What is Closed-Loop Color Control?

Posted December 23, 2015 by Jackie Weeks-Atkin

Color 2015 was a huge success for connecting the dots, breaking down silos, and learning how to gain control of an integrated color management workflow. Taking place in Phoenix, Arizona December 5-8, it offered more than 40 in-depth sessions including Brand & Design, Print & Production, Standards & Business, and Vendor/Product Demonstrations.

Ray Cheydleur, Global OEM Technical Manager at X-Rite, was there to share tips and advice for keeping up with color. We caught up with him during the show to ask a few questions about closed-loop color control.

Ray at CMC 2015

Here’s what he had to say.

 Ray, lately we’ve heard a lot of talk about closed-loop color control.  What exactly does that mean?

When we talk about closed-loop color, it really means something different to different audiences. When I first think about closed-loop color control, I may be thinking about it in the pressroom, where it is really just a question of integrating measurements directly from the press, adjusting them, measuring and reporting, and so there’s a nice closed-loop system that adjusts, controls, and allows me to report the results. But that’s really only one small aspect of closed-loop color control.

We could incorporate a loop from the ink room, for instance, and bring that information directly into the pressroom as well. Perhaps we want to start sooner than that. We want to get closed-loop from the designer, or before that from the brand owner. So closed-loop is not really closed-loop, its open loop, and it’s communication that closes the loop between those users of the specifications. In bringing CXF out to the world, X-Rite was doing just that – providing a way to allow that closed-loop communication anywhere in the process.

How important is it to include quality control of incoming materials such as paper and ink in the color management process?

So quality control is one of those things that is of paramount interest to me because I’m someone who actually had to produce work. I know that without good checks and balances of quality control, what you end up doing is creating more waste, which ultimately means you lose money. No matter where you’re implementing it, be it in just the actual linearization of your plates or your digital printer, or doing this before that if you’re in analog printing, quality control means you’re actually checking the incoming quality of your supplies from your paper and your inks, or doing it before your inks are delivered to the pressroom.

There’s not a question of what the quality is, or whether it’s meeting specification, because a lot of the work that we do today, particularly in the printing industry, is driven by specifications. And those specifications really are designed around delivering quality – quality to a number that is established by making sure you have the right paper, and making sure your ink, whether it’s delivered premixed or mixed in house, is meeting the standard. Without that quality control check, what you’re doing is producing something that you think is right, but you may be delivering the wrong product.

What are some of the tools that are available for making the ink room more efficient and why is that important?

One of the reasons to look at the ink room as a sort of total solution is that if you’re doing print, almost everything ends up being passed through the ink room. That means we’ll need tools like a good quality control package in there to do the QC of both the incoming supplies and the final output.

You’ll need a good formulation package as well, so that when you’re formulating the inks you can be confident that its not just giving you a mix, but a mix that that is really going to meet the requirements. Maybe it needs to meet a requirement under different lighting conditions, so you’re not just testing for a single lighting condition but you’re really looking at whether this will create the right match under both store light and home viewing.

judge qc; xrite; xrite pantone; lightbooth; visual evaluation; assessing color; color standards

Using the new Judge QC to evaluate a press sheet under multiple lighting conditions.

And of course that includes instrumentation, too. For instance, there are a lot of implementations in the graphic arts for M1 that are specific to measuring the fluorescence of paper, but don’t deal with the measuring of the potential of fluorescence of ink. So X-Rite took an implementation on the eXact that actually allows you to deal with both the fluorescence of paper, as well as the potential of fluorescent agents in a substrate other than paper or the ink itself.

What are the key products and services from X-Rite Pantone® that can help people improve their color quality and color workflow efficiency?

X-Rite offers a host of solutions to help quality, specifically quality related to color. One of the areas I don’t think we’re as well known for as we should be is the Pantone Certified Printer program. This is a certification program where we take standards that are implemented at an ISO level and really look at them all the way through the printer’s workflow, plus provide ways to also make sure that they’re reproducing Pantone Colors correctly. It’s really more than a lot of programs have because it takes printing standards, it takes X-Rite’s know-how in Pantone, and then also the ability of have our trainers to walk through every step of the process and provide a really good picture of how to improve their workflow. Being a Pantone Certified Printer really gives confidence to people who want to buy their work because they know they have the whole ballgame wrapped up.

We also offer other tools to contribute to the program. From a measurement side we offer the big i1Pro family for prepress. It’s probably the most well known product in that whole space. And then on the printing side we have the eXact series and the eXact Scan, as well as IntelliTrax, which is the fully automated pressroom solution. We also have solutions that work in other parts of the workflow. We have lighting solutions. We have the right lighting solution, whether you’re in the industrial side of the business, or you’re in the printing business with some of the new solutions we’ve just brought out.

i1Pro 2; spectrophotometer; reading color bars; color management; color workflow solutions; color measurement

An i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer reading color bars on a press sheet.

We can help with any part of the workflow. If you’re picking a color as a designer, we offer tools and solutions for both physical standards from Pantone as well as tools that allow you to measure a color and associate it, or bring that measured color somewhere else in your workflow. The same thing goes for the design and brand sides. We have the PantoneLIVE series which allows a user to take that brand color and make it throughout the entire workflow with assurance that no matter where it’s being output, the end solution is going to give the right color and the right quality.

Anything else you would like to add about X-Rite?

I think one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand about X-Rite is that because we’ve been color experts in many different fields – everything from matching color at the home, matching color at the body shop, matching color at print, working with getting the right process control at the dentist’s office or somewhere else – is that quality is really the center of our business. And from that quality focus we’ve emerged out to really look at quality and color together, and ultimately our goal is to make sure the right things are happening in every part of the workflow.

Since we truly understand the different parts of the workflow, one of the key goals of X-Rite is trying to get better communication across that workflow. Quality is good, but if you can’t communicate what’s happening in each part of the workflow, then you lose an important part of the process.

Stay tuned!

Over the next few weeks we’ll share more highlights from Color ‘15, including how to keep up with standards, the benefits of working with Extended Color Gamut, and thoughts from Lida Marschke from The Color Management Group.

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