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May 1, 2004 12:00 AM
Viewing proofs on color computer monitors is a compelling proofing alternative. Monitor (also called soft-proofing) methods can range from the rudimentary, such as PDF files sent via e-mail or FTP sites, to systems that allow users to review content and layout, to more complex color-managed systems that seek to emulate hard-copy proofs.
Successful soft-proofing requirements extend far beyond the crisp display of a computer monitor — users also need color-management software, color-measuring devices, and tools for annotation and review.
If your monitor lacks a built-in color-measuring device, you'll need a calibrator to ensure consistent results. Tethered calibration devices are offered with many monitors. Other options include Pantone's SpyderPRO ($299; www.pantone.com), X-Rite's MonacoOPTIX XR ($299; www.x-rite.com) and GretagMacbeth's Eye-One Display ($227; www.gretagmacbeth.com). All include software that calibrates monitors and saves results as an ICC profile. While these products are effective and easy to use, some users prefer an integrated calibrator/monitor system.
“Third-party devices use a software look-up table (LUT) to perform calibration,” explains Rob Bernstein, VAR channel manager for monitor vendor LaCie (Hillsboro, OR). “Our BlueEye product offers hardware calibration through a special adaptor within the cable that allows us to directly adjust the color gun output. Hardware calibration is more accurate, and, as the cathode ray tube's (CRT) white point dims with age, we can adjust the guns to extend the monitor's life.”
Once a monitor is properly calibrated and profiled, you can get a high-quality soft proof as quickly as you can load input and output devices' ICC profiles. Color-management programs abound for creating printing press and color scanner profiles; newer offerings also provide tools for profiling digital cameras. Mac OS X users will assign the monitor profile using the Color features of the Monitors' System Preference, while Windows XP users can load ICC profiles via their Display Control Panel's Color Management settings.
Using Photoshop or another tool, open your in-house scans and digital-camera images by assigning the appropriate source profile then converting the image's colors to your preferred RGB working space. The default prepress color space is Adobe RGB (1998), but many color fanatics wax poetic about the hand-tuned color spaces from color management consultants Bruce Frasier (BruceRGB4) and Don Hutcheson (HutchRGB4), both available for free download at www.hutchcolor.com.
Next, load a custom press profile as your CMYK working space, or consider using a generic profile such as “U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) V2” if you're using the matching paper stock. Converting the image mode from RGB to CMYK should now display an accurate simulation of a typical press run. You can also preview the CMYK reproduction without converting the image by turning on Photoshop's Proof Colors function (under the View menu).
Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) (Norwalk, CT) expects soft proofing to become firmly entrenched in the print-production process and that companies will opt for turnkey, rather than homegrown, systems. “Doing it yourself isn't as easy as it sounds,” claims Rob Pipe, KPG's worldwide director for virtual proofing. “Setting up the profiling and measuring takes a great deal of expertise, and it's no small undertaking.”
KPG recently acquired the graphic-arts division of RealTimeImage (RTI) (San Bruno, CA). RTI, which helped KPG develop its Matchprint Virtual system, introduced its first “pixels-on-demand” product in 1999. The RTI server sends only the pixels requested by the client's Web browser; if you zoom in on a face, only the information required to display the visible portion of the image is sent. Today, the RealTimeProof product is available in a variety of configurations, including:
ASP, an application-service provider version
Express, which combines the ASP features with the ability to stream high-res files from a local server
Private Label, which can run under the user's brand
Partner, a scaleable image-streaming engine that plugs into an existing digital-asset or workflow-management system
Classic, the orginal client-server product that operates as part of the customer's local-area network.
New Express features include online comparison of color, text and layout differences between two versions of the same job, reportedly with an immediate response over any connection speed.
KPG's Matchprint Virtual combines high-end color science and display technology to render SWOP-certified CMYK color on a computer monitor. Initially targeting large agencies, publishers and their suppliers, the soft-proofing setup includes two color-managed monitors, a special black-tent kiosk to control ambient lighting, a subscription to RealTimeProof, and consulting services to aid with configuration and implementation.
In Q4, KPG will extend monitor proofing into the pressroom with Matchprint Virtual Press Side, an RTI-powered solution that enables press sheets to be scanned for remote viewing. A website, www.matchprintvirtual.com, lets all involved in the approval process (agencies, creatives, prepress and printer) to quickly view and approve or electronically mark up proofs. At Drupa, KPG also will offer details on color-science developments said to accurately render CMYK on RGB displays, as well as a color-management system for proofing/communicating both RGB and CYMK files.
Integrated Color Solutions (ICS) (New York City) offers Remote Director, a SWOP-certified monitor-based contract proofing system that can run on commercially available hardware. (Apple's 20- and 23-inch Cinema Displays, Eizo's ColorEdge CG21, Sony's 23-inch SDM-P232W LCD display and Sony's Artisan CRT monitor reportedly have all received SWOP certification in conjunction with Remote Director.)
The software enables multiple reviewers in different locations to view, collaborate and comment on color as well as content, and build a digital record of the proofing process from start to finish, including legal sign-off.
ICS charges for proofs by each “page view” transmitted through the Remote Director application. The workflow reportedly can serve up to 32 simultaneous reviewers while keeping control in the hands of the proof provider. “With ICS, the end user doesn't need to know anything about color management,” explains Dan Caldwell, ICS vice president of operations. “Our product communicates between all the seats that are viewing the proof, and the spectrophotometers talk to each other to make sure that everyone's looking at the same color. If the button turns red, it prompts the user to push the green button, which initiates the calibration process.”
ICS was the first vendor to combine large-format scanning with soft proofing through its Remote Director PressOK extension, announced at Graph Expo 2003. Prior to the show, a prepress provider, C-t-PLUS (Menomonee Falls, WI), and its nearby printing affiliate, Inland Press, used Remote Director and the PressOK option to conduct a press check of a live job for a Guest Informant publication destined for W Hotels.
The job was printed on No. 1 commercial paper according to General Requirements for Applications in Offset Lithography (GRACoL) on Inland's Heidelberg Speedmaster eight-color sheetfed press.
For the press check, an Inland press operator brought the press up to color and pulled a press sheet. Next, using a Remote Director display located press-side in a special light booth from Graphic Technology Inc. (GTI) (Newburgh, NH), the operator compared the contract proof (a Remote Director proof) to the press sheet. Based on that comparison, the operator made some adjustments and produced a press proof.
Then, using a special wide-format scanner, the operator scanned the press proof into a press-side Mac G4 running Remote Director software. Within four minutes, the image was available via the Internet for display on the Remote Director system at C-t-PLUS and for the customer's approval.
ICS recently announced that Pottery Barn has adopted and implemented Remote Director monitor-based proofing across all of its brands. The retailer's prepress service provider, International Color Services (Scottsdale, AZ), also has adopted the system.
Application service provider ProofItOnline.com offers $29.95 monthly subscriptions to either the Review Side or the Administrative Side of its website. Reviewers can get e-mail notifications, password protection and share comments with an unlimited number of additional reviewers. Administrators get tracking, archiving and version control as well as printable reports of account activity.
Group Logic's ImageExpo is unique in that no Web browser is required. For more information on this software RIP, viewer and markup tool, see www.grouplogic.com.
While most soft-proofing tools focus on the approval process prior to production, some workflow systems support remote viewing of interpreted (post-RIP) files. Soft proofing raster data or screened 1-bit TIFF files can identify imposition, trapping and screening problems.
Proofing interpreted data has long been a selling point for Agfa's (Ridgefield Park, NJ) :Apogee. Now, the company's :ApogeeX WebApproval has an online component. Says Lesley Hepditch, :Apogee marketing manager, North America: “WebApproval integrates content providers into the print-production process, providing the opportunity to approve pages or imposed flats, set comments or even upload changed content into the :ApogeeX production flow.” Similar approaches to sharing online proofs directly from the RIP are available from Creo, Heidelberg and Screen — look for more proofing news from these vendors at Drupa.
After files have been trapped and processed, Rampage (Waltham, MA) workflow users can use a Film File Processor (FFP) option that resides in a RIP or a dedicated PC to generate low-resolution PDFs for soft proofing. The PDFs can then be e-mailed to customers or posted to an FTP site.
The company also offers Rampage Remote, a PC-based system that runs separately from the user's production server.
Dalim Software (New Orleans) is known for its automated workflow solutions, but it offers its DALiM DiALOGUE soft-proofing server as a standalone product.
Running on Mac OS X or Red Hat Linux hardware, DALiM DiALOGUE is sold as a software application to allow an unlimited number of clients and proofs; clients need only a Web browser and no special plug-ins. Despite full ICC support for both clients and proof providers, Dalim Software doesn't promote DALiM DiALOGUE for use as a contract-color soft proof: “It's for eliminating the nine proofs you see before you get to the final sign-off proof,” states Gee Ranasinha, Dalim Software's marketing director.
“For most color applications, you've got to be pretty bold to sign off on something virtual,” Ranasinha cautions, “because if there's a problem, where's the hard copy to go back and refer to?”
Capabilities for soft proofing interpreted data may be included in prepress system upgrades or bolted onto an existing RIP and workflow. Lucid Dream (Hoffman Estates, IL) specializes in augmenting Heidelberg Delta RIPs. Its OnTimeProof extracts interpreted data from the RIP, then converts it to PDF files or even low-resolution JPEG images for client pickup via the built-in Web server. An optional module allows clients to submit corrected PDF files directly into the print shop's workflow.
Xinet's (Berkeley, CA) WebNative is also a specialized Web server that can complement a variety of RIP workflows, but Marc Mousseau, technical sales engineer for Xinet, has observed the adoption of WebNative further upstream in the creative process. “Ad agencies and creative studios, they're the ones who are really getting into it now. Agencies find that distribution of ad files to multiple publishers using WebNative is much easier than with FTP sites, and they can automate conversion of their files into multiple formats, including PDF/X and TIFF-IT,” he explains.
Hal Hinderliter is director of the Graphic Communication Institute at California Polytechnic State University (San Luis Obispo) and president of Hal Hinderliter Consulting Services. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Many users are eagerly reclaiming desktop real estate previously occupied by cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors. Nonetheless, Rob Bernstein, VAR channel manager for LaCie (Hillsboro, OR), a vendor that offers both liquid crystal display (LCD) and CRT devices, says CRTs currently offer better color fidelity. “Our BlueEye Vision calibrator will calibrate our LCDs as well as our graphics-oriented electronblue IV CRT,” points out Bernstein, “but our comparisons still show an advantage for vacuum-tube design when doing color-critical work.”
But Roger Siminoff, Apple Computer's senior marketing manager, professional markets, says LCDs will prevail. “High-end proofing [vendors] understand the deficiencies of CRTs. The phospors have a finite life, the ungrounded glass contributes to a glass browning problem, there are radiation concerns in the form of radio frequency interference (RFI) and refreshing the screen image 72 times per second contributes to flickering. CRTs also consume significantly more power than LCD displays.”
LCD displays do impose viewing-angle restrictions. Since the color you see on an LCD screen is created by white light passing through a liquid-filled cell in the monitor's surface, sitting directly in front of the monitor yields the best color reproduction. Moving off-axis can change the brightness and even the hue of an image, which can be a challenge when multiple people are trying to look at the same monitor.
Rob Pipe, Kodak Polychrome Graphics' worldwide director for virtual proofing, notes that his company's Matchprint Virtual Proofing System is currently based on CRT solutions preconfigured for optimal reproduction. “LCD is improving, and we are looking at it,” says Pipe. “But in a collaborative environment, two or three people have to stand in front of a monitor, and the LCD viewing-angle restrictions prevent that.”
Apple has reduced the price of its Cinema Display LCD monitor line. Key features include a 170-degree viewing angle plus a proprietary connector that carries AC power, digital video data and USB signals across a single quick-latching cable. www.apple.com/displays
Barco's Coloris Calibrator flat-panel display reportedly has less than three delta E hue error across the entire CIELAB color space, as well as color stability with .5 delta E. It features a fixed, internal calibrator. www.barco.com/prepress
Eizo 18- and 21-inch ColorEdge LCDs reportedly are comparable to Apple's Cinema Display but offer 10-bit digital signal processing vs. eight. www.eizo.com/products/graphics
Some pundits predict Sony will release an LCD version of its Artisan monitor, but Sony is keeping mum. www.displaysbysony.com