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IPA: Everyone is a workflow winner

Jul 1, 2009 12:00 AM

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At this year's IPA ( Technical Conference, the tradition of technology “RoundUPs” continued with three separate events, covering digital print, proofing (hard copy and virtual), and JDF workflow. The long-running Proofing RoundUP had been dropped last year in favor of the new Digital Print Forum, but it was brought back by popular demand. For all these events, the IPA takes great pains to avoid the appearance of a competitive “Shootout,” despite persistent vendor pressure to declare a winner.

Virtual virtuosity

Eight vendors (Agfa, CGS, EskoArtwork, FujiFilm, GMG, Helios, Kodak and Serendipity) participated in the hard-copy portion of the Proofing RoundUP. Four of these (Agfa, CGS, Helios and Serendipity) were joined by Dalim and ICS for the virtual proofing segment. This was often referred to as “soft proofing,” despite a plea by some to call it “monitor proofing.”

The hard-copy proofing tests reflected the maturity of the digital contract proofing market, with the vast majority of vendors achieving average Delta-E variances under 2.0. When a more current Delta-E model (CIE 2000) was used, the measured data form results were even better. An attempt was made to determine the “marketplace average” (i.e., proofs made by relatively expert staff at companies concerned with color proof quality). However, this is not always representative of the industry as a whole, which includes those with less concern for measurable color results. The open question, according to Ryerson's Dr. Martin Habekost, was how to include all such companies in the results, and determine the overall state of proofing quality regardless of the presence of color experts.

The visual form was substantially changed in this year's event, using a series of new images. It also included IDEAlliance control strips as well as atypical color patches derived from the images used — to counter the complaint, “Anyone can match an IT8.7/4 chart.” For the most part, the visual results for hard-copy proofs showed that today's systems are capable of contract-quality color. The identity of each system was concealed, however, to discourage vendor claims of “winning” in various test categories.

The Goe challenge

Spot color reproduction on proofing devices was a significant part of the test suite, with Pantone Goe and other custom colors selected specifically because they are outside the normal gamut of GRACoL or SWOP. Because the proofing hardware (e.g., inkjet devices) has a larger native color gamut than conventional presses, the results were favorable for a high number of selected spot colors, especially with systems employing high-end color management. Again, the identity of each system was concealed from the audience, limiting vendor bragging rights but leaving customers with the task of evaluating specific capabilities.

The virtual (monitor) proofing tests demonstrated the dependence on native device color gamuts. Full-gamut displays, such as those from Eizo, demonstrated proofing tolerances essentially the same as for hard-copy proofing. Limited gamut monitors, however, showed green/blue errors requiring a doubling of tolerances for average Delta-E. Although the vendor identities were concealed in this test, it is clear that some virtual proofing systems are indeed a complete substitute for contract hard-copy proofs, while others are more appropriate for non-color-critical content approval.

JDF workflow hijinks

Only two test scenarios were used in this year's JDF workflow evaluation — each based on a published Interoperability Conformance Specification (ICS). All four participating vendors (Agfa, Dalim, FujiFilm and Kodak) succeeded with the “MIS to Prepress” test involving JDF data generated from Hiflex. According to IPA, the results indicated a significant potential savings of one hour per job. The second test (dubbed “Laycrimp” or “Layout Creator to Imposition”) was more controversial. A “blind” JDF file and content files were submitted to each vendor for automatic imposition in Preps. The results, including one deliberately upside-down element, were successfully processed by Agfa and Kodak. A Dalim spokesman asserted that the JDF file contained a technical anomaly, and described a scenario not seen in normal production workflows. FujiFilm did not enter its “Workflow XMF” system in the Laycrimp portion of the JDF test because it (XMF) already has what Fuji considers superior integrated imposition capabilities.

With the decline and/or consolidation of many other conferences, the IPA Technical Conference continues to stand out as an important resource for original graphic arts research. Although we continually hope for more comprehensive, real-world data, the progress of these “RoundUPs” is encouraging. Print service providers looking to survive and thrive would do well to purchase the reports, and press IPA for more ambitious workflow testing in the future.

John Parsons, former editorial director for The Seybold Report, is an independent consultant, analyst and writer. Contact him at

Editor's Note:
See John Parson's summary of IPA's Digital Print Forum on pg. 19.