Could better colour management improve your bottom line?
Colour management has been somewhat neglected in the wide format sector for some time, but that is beginning to change. If the results of the 2018 FESPA Print Census are anything to go by, it seems that quality control is one of the areas in which print service providers (PSPs) are increasingly recognising that they could benefit from optimising their operations.
The Census results demonstrated a growing focus by many respondents on becoming more customer-centric businesses, so it is no surprise that a number also spoke of plans to focus their investments in technology and training on areas that would improve consistency and customer satisfaction, including colour management (27%) and quality control (34%).
It is in recognition of this trend that we’re introducing Colour L*A*B* at FESPA Global Print Expo 2019. A combined technology showcase and conference programme, the feature is designed to give visitors the expert guidance and education they are looking for to help them improve their colour management practices.
With the growth in volumes and the diversification of applications that we’ve seen over the last decade, many PSPs have been more focused on building capacity and expanding their service offerings than on colour management. However, in order to deliver these services efficiently and ensure customer retention, this is an area that needs to become a focus.
Yet a perception exists among some in the wide format sector that colour management is the realm of consultants and highly technical engineers. Indeed, it can be complicated. From monitor calibration and viewing conditions to software setup and printer characterisation, it is a complex set of processes, but I believe that it is also one that is within the scope of anyone who is interested and committed to making their business better.
Many wide format print businesses have actually already got a number of the necessary tools in their hands. The goal of Colour L*A*B* is to demonstrate how PSPs could be using these better and guide them as to where they should be directing investments to implement effective colour management processes.
Colour management should be part of systemic management within every print business. By rationalising the production process to give you predictable outcomes every time, you’ll know if there’s a problem before you even print something, so you won’t waste material or produce output that is rejected. Once you’ve invested in the process and it is up and running, you’ll reap the benefits in terms of increases in efficiency, cost savings and improvements in predictability, not to mention greater customer satisfaction.
Good colour management won’t make your print output look good, but it will make it more accurate and that is what PSPs’ customers are looking for – consistent, accurate colour. For this reason it is also essential when introducing web-to-print and automation to a workflow.
Consider the example of a PSP producing display graphics for an experiential marketing campaign being run by a well-known brand. Those graphics are the only output that particular PSP is producing for this campaign, but they don’t exist in a vacuum – the brand also has leaflets, branded clothing, banners and its product packaging. All of these have been produced by other print businesses using different machines and under different conditions, but it is essential for the brand that all are visually consistent. Without colour management processes in place, this can become a very slow and expensive exercise for a PSP.
Another big challenge for wide format promotional marketing printers is that they can have any mix of latex, UV and solvent-based printers, all with different characteristics, but all of them need to be able to produce matching output. This is particularly so with the growing demand for fast turnaround times, because in order to deliver on time they will often have to run one job across three or four printers. Only if they’ve invested time in setting up their colour management properly will they be able to achieve the visual match that they need.
You only need to look at the success of something like PantoneLIVE to understand the growing importance of visual consistency for brands. Consumers associate accuracy with quality, so print businesses that can’t reliably deliver that for their customers are going to lose out in the long term. And marketing is by no means the only group of applications for which precise colour management is essential. In fact, the fast growing area of interior décor printing demands even greater rigour when it comes to colour matching.
As an industry we need to move away from subjective measures toward objective, data-driven ones that enable better customer service. That’s one of the reasons that I’m excited about Colour L*A*B* – I think people just need to get their hands on the equipment. If they hold a spectrophotometer, take a reading of a number of test strips then see how it reads the test strips and compares them to a set of data standards, I think that will help to demystify it for them and a whole world of possibilities will open up.