The Color Bar

No, not a place where you go after work to get your favorite magenta or cyan colored drinks.  The color bar has been helping press control for years, but here is a bit more info about them and how they are used both previously and today.

Color bars (a.k.a. color control bars, color control strips, or proofing bars) are essentially test targets that are used to measure print and/or proof attributes. Normally, but not always, it is printed in the trim area of the press sheet.

Typical placement of a color bar on an offset press sheet – at the trailing edge (back end of the sheet).


However, it can take many different forms – sometimes hard to recognize – but always serving the same purpose.

Sometimes the “color bar” is incorporated within the graphic design of the publication. In this case the color makeup of the title (Cyan) and section headers (Blue, in this example, – Magenta overprinting Cyan).

Sometimes it is hidden in the spine (in this case the grey line running from top to bottom on the front edge of the photo).
While it is certainly possible to measure the color of the actual live image area, the technology is expensive and, as result, few printers are fortunate enough to have it at their disposal. Also, measuring the live image area doesn’t provide as much useful information as a color bar can. Color bars therefore act as proxies, or substitutes, for the live image area as well as provide additional data.

The logic behind color bars

1) Unlike the live image area of the press sheet, color bars are consistent job to job. Therefore they are more efficient at providing a benchmark and can be used to track trends in variation over time.

2) Color bars can be tailored to meet the needs and measurement capabilities of individual print shops.

3) Color bars may be used to measure all aspects of the “print characteristic” – solid ink density, overprinting (ink trapping), dot gain, grey balance, as well as issues such as slur and dot doubling.

4) Color bars can reveal issues with ink hue, blanket condition, impression cylinder pressure, etc.

5) They can be used forensically to help understand why a specific job did not meet expectations.

6) They are efficient since, unlike the live image area, they are a constant made up of well defined elements that continue from proof to press sheet.

Solid ink density
A printing press is essentially a complex machine for laying down a specific film thickness of a specific color of ink onto a substrate. The ink is metered out in zones across the width of the press sheet according to how much ink coverage is required for each color in each zone.

Therefore, for most press operators, the minimum requirement for a color bar is that it contains solid patches of the inks that will be printing since solid ink density is the only thing on press that an operator can adjust while the press is running.

color bar

Those solid patches are then repeated over the width of the press sheet so that each ink zone is represented by at least one complete set of patches – containing one patch for each color being printed.

Information provided by only using solid ink density targets in the color bar

In this example, cyan is misregistered while the black printer is over emulsified (fountain solution breaking down the ink).
1) Provides a solid ink density value, measured using a densitometer, to determine if the press sheet is conforming to published industry, or shop specific targets.

2) Is an indirect, but practical, method of determining optimum ink film thickness and hence the balance of maximum color gamut without introducing image degrading inking issues such as slinging/misting.

3) The balance of the primary solid densities determines the hue of the overprints – i.e. the SID of magenta and SID of yellow determine the hue of the resulting red.

4) Indicate misregistration which can then be examined in the live image area.

5) Reveal defects such as slinging/misting/tailing, over emulsification, slur, doubling.

6) If records are kept, the hue of the ink currently on press compared with the hue of ink used in the past to determine if there is any contamination, change in color due to ink batch differences, etc.

Forensic targets on color bars are image elements that are typically not measured by the press operator unless there is a problem in aligning presswork to the proof. If that happens then these targets may provide useful information as to the cause of the problem.

Have more information on the color bar you care to share?  We’d love to hear from you.  Reach out below!


~Source: Print Guide Blogspot

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