As a freelance/consultant has provided the opportunity to meet and work beside individuals with a wide range of experience and skills spanning many industries. Which has led me to help break down and discuss why knowing essential color toolsets will create a better end product. In writing this post I welcome constructive feedback to help improve the understanding for all experience levels. This information might be a good refresher for those with industry experience and for others that are just now stepping into the ocean waters help to connect the dots.

As designers we spend so much time developing our skills and techniques to showcase our designs for the world at large. Much of what we do is second nature or adapting our skills to meet the current trends of today. From many of my experiences dealing with designers color is thought about as a process that does not need much attention. Thus becoming an end process procedure. And print services seem to give out information that is generalized or very vague on how to output a file, mainly .pdf, for a CMYK Digital Printer. Leaving us as designers in the dark wondering how the final product is produced. And many times why we see varying results from the intention we created on our screen.

A proper question should be created during the planning phase of our design(s). Starting from what is this design(s) intention? Will it be for print? Or will it be for Electronic devices? Maybe it will be for both. We can begin to understand the abstract nature of RGB and CMYK when color is thought of as a tool. Knowing where to start these questions will help determine how to use color as a tool. This is only a step in the process when we design. Therefore, I would like start this question before design becomes a part of the equation. By asking, “How is the initial setup of the studio, our computer the design(s) will be created within?”

Knowing our computer configuration is set up to produce appropriate color is a key step to answer any of the above mentions of our design(s) intention.The proper setup and tools in our studio helps maintain color reproduction in hopes to prevent dramatic color shifts from Printer to Printer, Screen to Screen and Print to Screen and the opposite.If our screens have been calibrated and we have sought out the proper ICC profiles. Our questions become more relevant during the design process. I understand not everyone can invest into a X-Rite i1Display Pro or Spyder Colorimeter. Though I will say to save up and invest in one of these tools. This tool should be in the tool box for all designers or computer artists for all industries. These help us use the ICC profiles that manufactures and industry produce in order to achieve color accuracy. Which open the capabilities of on screen proofing help tremendously determining if the colors enhance or subtract from the final design.

Many of us are lead to use that RGB Color Space Profile and US Sheetfed Coated as a default profile. Which I am not saying this is wrong. Moreover, understanding that this is just a start/default setting and knowing how to control and manipulate our programs to use such profiles is where we go next. For more information Don Hutcheson with HutchColor has created .icc profiles that will improve the RGB color gamut.

Using the New Standards

Profiles for CMYK, use the version of the local regional standard such as FOGRA, SWOP2013 or GRACoL2013. Or choose a CMYK reference you have confirmed to be within the gamut of the print system. I have a Print client that I have a extremely great relationship with. I took time to learn the printers they use and delve into what specs the Manufacturer recommends for design files when converted to CMYK. One digital printer wants a European Standard of color using the ISOcoated_v2_300_eci.icc profile. While another digital printer recommends the GRACoL2006_Coated1v2.icc. Knowing which printer allows me to use my programs to better output a file with a CMYK profile for printing. Taking the extra step to gain a good relationship has helped me produce quality results.

When the unknown of the digital printer comes up, which happens more often than not. The ICC has a profile that is an exchange for a “Pure Digital” process for .pdf/x output. And if we are so inclined IDEAlliance has a wonderful download called the “M1 Implementation Kit” which I would recommend downloading and reading all the documentation they have set up for use. They have catered to Adobe products, but these profiles can be used in other programs. Furthermore, the kit has settings to use the latest 2013 profiles.

However, as a safe fallback I would recommend using the 2006 ICC profiles for right now. Most printers might not have updated the software to understand the 2013 ICC profiles and the 2006 ICC standards should work in the mean time. And further the knowledge base they have a new version of IDEAlliance Guide to Print Production. This is a great guide for anyone that is in design and print and anyone working in the Digital world. I’ll be writing a review of this in another blog soon.

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