Ink producers have been operating their own color management systems for several years to ensure
Now ink companies are using their expertise in the area to offer customers color management services and equipment. Furthermore, they are employing color management as a platform for expansion in the European market.
But they are moving into a crowded market. They are having to compete against specialist color management companies and also services provided by players elsewhere in the supply chain, such as pigment makers and press manufacturers.
In addition a wide variety of hardware, software and systems are available in the burgeoning color management market, which can be bewildering for printers.
There is even concern about the proliferation of standards being applied to manage color in the operation of prepress equipment through to the printing presses themselves.
Understanding Color Management
Color management now covers all printing stages from prepress to the finishing steps of the printing process. In the marketing of their color management portfolio, ink makers have to decide which section of the whole printing procedure to target.
“Printers are confused because there is now a lot to understand about color management,” said Erich Frank, head of the technical services center for sheetfed at Flint Group, Stuttgart, Germany. “They need to know issues like how different inks combined with different paper substrates affect colors and also how to achieve color consistency between the prepress and printing areas.”
Ink companies are mainly concentrating on helping printers deal with color quality matters directly influenced by the character of the inks themselves and the nature of the substrates. In this way they can differentiate themselves from the color management specialists such as Pantone, GretagMacbeth and X-Rite, which develop and provide their own equipment and software.
“Being an ink manufacturer, we know more about the inks – that is how to print them properly on a test printer, as well as how to transfer the relevant information into ink formulations,” said Wolfgang Josten, technology director for web offset at Siegwerk Druckfarben, Siegburg, Germany.
The impetus behind the demand for color management services has come from the need among printers to increase quality in an intensely competitive market. Proper control over the use of color can also help reduce printing costs and improve margins at a time of pressure on margins.
Digitalization, particularly advances in digital proofing, has accelerated the introduction of color matching systems into the prepress area. The development of user-friendly spectrophotometers, densitometers, colorimeters and other measuring devices has helped spread color management throughout the printing process.
Effective color management requires integrated systems which measure color along the whole production line. Differences between the inkjet inks in proofing machines and inks on the printing presses necessitate the use of equipment in the print shop which not only monitors color but takes into account characteristics of the ink, paper and plastic substrates.
Press manufacturers provide spectrophotometers, densitometers and other measuring equipment, which are attached to the presses to read the colorimetric values during printing.
Some printers have found that installing color measuring and monitoring equipment is not sufficient. They have decided to overhaul working practices and operating systems throughout their businesses so that color management becomes a matter of complete process control.
Opportunities for Ink Companies
Ink companies have found that not many printers know exactly what color management systems they want. Instead, they tend to turn to their ink suppliers for help.
“We are often the suppliers they know best so we are the ones who they will ask first for advice,” said a technical manager at one ink maker.
Flint Group has been concentrating on providing training for staff throughout the production chain in printing companies so that they can all comprehend better the complexities of color management.
“We run different types of training courses to meet various needs,” said Mr. Frank. “The bigger print companies, which have been the first to adopt color management practice, tend to know the most. But the smaller ones are still not very interested in color standardization.”
Siegwerk’s web offset business unit is focusing on assistance with the handling of data about the hue, transparency and color strength of inks on the basis of norms of the International Standards Organisation (ISO).
“This includes comparisons of different ink types as well as different paper grades and their combinations,” said Mr. Josten. “The advantage for printers is that they get information they couldn’t mostly collect themselves. Compliance with international standards is becoming more and more important for our customers.”
A few ink companies are particularly well placed to provide a relatively comprehensive color management service because they are backward integrated into pigment production while they also have lengthy experience in color quality services.
Toyo Ink is using its long-standing reputation as a creator of process color standards as a base from which to extend its ink business in Europe into the region’s sheetfed offset market.
The Japanese company, which has been making pigments in Europe for the local market for many years, has avoided making big inroads into the regional ink sector because it was unwilling to compete with its major pigment customers. Now it has abandoned this policy since many of the big ink makers in Europe, like Sun Chemical, Flint Group and Huber Group, have themselves become backward integrated into pigments.
Within the next few months, Toyo Ink is planning to introduce across Europe its Kaleido offset ink range. By extending the gamut of the four process colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) close to those of the three-color model red, green and blue (RGB), Kaleido bridges the gap between RGB-based prepress equipment and CMYK-centered sheetfed presses.
Kaleido cannot be applied properly without the aid of color measuring equipment and standards. However, this is not a problem for Toyo because it is already a big brand name in color management. Toyo Color Finder is a top digitalized color matching system accessible through global graphics software programs such as Adobe and Quark.
“In Japan and the rest of Asia, we are as well known for our color standard as Pantone is in North America and Europe,” noted Peter Beerten, senior sales manager at Toyo Ink Europe, Brussels. “We’ve had 80 years of experience in color standards and already have a big reputation for our expertise in color among professionals in the European graphics industry.
“Through our Color Finder system, which makes available 1,050 different colors, we can provide efficient color matching from the design stage through prepress to final print because we not only produce the inks but the pigments as well,” he added.
Sun Chemical is helping global brand owners upgrade the efficiency of their systems for management of spot colors in packaging. It believes that its expertise in aspects like the performance of inks on different substrates gives it a distinct advantage over providers of color quality services from outside the ink sector.
“We make the colors through our inks and pigments and we know the substrates on which they are printed and different printing processes,” said Patrice Aurenty, Sun Chemical’s general manager for color management in Europe. “We are not talking just about numbers but what is really happening with the colors. We are also able to do more in the color management field than other ink manufacturers because we have a global reach. We can help ensure that a brand owner’s brochure has the same quality of color quality whether it is printed in Asia, North America or Europe.”
Recently, Sun Chemical has advised a big brand owner on how to rationalize its palette of spot colors for its packaging by reducing them from several thousand colors to just approximately 1,000 colors. Sun Chemical then gathered colorimetric data for each of the colors according to different printing processes and substrates, and has produced the related physical color standards for use across the whole chain.
“We have been able to decrease the size of this brand owner’s palette to an acceptable level,” said Mr. Aurenty. “In this way it has been able to save million of dollars because the standardized data for each color has been communicated down the workflow chain. There are far fewer color rejections, less reworking and increased speed of product launches.”
Sun Chemical has also been advising international standards committees on how to make sure that new standards for process colors will actually work in practice.
“We advised a committee that one part of a standard they wanted to introduce was not achievable because of the nature of inks and pigments,” explained Andy Hadaway, Sun Chemical’s technical manager for color management in Europe. “The committee requested that equal amounts of CMYK colors would give neutral colors. We had to advise that pigment chemistry did not make this possible.”
The knowledge ink companies have about the variables in color quality stemming from different inks, substrates and printing processes give them a unique position in the color management market.
“We can provide the reality check,” said Mr. Aurenty. “We can look at the colorimetric numbers and show that they are not enough to provide the color quality which is expected.”