Communicating Color Effectively
At the 2008 PIA Color Management Conference, Don Hutcheson presented a session called, "How to Communicate Color Effectively" Originally from New Zealand, Don is a private consultant (www.hutchcolor.com) with over 30 years of experience, specializing in the development and installation of color management systems. Although his work focuses on high end prepress, premedia and printing users, his clients also include agencies, art galleries, billboard makers, image banks, movie studios, newspapers, photolabs, publishers, and color management developers.
If you've never had the opportunity to hear Don speak, he is truly a pleasure to listen to. I think he really embodies the term "edutainment." You can't help but be entertained as you listen and learn from him. Maybe it's just his New Zealand accent that cracks me up. Or maybe I'm just easily entertained. Anyway, if you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, do it.
Don began by covering the reasons that we communicate color - To describe a desired effect, to ask for a color correction or edit, to critique a color proof or print job, or to control how a file looks when printed. All of these involve the need to be able to effectively communicate color.
Color is personal, it is technology-dependent, it is affected by the environment, clients often don't understand production limitations, and clients, artists and technicians use different terms. These are all color communication problems.
Common causes for color errors:
• Non-profiled devices
• No embedded profile
• Ignoring the embedded profile
• Using the wrong profile
• Non-standard proofs
• Non-standard lighting
• Using non-standard color terminology
Key requirements when communicating color include:
• Education (client and industry)
• Proper use of ICC Profiles
• Use of standard color terms (spoken and written)
• Controlled viewing conditions
• Consistent, standardized proofing and printing
• Education, education, education, education....
Education is critical
To underscore how important client and self education is, Don stressed that education is a never-ending task. "It is the normal cost of doing business. They are cheap investments, and they pay for themselves," Don said.
Don then showed a number of screens to illustrate the fact that different devices see or display color differently. He showed how nine different cameras will capture color in nine different ways. He showed how four monitors can display the same RGB values differently, and how the same CMYK values can lead to five different images on five different output devices (press and paper differences). "Color cannot be expressed unambiguously in CMYK or RGB units," Don said.
In speaking about viewing color on screen Don stressed that monitor profiling and proofing is the cheapest, MOST VALUABLE use of color management. It saves cost and time of conventional proofing. It is the stable basis for color management.
"The ONLY purpose of a proof is to predict how the press will print. And solving proof variations solves a major color communication problem," Don said.
He went on to discuss GRACoL/SWOP proofing and the need to have standardized proofing. "Insisting on GRACoL or SWOP certified proofs solves 95% of all color communication problems," Don said. He added that one of the outstanding proofing issues is that not everyone is using certified proofs yet.
Don went on to add that it is not enough to produce certified proofs. They must be measured. Control strips must be placed on every proof.
Note: Widen provides only industry certified SWOP and GRACoL proofing, and verifies each proof with color control strips on each proof.
Color Language Options
Don discussed the different terminology we all use when describing color, calling it the Babel Effect. He showed a single patch of red...
• The client calls it: Red hot
• The designer calls it: Pantone 185
• The printer calls it: 100M, 76Y
• The Photographer calls it: 230R, 0G, 50B
• The Scientist calls it: 49L*, 76a*, 43b*
Don then promoted LCH as the best color language when communicating color. Pantone is not a color space, RGB and CMYK are not single color spaces, and CIELab is not human-friendly. Don referred to LCH as "The human color space." L = Luminance (lightness), C = Chroma, H = Hue. Don used an analogy of the crayon to illustrate what LCH is. "We all remember crayons, right? Hue is what color the crayon is (red, blue, etc...), Chroma is how hard you press down with the crayon, and Luminance changes based on how much light is on the paper," Don said.
CIELCH as shown here in Don Hutcheson's diagram, is easier to understand, and communicates color more effectively than CMYK, RGB or Pantone.
When building a library of colors, Don stressed not to use the CMYK percentages indicated in the Pantone books. They are not matched to any standard proofs or printing. The Pantone number should be given. "Or better still, supply the actual Pantone chip. That way, a spectrophotometer can be placed on the chip to determine the proper color," Don said.
Don stressed that you should always accept embedded profiles when receiving files, saying that it's your best hope to see what the sender saw along with accurately profiled monitors at both ends of the communication chain.
Getting the word out
Don wrapped up by saying that you can only teach the people you reach, so he thought about how to reach a wider audience with his color communication message. He got some laughs as he showed his audience the billboards he created (in digital form only I suppose)...
There, I did my part to help get the word out, Don...