Development of Color Standards is Becoming a Priority in Europe

By Sean Milmo, Ink World European Editor | 06.02.09

Companies and organizations, including brand owners, printing associations, universities and research institutes, are now involved in the creation of color standards.

The priority being given to color quality at the moment in some sections of the European printing market has triggered a lot of activity in the drawing up of standards to ensure consistency between the design concept and the printed output.

As a result a plethora of companies and organizations, including brand owners, printing associations, universities and research institutes are now involved in the creation of standards.

Ink companies are offering their assistance to printers once the standards have been devised rather than to contributing to the making of the standards themselves. This can result in ink producers developing inks or ink systems to help printers comply with particular standards.

They can also boost demand for the services of ink makers to help printers sort out problems in meeting standards set for particular jobs.

“There’s been a steady increase in the numbers of standards,” said a sales director at one European ink company. “We don’t participate in the creation of the standards themselves. We see our job as providing top quality inks which have a level of consistency necessary for complying with standards.

“In a way they do help increase sales,” he added. “Once a printer complying with one or more standards is committed to buying our basic inks, he has to buy our colors as well. Otherwise he could run into problems with consistency because there could be unexpected reactions between our inks and another company’s pigment formulations.”

Siegwerk has been expanding its consulting services to deal with the sort of new difficulties printers are facing with color management standards.

“The combination of our color service, technology and on-site consulting teams are able to support our customers comprehensively in the full area around ink and color management,” said Enno Urbeinz, Siegwerk’s corporate communications manager.

“An optimized color management system will lead to higher efficiency on the printers’ side,” he added. “The advantages are mainly, but not only, due to shorter set-up times and reduction of waste. This does not only save expenses for inventory, but also makes a contribution to preserving the environment.”

Across much of the European printing industry, existing standards are tending to be tightened up by being made specific to particular processes or types of substrate.

The task of making standards has been made easier by advances in the development and application of color measuring equipment which can be a source of large amounts of data for the calculation of parameters.

As a result of the increased automation of printing, on-line monitoring equipment using densitometers, colorimeters and/or spectrophotometers for measuring light, color and wavelengths are now widely installed in printing presses.

One objective has been to provide more detailed standards to complement those of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

The offset color printing standard Process Standards Offset (PSO) has been drawn up in Germany to help printers implement ISO standards such as ISO 12647-2 for the process control of sheetfed and heatset web offset printing and the ISO 15930 series on the exchange of printing data.

“ISO defines the aim, PSO the method,” said the European Color Initiative (ECI), a group of color processing experts, brought together by German publishing companies Bauer, Burda, Gruner+Jahr and Springer. The ECI has been involved in the creation of PSO with the German Printing and Media Industries Federation (BVDM) and the Munich-based Graphic Research Technology Association (FOGRA).

In parallel with the standards being initiated on behalf of printers, brand owners in Europe have been devising their own worldwide standards. In many cases, these are based on existing process-oriented standards.

Brand owners tend to use their standards to control the quality of printing by printers of their packaging around the globe. Their objective often is to communicate as closely as possible with the printers themselves.

Frequently, multinational ink companies work together with the brand owners to establish lines of communication on standards with printers.

Retail companies are now becoming new sources of standards as a result of their concerns about the visual quality of the packaging of their own label products.

In the UK, for example, which has some of the biggest supermarket chains in Europe, retail companies are having their packaging printed by a wide variety of printers with whom they generally do not communicate directly.

“They operate a different business model in packaging printing to that of the brand owners,” explained Lesley Hide, managing director of the UK-based European Flexographic Technical Association (EFTA). “The supermarket chains let the fillers or packers of their own-label products contract out the printing of the packaging. Or their designers or design agencies work with repro or pre-press houses who then liase with the printers.”

However this system may now be starting to change, as the supermarket companies look to ways of exerting the same degree of supervision over printers as that operated by brand owners.

“The leading supermarket companies are looking for ways of exercising more controls over printers so that they get more consistency in the printing of their own-label packaging,” said Mr. Hide. “One of the top chains is possibly using as many as 150 to 160 different printers in the UK alone.”

Printers on the whole prefer to implement standards which have been designed specifically to meet their needs while guaranteeing the color quality and consistency wanted by their customers. They want to avoid having to switch from one standard to another for different jobs, which increases downtime.

The PSO is promoted as being an “unbiased” certification system which has been worked out independently of the end-user or vendor of the printed product. Although it is printer-oriented, it has been devised to cover the demands of all parts of the graphics chain from the designer and print buyer to pre-press and final printing.

After being launched at drupa in 2004 by BVDM and FOGRA, more than 250 printing operations in Europe were by last year complying with the standard.

This large group of PSO users has enabled it to establish itself as a well respected certification system employed by print buyers in the European publications sector. In this way it has fulfilled the requirements of offset printers, brand owners and other end users.

Sun Chemical has recently introduced a set of inks and services, marketed under the name Exact PSO, to help printers comply with the standard. The inks have been developed not only to fit the tolerances allowed by the standard, but to be more precise by giving results in the middle of the specification. This can still be achieved after taking into account all the variables of printings, such as the press model and the nature of the substrate.

“(With process standardization), jobs can be printed in different print shops around the world without any major differences,” said a Sun official. “This is vital as customers want their products to be exactly the same no matter where it is printed.

“Sun Chemical’s response to this new demand is to develop a highly versatile product, which has good in-class mechanical resistance and is produced specifically to meet the new PSO standards,” he continued. “Achieving Process Standard Offset is a costly and time-consuming task. However, printers can improve their business and increase their client base by becoming an ‘approved’ supplier to the increasing number of print buyers using the standard.”

The PSO is being continually improved by its originators by providing more specific data profiles, such as ones to cover machine-finished coated (MFC) paper and standard newsprint (SNP). With UGRA, the Swiss-based media and printing technology center, FOGRA has developed a method for measuring a printed test with a spectrophotometer for offset printers.

In the packaging sector, the European Rotogravure Association (ERA), representing gravure printers and cylinder engravers, has created a color management standard specifically for packaging printing, which it says is the first gravure standard for packaging gravure printing.

The standard, called PaC.Space, has been drawn up with the help of Janoschka Group, the largest cylinder house in Europe, and German software supplier GMG GmbH.

“There are color standards for publication gravure but they are not suitable for packaging printing, which has a wider color gamut and a need for more brightness,” said George Battrick, ERA’s technical coordinator. “Also, we want to avoid our packaging members having to deal with a mixture of standards as has happened in publication printing.”

ERA claims that brand owners, particularly their design and repro agencies, are not always familiar with the pre-press and printing processes, including the inks, substrates and presses. As a result, the data they supply often has to be reworked to provide the desired outcome.

“The main idea behind our common standard is to reduce costs by ensuring that adjustments do not have to be made from job to job by printers,” said Mr. Battrick.

ERA’s new standard will be very much a regional one, which tends to reflect the predominant trend in color management. Once standards are produced to fit specific processes, they tend to be regional rather than global.

However, this may change in the flexo sector, which in Europe is highly fragmented, unlike the more consolidated gravure segment. Consequently there have been few initiatives to introduce pan-European standards for flexo printing.

Some European flexo associations are looking at the possibility of bringing the U.S. Flexographic Technical Association’s color control system, Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications and Tolerances (FIRST), over to Europe.

“It may also be something that the brand owners might want to do,” said Mr. Hide. It could also be a considerable advantage to ink companies operating on both sides of the Atlantic.

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