Custom Profiling Services

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October, 2008

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Custom Profiling Services

by CHROMiX's Patrick Herold

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This reserved article originally appeared in CHROMiX ColorNews Issue 33 on October 29th, 2008.

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Here at CHROMiX ColorNews central, we have taken great effort over the years to bring you timely articles that are truly useful, readable and not filled with a bunch of marketing hype...the kind of articles that we would like to receive in our inbox.  Yes.  So we figured that by now you're about ready for something shameless and self-serving.  

Actually, this month's article talks about printer profiling - a service we offer here - but since we have never written on this topic before, we thought this could provide you with a glimpse into our business philosophy here at CHROMiX, sort of an "inside look" at our equipment and personnel.  I invite you to read through it and see if you don't come away learning something new.

Custom Profiling Services - What do you get for your money?

In recent years, everybody's uncle has started offering profiling services through online websites.  Some are less expensive than others, some have different services.  As people are shopping around, we inevitably get the question, "How are CHROMiX's profiles different from say... Nancy's?"  Here is a brief look at what options are available with different profiling services and what it might mean to you.  


EQUIPMENT

While it is quite possible to take a consumer-level spectrophotometer and get a good profile from it, it is also possible - and expected - to get a GREAT profile from a professional-level instrument.  For example, a good printer profile will get you colors that match your well-calibrated screen.  A GREAT profile can get you not only colors that match your screen, but ensure there are no hue shifts (blues turning to purple, yellows turning to green, and the like) and, at the same time, bring out more shadow detail so that all the shadow detail on your screen is seen in the print.

As an example, we have a whole bank of Gretag Macbeth SpectroScan tables.  These spectrophotometers cost over $5000 each when they were available, but they don't make them anymore.   (You need a whole bank of them because they are so SLOW.)  We like to measure canvas or matte papers on these tables because this is about the only device around that allows use of a polarizing filter.  This filter will remove stray light reflecting off the surface of the material, making for a more accurate measurement and drawing out more detail in the shadows of the prints.  It is worthwhile to ask your profiling service what kind of equipment they use.


OPTIONS

Just about every online profiling service offers RGB profiles.   Some offer CMYK profiles as well, usually at a slightly higher price.  But you don't need to stop at your printer.  Profiling services can also handle extensive press profiles, drawing samples from throughout the press run to create a profile truly representative of the press.  If you already have a target for your scanner, a scanner profile is very inexpensive to have made, because the whole process can be done via email.  Any business with a spectrophotometer can make a custom reflective measurement of your target and create a new reference file to be used in making a newer, more accurate scanner profile for you.   Other services include transmissive profiles for those working with clear or semi-opaque materials.  These materials are intended to be backlit, and require a special transmissive measurement to create a proper profile.  If you print onto tile, aluminum or fabric, some companies are equipped to handle these unusual, thicker materials.


SERVICE

It's one thing to have a lot of options for your customers.  But service involves taking care of the customer.  Do you need the profile tomorrow or can you wait a few days? At some of the inexpensive on-line custom profile services, you are presented with a set of instructions and you must follow them as best you can, but you have nowhere to go if you have any questions.  At best, you might be limited to email support only, and at worst - you don't even have that.  If you haven't figured this out yet, color management can be a complicated business.  Other profiling services (guess who!!) have live people available every business day to answer your emails or pick up the phone and actually talk to you if you have questions about the services or products.  This sort of service is invaluable if you need something a little unusual, like a custom-made target for a unique situation.

 When creating a profile, there are several areas where people frequently make mistakes:

For our customers, we have developed a small program (ColorValet Client) that walks you through the process of printing out a target print for your custom profile, sending it in to us, and automatically downloading it to the location in your computer where your programs can find it.  At the same time, this is a boon for groups with multiple printers on multiple computers, as it makes it easy to download all the profiles to the right place with one program.

If you are helping someone else build profiles, a program like this can free up YOUR time - so you don't have to spend so much time explaining how to do it.


KNOWLEDGE

Digital color management has been around for more than a decade and has reached a certain level of maturation as an industry.  A lot of the software is pretty good these days; it pretty much does what it is supposed to do and gives you the color you expect.

And then again....

There are those times when you have all the right settings in place and your color comes out WRONG and you CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHY?!?   A prime example of this is the Photoshop > Mac > Epson bug that we mentioned in the ColorNews Newsletter issue #29.

Also, printer profiles are bi-directional.  This means they influence the color going to the printer, but also have color tables which handle the proofing direction of the profile - so that the image looks correct when you're soft-proofing in Photoshop.  Do you really only care about quality printing?  Or do you need the profile to be accurate with printing and proofing? 

For these reasons, we recommend you use a profiling service that has experience to know which software works best in which situation, which works best in others, what bugs are in the latest software, pitfalls, workarounds, solutions, and what's coming next.  

GUARANTEE

Does the profiling service guarantee their work?  Are they confident enough in their work that they will guarantee you will like your profile or give you your money back? By contrast, with some profiling services, you are forewarned not to make any mistakes in your part of the process because there will be no refunds if you do.  We prefer the former policy.  It's a shame to make people pay for profiles they can't use.   

An even better solution is to edit the profile color to any way the customer wants it.  There are very sophisticated profile editors out there that can take any color or range of colors, as narrow or wide as you like, and move them to whichever part of the color spectrum you like.   Sometimes this is necessary at the end of the day when all the best equipment and software was used to make your profile, but "it just doesn't look right."  If a profiling service is willing to work with you, there is no reason why you can't get a profile to do everything you want it to.

As you can see, there is quite a range of choices available for those seeking profiling services.  Hopefully you have an idea which options are important for your situation, and you can know what questions to ask when seeking these services.


Thanks for reading,

Pat Herold

CHROMiX, Inc.

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