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What is Closed-Loop Color Control?

April 02, 2018 by Ray Cheydleur

Color 2018 was a huge success for connecting the dots, breaking down silos, and learning how to gain control of an integrated color management workflow. It offered in-depth sessions including Brand & Design, Print & Production, Standards & Business, and Vendor/Product Demonstrations.

I was there to share tips and advice about how closed-loop color control can help you keep up with color. Here are some of the key takeaways.

Ray at CMC 2015

What is closed-loop color control?

Closed-loop color can mean something different to different audiences. When I first think about closed-loop color control, I may think about the pressroom, where it is really just a question of integrating measurements directly from the press, adjusting them, measuring and reporting, offering a nice closed-loop system that adjusts, controls, and allows me to report the results. But that’s really only one small aspect. You can incorporate a loop from the ink room, for instance, and bring that information directly into the pressroom as well. Or you can even start sooner and close the loop from the designer or the brand owner.

So, closed-loop color control essentially closes the loop in communication between users. By introducing CxF, X-Rite provided a way to close the loop in communication anywhere in the process.

The importance of controlling the quality of incoming materials

I am very interested in quality control because I used to produce work. I know that without good checks and balances, you end up creating more waste, which ultimately means you lose money. No matter where you’re implementing it – whether just the actual linearization of your plates or your digital printer, or before that for analog printing – quality control means you’re checking the incoming quality of your supplies, sometimes even before they're delivered to the pressroom.

There’s not a question of quality 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 are designed around delivering quality – quality to a number that is established by making sure you have the right paper, and that your ink, whether it’s delivered premixed or mixed in house, is meeting the standard. Without that quality control check, you may produce something that you think is right, but end up delivering the wrong product.

Tools that can make the ink room more efficient

One of the reasons to look at the ink room as a total solution for print is because almost everything passes through the ink room. You need good tools to control the quality of both the incoming supplies and the final output. You also need a good formulation package so you can confidently formulate inks that will meet your requirements. If an ink needs to meet a requirement under different lighting conditions, you can't just test for a single lighting condition. You need to find out whether this ink 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 Judge QC to evaluate a press sheet under multiple lighting conditions.

Of course, you need to consider 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 measuring 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.

Key X-Rite Pantone products and services to improve color quality and workflow efficiency

X-Rite offers a host of solutions to help you achieve color quality. One of the areas I don’t think we’re as well known for as we should be is the Pantone Certified Printer program. It's a certification program where we look at how the printer is implementing ISO standards all the way through the workflow and whether they can reproduce Pantone Colors correctly. It offers more than a lot of other programs because it considers printing standards, X-Rite’s know-how in Pantone, and the ability of our trainers to walk through every step of the process to provide a really good picture of how to improve the workflow. Pantone Certified Printers give confidence to people who want to buy their work because 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 3 Family for prepress. It’s probably the most well-known product in that whole space. On the printing side we have the eXact series and the eXact Scan, as well as IntelliTrax 2 Pro, which is the fully automated pressroom solution. The eXact and IntelliTrax2 also connect up with our ColorCert quality control and reporting solution. We even have the right lighting solution, whether you’re in the industrial side of the business, or you’re in the printing business.

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

An i1Pro spectrophotometer reading color bars on a press sheet.

We can help with any part of the workflow. If you’re a designer picking a color, we offer tools and solutions to specify both physical and digital Pantone Standards and associate them use throughout the workflow. The same thing goes for the brand side. PantoneLIVE allows you to select a color for use throughout the entire workflow with assurance that no matter where it’s being output, the end solution will give the right color and the right quality.

Accurate communication across the workflow

Because we are Color Experts in many different fields – everything from matching color for home decor, in the body shop, at the print shop, in a dentist’s office, or anywhere else – quality really is the center of our business. One of our key goals is to help our clients better communicate across that workflow and ultimately make sure the right things are happening in every part of the workflow. Quality is good, but if you can’t clearly communicate what’s happening in each part of the workflow, then you lose an important part of the process.

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