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Color Separations Revisited

(February 2010) posted on Mon Jan 25, 2010

CMYK color separation remains prevalent in most print shops, but read on to learn about some powerful alternatives.

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By Rick Mandel

FineEye’s focus is aimed directly where the printing event occurs—ink on paper. ICE uses unique Media Map models for every stock a printer sends through the press. The Media Map is the result of quantification of ink interaction with a given paper’s surface structure. Electron microscopy helps create a three-dimensional map of this interaction, which in turn is used to build a table with more than 80,000 individual data points.

ICE claims to be the only technology that approaches color separations by taking ink and paper interaction into such detailed consideration. Secondly, ICE researchers discarded current photomechanical separation constraints and instead looked to human perception. ICE uniquely assigns visual luminosity almost solely to the black plate and then uses the CMY color plates to concentrate on visual hue and saturation. This seems to be similar to the GCR approach, though FineEyes insists the process is vastly different. ICE separations built in this way are said to significantly impact achievable print quality. Finally, development was aimed at creating an automated method for achieving separations similar to what dot-etching craftsmen once produced.

The resulting algorithms, based on human perception and common-sense color editing, instruct ICE how to best distribute CMYK ink in a given file to print color. ICE uses the Media Map and its internal knowledge of CMYK ink distribution to understand how a given file will best print on a particular paper stock. The software then creates a CMYK separation that’s optimized for the printer. The result is FineEye’s claimed increase of up to 20% in gamut, most visually noticeable in saturated colors, as well as faster press startup, improved print stability, and reduced problems in trapping—all delivered with a reported 20% average reduction in ink consumption.

In my brief analysis, I believe this type of technology represents ink savings, color balance,and increased color gamut—all of which are valuable in screen and digital.

The state of separations
The color separator’s domain was to offer expertise while creating prepress solutions. That value-add was very real, though it initially appeared to be a bit of smoke and mirrors. Then came the reality of digitally created art without scanning images. Printers have since met the creation and alteration of graphics files to maximize printability with trepidation. Generating modified color separations to increase color consistency during printing, improve color gamut, and decrease ink costs is the perfect storm. Thanks to new processes and technologies, predictable transformation appears possible.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this column are Mr. Mandel’s and not necessarily those of Screen Printing magazine.

Rick Mandel
Rick Mandel is the owner and president of the Mandel Company of Milwaukee, WI. He also serves as CEO of the company’s Screentech Division, a 115-year-old graphics firm that specializes in large-format color separations for commercial printing companies, as well as digital production of large-format graphics. Mandel is a member of the SGIA and the Association of Screen Printing Sciences.


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