Burning The Toast
This article may cause nausea and headaches to those allergic to colour management! It is a process that happens behind the scenes. You might not realise how important it is and why we take it so seriously. 10 years ago I read an article which is a great way to describe why colour management so important. It's all about making toast!
Here is my take on burning toast...
You throw a piece of bread into your toaster on setting 4, eventually it pops up a certain shade of brown. You grab your bag of bread and head next door. You then do the exact same process on your neighbours toaster and no surprise, the two pieces of toast are different. Assuming we want them the same, how can we get them to match? We have two options.
Using the mindset that one toaster is your file and the other toaster is our printer.
Option 1, We pop out a piece of toast on each setting 1-10 from our toaster, then line them up as a chart. When we need to match a 'pantone toast colour' from your file we reference against our toast chart and turn the dial on our toaster to the matching number.
Option 2, We print out a piece on each setting 1-10, but we then measure them with a special device and save the readings into a software program. The software adjusts the electricity flow to the toaster so it toasts in even steps from 1-10. After that we continue to toast and measure hundreds of pieces of bread so we get the in-between shades. When we require a match, the software compares the request to it's measured library and gives an accurate match, it even changes the setting for us.
Which option? Option 1 sounds like an easy option. But what happens if the toaster changes over time, the toast chart is still on the wall with the original pieces, but the toast now delivered isn't that original colour. Did it get spotted? probably not. What if no 'pantone toast colours' are specified in the file, Just cross your fingers and hope for the best. No, it's not a good option.
Using option 2, we have everything contained in a software program, even better, we can regularly re-toast levels 1-10 so the software re-calibrates the electricity supply so the hundreds of readings we took are still accurate. If no 'pantone toast colour' is specified, we still know the software will correctly match the shades in the file. If they are specified, we know the software will home in and match them automatically.
This is colour management. It is a precise method of measurement, or without it, a manual hit and miss situation. We do take colour management seriously… and you benefit from it, every print.
Putting all this together in colour printing terms. You provide files with an icc profile attached/embedded. We calibrate all of our printers/papers and create a colour space (icc profile) of all achievable colours. Our software compares your file to our printer profiles and then converts the CMYK formulations to match, even RGB files. When the file is processed, a colour in your file of Cyan 50%, might need changing to Cyan 30% Magenta 3% to create the same colour with our printer. If were to re-run the job a year on, because we re-calibrate our printers regularly, any colour shifts in the printer will be accounted for and the output will still be correct. On the other hand, if we just ignored colour management and used your file setting of Cyan 50% then the colour will be too dark and wrong every time. A year later it might be different again as the printers ink densities shift.
Quality. Reliability. Consistency.