibrating to your own personal preferences will give you unpredictable results.  Calibrating it to industry standards with a good device like the i1 Display will guarantee your color-accurate display is, in fact, accurate.  (The standards for the printing/photo industry are a Gamma of 2.2, a White Point of 6500K or D65, and a Luminance of 120.)

There are, of course, more sophisticated devices.  Do you need a really expensive device like the i1 Pro?  Well, it does a better job, certainly.  It’s more accurate, but for most people it’s a lot to spend – around $1500 – and possibly worth it to hire a consultant with the equipment and the expertise.

Finally, you have to make sure that when you send the file to the printer, you’re controlling where the color is managed.  This is where things have gotten a lot simpler…  Photoshop and your Operating System, especially on the Apple side, are now talking together.  Here’s how that works.

First, make sure your Adobe applications are handling color correctly.  Go to Edit>Color Settings and set it to North American Prepress 2.  This will get you 98% of the way there.  If you want to go the last 2%, open up “More Options” ans select “Perceptual Rendering” as your Intent.

Now, open a file.

Since you’ve set your color settings in Photoshop correctly, you’re working in Adobe RGB (1998) as a Working Color Space.  You hit Print.  (File > Print)

You get this screen:

Make sure you’ve selected “Photoshop Manages Color”.

You select the printer/paper/ink profile in the pulldown that says “Printer Profile”.  This is not a “close enough” or near-guess case.  Your printer profile has to match your printer, your paper, and your inksexactly.  90% of the issues we here from printers stem from using a profile they thought was “close”.

Now you’ve Color Managed your file. You have to let the printer driver know it needs to lay off any additional color adjustments.

When you hit “Print”, in the more recent versions of software like Photoshop CS5 and Apple Snow Leopard, the setting you just made will turn the Printer Color Management to “Off”.  That’s of crucial importance, and where most people goof.  Here’s what it should look like.  In CS5, the button that says “Page Setup” is different, it will say “Print Settings”.  In previous versions you just hit “Print” and, in either case, it takes you to this screen:

Hit the button that says “Layout” and you’ll get this, where you select “Color Options”:

From there, select, for Color Management, “Application”.  Hit “Print”, you’re done.

This is shown for the HP Printers, if you’re using Epson, it’s the same process, except you have to make sure that the correct media is set in the Epson Driver. The first selection is called “Print Settings”.

Select that, and set your paper type.  Here we’re printing to Premium Luster.  Now make sure your Epson Color Controls are set to “Off”, as shown.

You’ve made your print.  You’ve successfully, and correctly color managed your process.  How hard was that?  Are you done?  Not quite yet.

The single piece of the puzzle that goes ignored most often is the viewing light.  If you take your nice print and go into your bathroom or kitchen and try to evaluate it there, it’s going to look green.  The cool-white fluorescent lights are not white, they’re slightly greenish.  If you put it under your halogen desk lamp, it’s going to look brownish-red.  If you hold it up to the window, you’re going to get the blue sky lighting the print.  Think you don’t need a standard viewing light? Think again, it may well be the single most important part of your workflow.

This is a GTI PDV-e Desktop viewing light.  There are several models, of varying sizes, features and prices.  You can have all the Color Management in the world at your fingertips, but if you can’t evaluate your prints under some sort of standardized light source, you’re essentially working blind.  If you don’t believe it, do this little test.  Make a print.  Look at it with window light.  Now fluorescent lights.  And finally, look at it under a halogen track light or desk lamp.  The more subtle and neutral the print is, the more dramatically you’re going to see the color shifts.

Now, you’re done.

It really is just that simple.  If you’re interested in learning all the whys and wherefores of how a Color Management system works under the hood and how you can tamper with the controls, there are countless groups, forums, webinars are resources that can lead you down that tortured path.  Better yet, you can buy my book.  If, however,  you just want your prints to come close to what your screen is showing you, then this is all you need to do.

Happy printing!