Do you measure color?

I had to share this article today as I know over the summer months many print shops look for ways they can be more productive. Looking the process of a job and trying to understand how they can be more efficient. I believe as Toni outlines in the article below that the only thing many printers overlook is the return on investment of color. Take a look and let us know what you think.



Given that the entire purpose of a print shop is to put ink on paper, it would stand to reason that most printers take that process very seriously. And when it comes to the business of print, most do a good job of identifying the various processes and finding ways to improve both the product and the bottom line. But one area, surprisingly, continues to evade many shops: Color.

Getting the right color on the right substrate on every piece that comes off the press, every single time, is a daunting task. It takes ongoing effort to first build, and then maintain that kind of rigorous system, and doing so while making sure the return on investment (ROI) is maintained at a high enough level just adds to the challenge.

In the day-to-day operations, color seems to be one of those areas that many shops have allowed to slip, perhaps without even realizing it. “Most believe they are managing color, but once you dig into the processes and steps, you find that there are many areas of quality control that have slipped or are not being followed,” noted Mark Gundlach, solutions architect for X-Rite Inc. “Add this to not having up to date calibrations and profiles, not validating ink quality or inability to accurately measure optically brightened substrates and to compensate for paper color, and you exacerbate the situation further.”

But that situation is no longer a viable business model. “The war on waste that was waged in the 1980’s was focused in the publishing industry to reduce makeready and run paper waste,” said Joe Fazzi, principle of Joe Fazzi Consulting, who presented a seminar on this topic at PIA’s 2014 Color Conference. “We spent a lot of press time and paper trying to get the color correct on press before we hit the ‘save’ button.  Today, we cannot afford to waste paper (substrates) or press time on getting the press ready to print. We need to have sellable color from the start to the end of each press run.”

Both Fazzi and Gundlach agree that the first key to creating a color-managed operation over the long term is the data. It is impossible to improve or maintain a process that isn’t measured, and it is impossible to maintain a standard of quality across an entire operation if the data isn’t easily shared. But while nearly every other aspect of the print process is measured, collected and analyzed, color has remained an outlier.

“Everything in today’s workflow is digitized except color,” said Gundlach. “In many cases, a pressman will measure only density, which is only reading the thickness of the ink film, or worse, check color ‘by eye.’ Spectral data captures the DNA of the color, and provides data that can be communicated and measured across a workflow. A subjective view is just that: a subjective view. Data will always drive a higher level of consistency and remove many more variables than the human eye ever can. This means more productivity, less rework and ultimately more profitability.”

“We have the capability to capture data in every phase of the print process, understanding what data is necessary based on our business model and when and where to capture it is essential to understanding our processes,” stressed Fazzi. “Understanding the data we capture is as critical as capturing the data. We need to understand the data, interpret it correctly and use the ‘good and bad’ information to our advantage. Once we have accurate data, we need to take action to ensure that all of our process and procedures are meeting and exceeding our clients’ expectations.”

Moving in the Right Direction

The first step toward creating a fully color-managed operation is to sit down and evaluate exactly where the shop is right now. What processes are being used? How is color currently measured? What is done with that information? How much time and resources are used for the average job to get the color right? Once the baseline is established, there will be a much clearer picture as to how to proceed.

“The first thing I suggest any printer do is understand where they are currently,” said Fazzi. “How much are you throwing away (time and materials)? Are you consistent or is your production process chaotic? Understanding what your normal daily production capabilities are is the foundation to building an efficient production process. Once you understand your normal, you can understand how standards, tolerances, deviation and variation can actually make you a better printer, be more efficient and consistent. Once these key factors are established within the production process, your employees will be able to quickly identify an inferior process or product and take immediate corrective action.”

One that is done, printers need to invest in the right tools and training in how to use them. “Printers should invest in spectrophotometers and accompanying software as basic production tools, as well as in training to ensure that their employees all speak the same color language,” noted Gundlach. He went on to cite one example of a printer who estimated the cost of the initial invest into a fully color-managed workflow to be around $3 added to every job in the first year of ownership. However, he noted, that printer saved significantly more than that over time once the improved processes and color quality became fully embraced by both the shop and the clients.

The final, and perhaps most crucial, step to creating a color management system that will more than pay for itself over time is certification. G7, the Pantone Certified Printer Program, ISO and Fogra are the gold standards for color across the industry. Not only will they provide the shop with a set standard that every job will need to live up to, they also provide a solid marketing opportunity. Certified shops can proudly display their certifications, and educate clients that they mean the job will be done right, the first time, every time, and that repeat jobs will always be a perfect match. When a shop can guarantee the logo spot-color of a popular brand will be reproduced exactly right, every time, on every substrate, across every project, it becomes a powerful sales tool.

“Standards and industry best practices are the baseline or starting point for any process control,” noted Fazzi. “Once our process is under control and we are held accountable for the quality, we can only then build upon this foundation to improve our process, which improves the quality. Standards help us identify and quantify what the bare minimum is.”

But it’s not enough to simply get certified once. “[Printers need to maintain] their certifications, as opposed to a one time proof of process,” said Gundlach. “An outside review of how processes are being maintained allows a neutral party to provide recommendations and education that bring standard work to the business. Standard work means repeatability and less variables. Less variables means consistency which leads to less waste.” He went on to note, “Printing is a manufacturing process and should be treated as part of a lean manufacturing operation. Training and standard work that are implemented drive costs out on a continuous basis while always improving the final product, speeding up process and driving greater customer loyalty and profitability.”

At the end of the day, having a color-managed operation will improve the bottom line across the board if it is implemented and maintained correctly. To do that, it will take the dedication and work of everyone in the shop, in every department. Good color, like anything else in the print process, is a team effort. “It requires buy-in from the executive level, sales, customer service, premedia, press and finishing departments,” Fazzi said. “Everyone must understand what the expectation is, and must be able to delivery on that expectation. We have to hold ourselves accountable for each phase of the operation. Be good enough and confident enough that you can even train your customers for delivering excellence. Your customers will thank you and new customers will seek you out.”

And exceeding customer expectations, earning new clients and winning new, larger and more complex jobs that carry a premium price is, at the end of the day, the best ROI any shop could ask for.

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