The Painted Desert
Notes from the 2007 PIA/GATF Color Management Conference
The PIA/GATF Color Management Conference concluded it's four day run on December 11. It was a record event this year as over 400 color geeks converged on the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs resort tucked into the mountains on the North side of Phoenix.
I used to say that you could always tell when the Color Management Conference was in town because the population of balding, middle-aged white guys would go way up. But that's not the case anymore. Now you will find younger attendees at the beginning of their careers and many more women along with all the chrome domes. Which is a testament to not only the popularity of the conference itself, but also the pervasiveness of color management in general. Printing, prepress, creative, photography... You can't swing a dead cat around a production workflow without hitting an ICC profile of some sort these days. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot turn off color management in Photoshop. But that's the subject of a future blog.
Every Color Management Conference has several sessions that deal with industry standards, and this year was no exception. The conference kicked off on Saturday with a day dedicated to G7. G7 is not really a standard per se, but rather is a revolutionary new methodology that outlines a process to calibrate a press or proofing system based on spectrophotometry (colormetric data) for gray balance instead of traditional densitometric (dot gain/TVI) methods. More and more printers are using G7 to control the color on their presses. It helps them print more consistently with less waste. At least this is true in North America. Europe and Asia have a different take on G7...
The European Perspective
One of the two keynote presentations at the conference was from Darrian Young, founder of Color and Image Consulting in Castellon, Spain, and member of the ECI (European Color Initiative). He gave his opinion of the G7 movement from the European perspective. He essentially argued against any competing standard such as G7, asking, "If a method is shown to work better than the current standard, does that warrant or justify creating a second standard?". Young said that the European viewpoint is no. "Any improvements should be made to the standard, in order to avoid confusion, incompatibilities, and ambiguity. Not against it." He added. Young emphasized that the current methods of controlling color on press via TVI (tone value increase, or dot gain) is specified by ISO (International Organization of Standards), and it is therefore a necessary conclusion that TVI is an international standard.
Young claimed that time and money spent developing the G7 method would have been better spent on resolving issues like optical brighteners in paper, FM screening, varnish, etc. He concluded by saying that Europeans and Americans should work together to merge existing methods if possible, or search for common ground - one standard.
Donkeys vs. Elephants
After Young concluded his presentation, he received a standing ovation from about half the audience. I felt like I was watching a session of Congress on CSPAN and all the democrats just got up to applaud some other democrat from Iowa after his speech on universal health care, while the republicans watch silently. Actually, he did get a good round of applause from the entire audience. His argument, no matter what side of the fence you come down on, was well presented.
Afterwards, a number of audience members had questions or comments for Darrian Young. Among them was Don Hutcheson, president of Hutchcolor LLC and well known speaker on color management. He is also the inventor of the G7 method. Don argued several points including that G7 is in fact based on existing ISO standards. Don later joked that he felt like he was the person that touched off WWIII.
What Don Hutcheson and the G7 method has done for the printing industry is a very good thing. Calibrating and controlling a printing press based on colormetric data makes sense. It reduces waste, and a G7 calibrated press will be more likely to match new SWOP and GRACoL certified proofing systems. Clearly other agree with that. Many large, progressive printing companies like Quad Graphics and RR Donnelley have already implemented G7, and many more are learning the process.
One of the most dangerous things that can be said in any business is, "That's the way we've always done it." If we don't continually look for process improvement, then we are not moving forward. If there weren't those that looked for better ways of doing things, we might still be printing with hot lead. And I don't think that TVI or gray balance would even matter much then...
That being said, there should be a concerted effort to try to unify the global printing industry. Many US companies outsource work to Europe and Asia among other places. The more we have true global standards for things like substrates, ink sets and calibration methods, the better off we will all be. But hey- we can't even get our electrical plugs to look the same or agree on what side of the car the steering wheel should be on, so maybe all hope is lost. As Rodney King once said, "Can't we just all get along?"