Posts Tagged ‘Color’

Color Measurement the Right Way

Quality printing depends on precise color measurement, which makes it all the more relevant to ask why different measuring devices often produce different results. What should you rely on in this case?

Modern color measuring devices are generally based on spectrophotometers, even if they only show densities. This is because of the higher measuring accuracy of spectrophotometry, together with a greater range of available measurement values. The measuring conditions set on the devices therefore not only need to be selected correctly but must also be identical for all devices. The correct setting often depends on the country. Regional associations such as the bvdm in Germany and CGATS in the United States formerly laid down these conditions. Today they are to be found in the relevant ISO standards. Settings can be made for the following values:

Illuminant: This defines the color temperature of the lighting source. For printing, the standard is currently D50, which corresponds to 5,000 Kelvin.

Observer angle: The standard observer angle in printing is currently defined as 2°. This corresponds to the printer’s observation angle in the matching stage.

Density filter: This determines the spectral range that is to be used to calculate the density values for CMYK. Standards “Status E” (= DIN 16536) and “Status I” (= DIN 16536 NB; narrowband) are usual in Europe. “Status T” is used for measuring in the United States.

Polarization filter: Polarization filters eliminate the gloss of wet ink. The wet values therefore correspond almost entirely to the dry density and tonal values.

White reference: The “absolute white” setting is preferred for density measurement in North America. In all other countries, the white reference is “relative.” Paper white is therefore always taken as the zero point here. To match a spectrophotometer to an old densitometer, it is necessary to know the densitometer’s settings precisely and apply exactly the same parameters to the spectrophotometer. Despite identical settings, minor deviations may occur even within a group of spectrophotometers. These are generally due to the quality and design of the sensor and its calibration. Theoretically, every spectrophotometer should be calibrated to absolute white and black. However, in practice neither one exists, which means it is best to use reference values from an independent institution such as the German Federal Institute for Materials Research (BAM) in Berlin. Manufacturers can have a device calibrated here and use this “master device” to calibrate all other devices. The better the measuring device, the narrower the tolerances that the manufacturer defines for the ΔE and density values. And the smaller the tolerances, the greater the measuring accuracy.

To ensure the measuring accuracy remains constant for as long as possible, users are well advised to have devices serviced and calibrated regularly. Heidelberg is the only press manufacturer to offer a software option – the Prinect Net Profiler – that enables printers to personally calibrate almost all new-generation Prinect color measuring equipment, even including colorimetric calibration. This ensures devices are always close to the factory settings and therefore deliver highly reliable results.

It is also advisable to designate a selected spectrophotometer as the “master” in the print shop itself. This ensures maximum measuring accuracy and, ultimately, print quality across several work stations.

Typical distribution of measuring device deviations – the blue dot in the center is the ideal value for the reference device. The grey circle shows the permitted tolerance. The red dots represent the deviation for different measuring devices.



Like death and taxes, there is no escaping color. It is ubiquitous. Yet what does it all mean? Why are people more relaxed in green rooms? Why do weightlifters do their best in blue gyms?

Colors often have different meanings in various cultures. And even in Western societies, the meanings of various colors have changed over the years. But today in the U.S., researchers have generally found the following to be accurate.

Black is the color of authority and power. It is popular in fashion because it makes people appear thinner. It is also stylish and timeless. Black also implies submission. Priests wear black to signify submission to God. Some fashion experts say a woman wearing black implies submission to men. Black outfits can also be overpowering, or make the wearer seem aloof or evil. Villains, such as Dracula, often wear black.

Brides wear white to symbolize innocence and purity. White reflects light and is considered a summer color. White is popular in decorating and in fashion because it is light, neutral, and goes with everything. However, white shows dirt and is therefore more difficult to keep clean than other colors. Doctors and nurses wear white to imply sterility.

The most emotionally intense color, red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing. It is also the color of love. Red clothing gets noticed and makes the wearer appear heavier. Since it is an extreme color, red clothing might not help people in negotiations or confrontations. Red cars are popular targets for thieves. In decorating, red is usually used as an accent. Decorators say that red furniture should be perfect since it will attract attention.

The most romantic color, pink, is more tranquilizing. Sports teams sometimes paint the locker rooms used by opposing teams bright pink so their opponents will lose energy.

The color of the sky and the ocean, blue is one of the most popular colors. It causes the opposite reaction as red. Peaceful, tranquil blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals, so it is often used in bedrooms. Blue can also be cold and depressing. Fashion consultants recommend wearing blue to job interviews because it symbolizes loyalty. People are more productive in blue rooms. Studies show weightlifters are able to handle heavier weights in blue gyms.

Currently the most popular decorating color, green symbolizes nature. It is the easiest color on the eye and can improve vision. It is a calming, refreshing color. People waiting to appear on TV sit in “green rooms” to relax. Hospitals often use green because it relaxes patients. Brides in the Middle Ages wore green to symbolize fertility. Dark green is masculine, conservative, and implies wealth. However, seamstresses often refuse to use green thread on the eve of a fashion show for fear it will bring bad luck.

Cheerful sunny yellow is an attention getter. While it is considered an optimistic color, people lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms, and babies will cry more. It is the most difficult color for the eye to take in, so it can be overpowering if overused. Yellow enhances concentration, hence its use for legal pads. It also speeds metabolism.

The color of royalty, purple connotes luxury, wealth, and sophistication. It is also feminine and romantic. However, because it is rare in nature, purple can appear artificial.

Solid, reliable brown is the color of earth and is abundant in nature. Light brown implies genuineness while dark brown is similar to wood or leather. Brown can also be sad and wistful. Men are more apt to say brown is one of their favorite colors.

Read more: Color Psychology |, David Johnson

History of Color management in operating systems

The most efficient approach is to integrate the color management system into the computer operating system.

Here, every color can be processed neutrally in the computer irrespective of the input or output medium. All the hardware and software components involved in the system can access color management because they all collaborate with the computer operating system.

In April 1993 at the initiative of FOGRA (Forschungsgesellschaft Druck e.V.), several manufacturers of devices and software in the color graphics sector decided to form a committee with the aim of defining and standardizing various cross-platform device profiles for gamut mapping.

The name of this committee is the ICC (International Color Consortium). The ColorSyncR 2.0 system add-on by AppleR, launched onto the market in spring 1995, was the first example of a color management system based on Linotype-HellR/ Heidelberg

technology being implemented in an operating system. The same technology was used at a later date for Microsoft Windows operating systems.

You will find what is known as the Color Matching Module under the term ICM in the operating system under Windows 98, SE, 2000 and XP.


Pre-flighting is a term used in the printing industry to describe the process of confirming that the digital files required for the printing process are all present, valid, correctly formatted, and of the desired type. The term originates from the pre-flight checklists used by pilots. The term was first used in a presentation at the Color Connections conference in 1990 by consultant Chuck Weger.

Source: everydaycolormanagement.jap

PDF troubleshooter

These are the TOP 10 problems when using PDF in graphic arts. Don’t take my word for it, this list actually comes from Adobe.

  1. The resolution of images is too low.
  2. Fonts are not embedded in the PDF.
  3. The wrong color space is used.
  4. The information about trim or bleed are incorrect.
  5. There is an inconsistency with the native file. The original page, as viewed in QuarkXPress or InDesign or whatever other application looks different from the PDF. Hairlines might be different or gradients have changed.
  6. A spot color is misnamed or it is accidentally converted to a process color.
  7. Images are compressed too much. This causes a quality loss and in some cases artifacts appear inside or around the images.
  8. The page size is incorrect.
  9. There are problems with transparent objects.
  10. ICC profiles are missing or incorrect.

One of the reasons why many of these problems go undetected is that designers have the habit of making proofs from their lay-out, checking those proofs and then creating PDF files. These PDF files don’t get looked at, they are sent straight to the agency or printer. It would be far better if designers created PDF files and then made a proof of these files. This way the consistency between supplied file and proof is much better!

Next to PDF files having some kind of issue, it can of course happen that a PDF cannot be ripped or rendered at all. Here are some typical things to try when this happens:

  1. Use PitStop or another tool to get rid of any irrelevant data in the PDF file. Delete OPI comments, forms, scripts, animations,… and then use ‘Save As’ to create a new clean PDF file.
  2. Refry the PDF file if you don’t have access to the source file(s).
  3. If you have the source files, try recreating the PDF using a different procedure: if the problem file was creating by exporting to PDF, try creating a PostScript file and distilling that. If the problem file was created using Distiller or Normalizer, try using ‘Export to PDF’.
  4. If you have access to the source file: clean it up and recreate the PDF: Make sure that any spot colors that are not printed as spots are converted to CMYK in the original file. Delete any unused data (stuff on the paste board, elements hidden underneath others, unused pages,… )You also may want to merge layers, paths or channels. Then do a ‘Save As’ to create a clean source file.
  5. If everything else fails, try opening the PDF in Photoshop and saving it as an image. This operation converts all text to bitmap so it really has a huge impact on the quality of the output but if everything else fails, this is your last resort.

VIGC study on spectrophotometers reveals: instrument accuracy can be a nightmare

Quality assessment in the graphic arts industry depends mostly on the use of spectrophotometers. Printers use them to check their production processes, customers use them to evaluate the print job for acceptance. Quality demands are getting more strict every year, the spectrophotometer decides whether a job is accepted, or not. But when VIGC, the Flemish Innovation Center for Graphic Communications, did a study on the accuracy of those devices, they found deviations up to a delta E of nearly 4… Which means trouble in the printing industry.

“Color quality is the biggest challenge in the printing industry.”, says Eddy Hagen, managing director and trend watcher of VIGC. “Graphic arts companies will try everything to get the colors as desired by the customer. Those customers will use it as the most important criterion to accept, or reject, a print job. Which makes the devices to measure that color quality quite essential. So you would expect that the quality of those devices is top class. But it isn’t.”

After having experienced some issues with different devices, VIGC started their first tests to compare multiple devices in the summer of 2007. “We saw some deviations between the different spectrophotometers that we use ourselves.”, explains Fons Put, senior consultant with VIGC. “So we set up a procedure to check and compare different devices. As the reference we used the GretagMacBeth NetProfiler test chart. This is a test chart which comes with a certificate stating the L*a*b*-values of the different patches, measured with three spectrophotometers under ideal conditions (updatet 14/09/2008). The certificate is valid for 12 months only, so it needs to be renewed every year. And then we measured the 13 patches on the test chart with different spectrophotometers. For two patches we also measured the repeatability of the devices, meaning 10 measurements in a row.”

Deviations up to delta E 3,77

Over the past year, VIGC has tested over 20 different devices, most of them are used by printing companies that VIGC is working with. This is in contrast with similar, smaller studies that have been done in the past. Other studies used devices that they got directly from the vendors. VIGC tested devices that are out in the field, that are used on a daily basis by companies in the industry. This gives them a very interesting overview of the capabilities of spectrophotometers in daily life. And those capabilities are not what people think… When a customer demands a maximum delta E of 2, which is often the case for quality print jobs in Belgium, he wants a device that measures the color as accurate as possible. However, the VIGC study revealed deviations up to delta E = 3,77 for specific colors. On average the deviation per instrument of all 13 patches is 1,56.

Different types, different brands

In the study VIGC encountered multiple devices of the same type or the same brand. Is there a relation between the type, the brand and the accuracy? “That’s an interesting question.”, says Put. “There was one general rule: the newer types of devices perform better. With devices that were a few years old, sometimes we got good results with the first one and bad results with the second one. Our own main spectrophotometer, which is calibrated regularly on that NetProfiler chart, was the best of them all. Another device, the same brand, the same type, more or less the same age, performed really bad.” When the measurements of all 13 patches were averaged per device VIGC found deviations from the exact value ranging between delta E 0,45 for the best device and 2,74 for the worst one. Which means that several devices showed – on average – higher deviations than the margins that customers expect from their printers for high quality print jobs. The highest deviation for individual patches was a delta E of 3,77. “Also interesting – or disturbing if you like – was that one brand had quite strong deviations in the red and orange. We found this on multiple devices of that specific brand.”

Even within a certain type of device, VIGC found very big differences. This graph shows the deviations from the absolute value for 7 devices of the same brand, the same type.

What causes the deviations?

With the older devices one major reason can be maintenance… “We know that some devices performed bad because the optics or the calibration tile were dirty.”, explains Put. Spectrophotometers need regular calibration and also periodic cleaning. Another reason can be the light source used. Put continues: “No light source has a perfect ‘spectral power distribution’. And if you don’t have much power in certain wavelengths, not that much color can be reflected in that region, which limits the accuracy of detecting small variations in that color region. An LED light source has a completely different spectral power distribution from a gas filled tungsten bulb. And both are used in spectrophotometers.”

This graph shows the difference in composition of the light source used in two different spectrophotometers.

Why not delta E 2000?

The big differences that were found can cause trouble: customers demand a delta E of 2, but their measurement device might be of a delta E of 3… A simple – and valid – solution for the industry would be to accept delta E 2000 as the formula to calculate color differences. “When people talk about delta E, they usually refer to delta E*ab, also known as delta E 1976. This is also the formula that is mentioned in the relevant ISO standards. But this formula is very inaccurate when it comes to small color differences.”, says Hagen. “I can show you a pair of colors with color difference of delta E 5 which is barely noticeable… Take a 100% and a 95% process yellow from ISOcoated. The deviation is just noticeable, but if you calculate it with delta E*ab, you get a figure of 5. Delta E* ab doesn’t really conform to the human perception of color differences. The newer delta E 2000 does. Take the same yellow color pair and you will get a delta E of approximately 1. Which conforms to the initial idea of delta E: a delta E of 1 is the smallest noticeable color difference.”

Download this testfile: how big is the color difference between the left and right? When measured this will give a very high delta E*ab, although the difference is barely visible.

When the test results of VIGC are recalculated with the newer delta E 2000, the figures become much more realistic. The overall average of all devices on the 13 patches is a rather bad 1,56 when delta E*ab is used, but a very good 0,39 when calculated with the more recent delta E 2000.

Hagen continues: “The bizarre thing however is that some experts don’t want to use delta E 2000 because it is not that good when it comes to rather large color deviations. In those cases the old delta E*ab performs better. But who is interested in the accuracy of large color deviations? I want accuracy in small color deviations. That is where the battlefield is, where print jobs get rejected. Not because the colors look very different, but because the delta E formula states that they are different… The printing industry would benefit a lot if the delta E 2000 formula would be the official formula for calculating color differences. But all relevant ISO standards only seem to know delta E*ab… Even the draft for the upcoming update (updatet 14/09/2008) of ISO 13655 on color measurement only talks about delta E*ab. Which is not in favor of the printing industry, nor their customers.”

Conclusions and recommendations

What should we learn from this study? First of all that the measurements from a spectrophotometer – at least the ones used in the graphic arts industry – is not absolute. There can be variations between different devices. Also the devices need to be calibrated on a regular basis and need to be maintained in a proper state. Periodical cleaning by the vendor may seem expensive, but what is the cost of a – perfect – print job that gets rejected due to the fact that the spectrophotometer was lacking maintenance and therefore showing a wrong figure?

Also the industry and the standard organizations need to consider using delta E 2000 as the standard to calculate color differences when judging print quality. For small color differences delta E 2000 conforms much better to human vision than delta E*ab. Rejecting jobs because of color differences should be about seeing differences, not just about measuring a certain number.

VIGC’s response to some comments
Our article caused some stir in the industry. And that was our intention: we wanted to create awareness on the issues, we didn’t want to ‘condemn’ the vendors of spectrophotometers (otherwise we would have mentioned names…). Spectrophotometers are specialised tools, they need to be handled with care and with the appropriate knowledge. With care, that means: maintain them well! E.g. regular maintenance by the vendor is a cost, but it really is necessary. With the appropriate knowledge, that means: know how to use them in the right way, know how to interpret measurements and set goals that can be measured undisputedly.

In the article, a few points have been updated, based on the input we got (btw: thanks to all who delivered input!). Below is some more information on other comments.

VIGC only did one measurement, they should have taken three measurements and averaged the results
Yes, we only did one measurement and we should have done three, to have a real scientific approach. But, how many printers or print buyers do it that way? We have chosen to test spectrophotometers in the same conditions as they are used in the industry. And most printers and print buyers just take one measurement… Which can be very dangerous! Several years ago, we did a test with a ‘cold’ spectrophotometer (first use on Monday morning in winter time): it took over 10 measurements before the results were more or less consistent!

The measured devices were within ISO-specifications for spectrophotometers.
Yes, indeed. And this brings us to the goal of our article: create awareness. Many customers are demanding tolerances that are tighter than the ISO-specifications for printing (ISO 12647). With a tolerance that is often lower than the inter instrument deviation that is allowed according to ISO specifications for spectrophotometers, you will get trouble. What if the print buyer specifies a target color in CIELAB and the measured color is outside the – small – tolerance, only due to the deviation of the device used? That would mean that a job that got rejected – with either a reprint or a price reduction – for the wrong reasons! That’s why we wanted to create awareness.

A company always uses the same device, so inter instrument deviations are not that important.
Not always the case! We can’t put a percentage on it, but certainly in the case where the print buyer also has a quality department, they will check – and approve or reject – the print job with another device, maybe even with another brand of spectrophotometer. So in that scenario, where both printer and print buyer check the colors of a job, according to a specified color (e.g. a brand color), inter instrument deviations can play a significant role. And we’ve seen this in real life: printer measures the job within specs, print buyer measures it and it is outside the specs… Job got rejected.

To conclude an anecdote to illustrate why we wanted to create awareness…
A few years ago we got contacted by a printer of corrugated boxes. He was in the running for a really large order, but the customer had set quality targets and he didn’t know what to do with them… The maximum delta E that the customer had specified, was – if my memory serves me well – a delta E of 3 (since they didn’t specify which delta E, we assumed it was delta E*ab). Now consider that this was on brown corrugated boxes… The substrate itself has color differences that exceed delta E of 10! It is covered with dark spots… The customer delivered a printed ink sample. However, this was printed with a hand roller, on a nice glossy extremely white paper… and that was the color reference for printing on brown corrugated. The ink sample itself was full of lighter and darker areas, so which color was the reference??? But in the end, a certain amount of boxes should be sent to the quality department of the print buyer. And they would measure it, with their device – which was a completely different type of spectrophotometer than we are using in the printing industry – and approve or reject the print job… This is just a way to be sure to find a reason to reject jobs and demand a discount… This is not about getting the colors right anymore.

Color is something really complex and you need the right skills, the right equipment to get the colors right, to measure them in the right way.


Brilliant colors true to the original on a premium surface – that ̓s what distinguishes a high-quality print product. Many elements in prepress and printing impact on a product ̓s color fidelity. The various input and output units in a print shop ̓s production process, consumables and other factors can cause deviations in color. A consistently employed color management system eliminates this problem.

In this series of blog tips we ̓ll show you the most common sources of error and give you tips on color management. We ̓re pleased to have caught your interest.

screen rulings

Different screen rulings produce different levels of dot gain during printing and thus different representations of an image.

Different screen rulings have to be calibrated differently in order to make the images match. CtP technology allows you to easily adjust the plate characteristics so that the same tonal values can be reproduced in printing, independent of the

screen rulings. This makes it possible to achieve a unified print image.

To be continued…

With reference Heidelberg Profitip series…