RGB Workflows- Better Late Than Ever

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Years ago, in the early days of electronic pre press, we lived among spendy Scitex systems and huge drum scanners with 40,000 buttons, switches, dials, levers, foot pedals, pull cords and miles of rainbow-colored SCSI ribbons. We scanned in transparencies, and worked all the images in a CMYK color space (the four colors we print with - cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Although it was possible to scan into RGB (red, green, blue), almost everyone allowed the computer within the scanner to convert the image into CMYK.

Two important technological revolutions changed all that. The Internet and digital photography. The Internet introduced us to e-commerce. There was no longer a need to have all those images converted to CMYK if they were destined for a web site (RGB display) and ultimatley due to reside in a digital asset management system. And the explosion of digital cameras over the last 15 years has made the drum scanner all but obsolete. All of this means we have digital images that begin their journey as RGB (technically RAW RGB, but more on that in a future blog), not CMYK. RGB workflows are much more commonplace. But if an image is eventually going to be reproduced as ink on paper, at some point it must be converted to CMYK. Where, when and how that conversion happens is often the topic for discussion. 

And one place you can find a bunch of color geeks having that conversation is at the PIA Color Management Conference. The 11th annual conference just wrapped up last month in Phoenix. One of the sessions called "Obstacles to RGB Workflows" addressed the issue of RGB and CMYK workflows. Among the speakers on the panel was Tom Collins from Quad Graphics. He went over the pros and cons of an RGB workflow and what they were doing at Quad Graphics.

Collins began by outlining the reasons why RGB is the preferred workflow over CMYK:

  • RGB allows for greatest repurposing
  • RGB allows more latitude for color manipulation
  • RGB allows easier and more consistent gray balance
  • RGB gives you the ability to utilize L*a*b* for even greater control
  • RGB allows for consistency of separations for press when converted
  • Things like GCR and Total Ink are no longer issues at the color correction level

Then Collins outlined some Challenges with RGB workflows:

  • Untagged RGB images
    • Forces the arbitrary assignment of an ICC profile
      • He referred to this as "shopping" for the right profile
  • Issues with some vintage CMYK color technicians adapting
    • Many feel the need to 'move the black' - counters separation consistency
  • Color corrections are different, retouching is the same
  • Black-only drop shadows require work arounds
  • Workflow consistency - Requires automation

Collins discussed his experience with RGB specifically at Quad Graphics

  • Quad began full RGB workflows in 2001
  • They were forced to create custom automation for workflow consistency - hands off color management
    • Color technicians focus on image manipulation and quality, not color settings, profiles, BPC, and rendering intent
  • Quad customers demanded separation consistency, and had higher demands for color quality

Collins talked about the different RGB workflow strategies in regard to when the RGB file is converted to CMYK

  • Early-binding
    • Files coming in are converted to CMYK early in the workflow - color correction and retouching is done in CMYK - CEPS model
  • Mid-binding
    • Color correction and retouching is completed in RGB - files are converted to CMYK during an automated conversion before page assembly
  • Late-binding
    • RGB files are placed in pages and converted to CMYK in the RIP - PDF/X-3 or PDF/X-4 

Collins said that the majority of the workflows at Quad Graphics are a mid-binding, with color corrections completed in RGB, and CMYK being placed in the pages with PDF/X-1a being used. "If there are any color alterations, we go back to the RGB file and reconvert." Collins added.

Collins said that we need to raise the awareness of the concept of color managed pages in a late binding workflow.

  • Rips and color engines are improving - behaving more consistently
  • They are realizing benefits
    •  More efficient than early or mid-binding  workflows
    •  Improved color reproduction
    •  Offers the ultimate quality and flexibility with repurposing

Collins said that there are some challenges to late-binding workflows

  • There are transparency and overprint issues with PDF/X-4
  • Inconsistencies among PDF versions and RIPs
  • Most prep suppliers are still learning and may be reluctant

To sum up, Collins said that CMYK has served it's purpose (and in some cases still does), but early-binding workflows are very limiting.
"RGB (and L*a*b*) imaging provides the best quality, and is preferred to CMYK for the benefit of our customers and the end product." Collins stated.


Topics: Creative

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