Color QC In The Inkroom

Greetings and welcome back to our blog! While pressroom color QC solutions are designed to help press operators get up to color faster during make-ready and improve color consistency throughout production, I want to spend a few minutes today and talk about how printers can further increase their operating efficiencies by implementing a dedicated inkroom color QC solution. Specifically, we are going to discuss the “Chroma Standards” software module that is included with Techkon’s ChromaQA color quality management solution. This inkroom module provides two essential functions for printers:

  1. Storage and management of customer color standards
  2. Dedicated color QC (or color QA) tools designed for the ink department

Management of Color Standards
It’s incredible how many different color standards printers have to manage! First, think of all the different colors that are requested over time by brands and print buyers. Next, consider the variety of print technologies the printer may use (offset, flexo, digital, etc.). Finally, now imagine the range of substrates that will be used across the different print technologies. In the end, while the brand or print buyer may have originally specified a Pantone color from the guidebook, because of physical print and color limitations, that original standard will be morphed into several different color standards given the constraints of each specific print process and substrate combination. In the end, this means printers can end up with thousands and thousands of custom color standards and the ink department must be able to maintain and produce them consistently over time for the pressroom.

While maintaining tens of thousands of custom color standards can be a daunting job, ChromaQA makes this a pretty easy task. Here, colors are imported via CxF or measured directly into the software and then they are organized using a “book” & “library” hierarchy that is defined by the printer. As an example, libraries for each print technology (offset, flexo, digital, etc.) could contain individual books for each substrate type and these books would contain the actual color standards. To further aid in the organization, printers can also create and assign custom “tags” to individual inks or entire color books. For example, a tag type called “customer” could be created, allowing individual customer names to then be tagged to specific colors. These tags can then be used as search criteria to more quickly locate colors in the future.

Figure 1: Ink and Color Standard Organization with Books & Libraries

Once colors are neatly organized, a powerful search engine makes it quick and easy to locate precisely the correct color(s) for your job.  This search engine contains 3 options for locating your colors:

  • Search by Name – As you begin typing the color name, search results begin to appear
  • Search by Tags – Select specific tags to further refine your search results
  • Search by ∆E – Take a measurement with your spectrophotometer (or choose an existing color standard), set your ∆E formula and tolerance, and instantly see the colors in your database that are within your tolerance (sorted by their ∆E value)

Consider the situation where a customer provides the printer with a physical reference or color swatch for an upcoming job.  Using ChromaQA, the ink technician simply takes a quick measurement of the customer supplied swatch and using the Search by ∆E feature they can instantly see the colors that already exist for the required print technology / substrate and their corresponding ∆E’s.  This is a great way to increase efficiencies in the ink department and prevent the needless re-formulation of color standards that already exist.

Dedicated Color QC Software for the Ink Department
So now I am going to turn our discussion toward the ink QC capabilities built into ChromaQA.  Let’s use another example where an ink technician is trying to match a Pantone color with flexo inks on a clear poly substrate.  Once the ink technician has finished matching the color in their ink formulation system and made a drawdown on the clear poly, they can now measure the drawdown against the original color standard and see instant pass/fail indication, ∆LabCh information, and graphical representations showing the color differences compared to the reference.  In addition, the software also calculates the following for the new ink batch: solid ink density that produces the lowest ∆E, Ink Strength, Metamerism Index, Contrast Ratio, and Opacity.  These metrics are extremely useful during the qualification of the new ink batch and they can ensure that the ink is going to print like the original color standard once installed in the press.

Figure 2: Ink QC and Evaluation Tools

To continue with our example, let’s just say that new batch of ink has a ∆E of 3.33 and that is the best the ink technician can do given the constraints of the clear poly substrate.  At this point, the technician can export a report for this color match and send it to the customer for their approval.  Once approved, this color match can then be converted and saved as a new, approved, dependent color standard right inside ChromaQA.  This new color standard will then become the target in the pressroom when the job goes into production.

Final Thoughts
Ink and color standard management is an important part of the color production workflow.  Having the ability to quickly & easily locate the correct colors for a job and having the ability to perform a thorough set of color QA tests before you get on press is absolutely critical to prevent ink problems in the pressroom.

Techkon offers 3 different product configurations in the ChromaQA color quality family of products and each includes the Chroma Standards module for color standard and ink management.  In addition, because ChromaQA is cloud based, all of your color standards are located in a unique color database on the Amazon AWS cloud server so they are safe & secure and easily assessible by all of your production facilities around the globe.

That’s going to wrap it up for this week’s blog.  Thanks for tuning in and, as always, if you have any questions regarding pressroom color QC or ink & color standard management, please feel free to contact us.  Best regards and stay safe everybody….