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Quality color

Aug 1, 2008 12:00 AM

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The prepress department at Sandy Alexander (Clifton, NJ) is where the art and science of high-quality color printing meet. The company's team of skilled professionals combines applies leading-edge technology to match and manage color in both web and sheetfed printing. Sandy Alexander's plants use color measurement, management, profiling and calibration products from GretagMacbeth/X-Rite, Monaco Color and others.

According to Gregory Hill, the company's manager of electronic systems and “color guru,” Sandy Alexander is no stranger to precision color management. Hill worked with color expert Don Hutcheson to set up the color management system in the Clifton, NJ plant. Hill continues to ensure that all of Sandy's digital proofing systems, both in-house and at client sites, can replicate proofing systems and proofs supplied by clients reliably on press, to achieve results that are predictable, meet customer expectations and are of the highest caliber.

Prepress vice president Howie Swerdloff says, “We need to consistently match proofs we receive from our customers on our presses. We also need to match results with different stock, inks, etc. And, we want to achieve matching results between our web and sheetfed presses. This is possible with our color measurement and profiling tools, by applying profiles and transforming files from one profile to another, but it's a time-consuming, hands-on computer process.”

Enter Alwan CMYK Optimizer from Alwan Color Expertise of Lyon, France ( When Paula Gurnee — the resident color scientist in Sandy Alexander's in-house ink department — heard about it, she mentioned it to Hill, who downloaded a trial version. The rest, as they say, is history.

It's the glue

Alwan's CMYK Optimizer now functions as the “glue” that brings the art and science of color together in the prepress department, to standardize CMYK files from all sources and deliver output files that are compliant with specific press requirements. This means improved printability, faster makereadies and a better match with proofs, on a consistent basis and automatically.

CMYK Optimizer hasn't replaced the other color management tools at Sandy Alexander. Rather, it's a companion that provides a more automated way to apply profiles to files, says Hill. The software uses Alwan Dynamic LinkProfiling technology to build high-quality ICC DeviceLink profiles in a unique and dynamic way. This approach is content dependent and is based on a page analysis to ensure the best conversion will be executed for each specific page or image. The result is reportedly higher quality than using a static devicelink approach.

“It also does a better job,” Hill says.

Sandy Alexander is known for its quality web printing, where gray component replacement (GCR controls), especially for printing “neutral” colors, are particularly important. Says Hill, “CMYK Optimizer delivers more control over the black channel. The intelligence in the product creates device links on the fly, on a case by case basis.”

Swerdloff adds, “We often get proofs without GCR from outside prepress shops. Yet customers expect us to match and maintain the color on-press. This can be difficult to do consistently. CMYK Optimizer gives us more control on press, which is particularly useful in, for example, catalog crossover pages, where you don't want rainbows or color shifts. We've always managed these situations, but now with CMYK Optimizer it's really fine-tuned, faster and more accurate. We now can handle GCR with no loss of quality.”

Case in point

Sandy Alexander used CMYK Optimizer in the production of three color catalogs it printed recently for a major automobile manufacturer. (Sandy Alexander prints catalogs and related materials for all of the major automobile manufacturers in the United States, as well as retailers, major suppliers of shoes, fashion, jewelry, cosmetics, watches and more.)

High-quality catalogs are intended to make a strong impression. According to Swerdloff, the print buyer for this particular customer said this year's catalog was, “The best [she'd] ever seen printed anywhere.”

The catalogs, like much of Sandy Alexander's quality work, were produced using EskoArtwork Concentric screening, a variable screening technique that produces high-quality screens that vary within a graphic from 250 to 425 lpi. This type of screen reproduces quite differently from traditional line screens, says Hill, and proofs often come in at only 175 lpi.

“We use CMYK Optimizer to match color and convert to the different properties required for Concentric screens, and the results are spectacular,” he says.

Additional benefits

CMYK Optimizer allows the prepress managers to set up workflows into which operators can dump files as they are ready. This means less chance for error, faster turnaround and a better ability to meet schedules.

“We use it every time we print on infrequently used substrates,” says Hill, or when customers specify printing on uncoated stocks.

“Although this can mean that we make changes to the file we get from the customer — it's not a risk for us,” says Swerdloff. “Once files come in the door, we own them. We have enough confidence in our tools and skills that we know the files will print to match the supplied proofs. Our customers trust us and expect us to take full responsibility for their jobs — and we do. Maybe that's the secret to our success.”

Sandy Alexander has found another use for CMYK Optimizer — color management for vector data/linework. Swerdloff comments that whereas they used to perform color adjustments manually on linework, especially for printing on uncoated stock, CMYK Optimizer has automated this, as well.

The company recently printed an environmental responsibility book for a major cosmetic manufacturer which was won by promising a very high, concentric line screen printed on uncoated stock. Swerdloff says, “The results were unprecedented — a customer delight.”

Operator training is a non-issue. Says Hill, “Before, we needed highly skilled Photoshop operators to handle color management issues. With CMYK Optimizer we can place a relative beginner on those aspects of a project. They can use the profiles in Optimizer because the process itself is so automated. That leaves our highly skilled people to do what they are best at — localized corrections and retouching.”

Hill and Swerdloff are working to train operators and proliferate the use of Alwan CMYK Optimizer throughout the organization for all types of printing, including process control for the firm's recently acquired digital printing plant. The group is looking forward to the arrival of Version 3, with built-in features for spot color management.


Drupa update

Elie Khoury, president of Alwan Color Expertise, says, “ICC Color Management still generates a lot of confusion in the industry, a misconception that is maintained and amplified by some proprietary systems' vendors. Users often are convinced ICC color management is inefficient, inappropriate for print workflows and unable to preserve black text and images, or any primary ink purity. As an ICC member and strong advocate and supplier of standardized color management solutions, Alwan will continue to further develop ICC profile-based solutions that address the needs of the graphic arts industry.”

Alwan launched two new Adobe Photoshop plug-ins at Drupa. Version 2.0 enables Adobe Photoshop CS3 users to apply ICC DeviceLink Profiles within Photoshop for print-oriented workflows. New functionality enables non-color experts to easily and effectively benefit from advanced features such as the calculation of individual inks and the total ink consumption to print an image.

The Alwan Color Processor is a hotfolder-based application using standard ICC profiles. Users gain the capability to automate the application of an ICC Device and DeviceLink Profiles in color management workflows with virtually no limits. The result is accurate and efficient optimization and management of images and PDF files for digital and analog printing applications. It comes with a predefined set of Device and DeviceLink profiles.

Alwan updated its CMYK Optimizer packages to address the different color management and standardization needs of each segment of the graphic arts industry, and small to large companies.

CMYK Optimizer bundles

  • CMYK Optimizer Photo is specifically aimed at photographers and small agencies. It delivers images according to specific color standards and optimizes RGB and CMYK images for output on CMYK devices.
  • CMYK Optimizer Prepress is a preflight standardization and optimization software for color separation files. Producing high-quality 4-color separation files for a wide range of publications, it is the designed for preparing files for publishers, agencies and small sheetfed printers.
  • CMYK Optimizer Press is suited to small and midsize printers that require custom GCR and increased automation to optimize their files for printing processes.
  • CMYK Optimizer ECO answers the needs of large offset and gravure printers. It comes equipped with Dynamic Black generation that delivers ink, paper and energy waste savings.

All versions will enable users to implement color management of their files using state-of-the-art ICC Device and Device Link profiles.