Developing a Testing Process for Inkjet Adoption

In Article, Case Study, Knowledge Base by Inkjet Insight0 Comments

Many in the world of software and systems design are familiar with the phrase “good enough technology.” It refers to consumers’ willingness to use products that are “good enough” for their requirements, despite the availability of more advanced technology. In the graphic arts world, the history of “good enough” is a different tale.

In the past, when new graphic arts technology has been introduced, the first response has often been, “It will never be good enough to replace ‘X.’” It was said that offset printing would never be good enough to replace letterpress. Web offset would never be good enough to replace sheetfed. Toner-based digital print would never be good enough to replace offset.

The introduction of production inkjet was no different. Many were dismissive and predicted the tonal values and sharpness (or lack thereof) would never be good enough for commercial print, direct mail, and marketing collateral. Production inkjet’s lifeblood would be transactional documents like statements and other forms of critical (but not “quality” brand and marketing) communications.

Fast forward a decade and the adoption of production inkjet has proven that it’s not just good enough, it’s actually great. Getting your own operations to great is not a given, however. One of the biggest challenges to overcome when considering an inkjet system is focusing only on the machine and failing to understand how your approach to quality and paper will change with this platform. When production inkjet was introduced to the market, it came with the caveat that special paper would be required, too. For many, this was like buying a new car that would only run on premium fuel. It looked great in the driveway, but the consumables made it less than ideal for daily errands.

Testing Takes Patience and Precision

The outcry from the market was loud and listened to. Today, equipment technologies and new ink products are being developed to use on paper that is widely available and does not come with a premium price tag. Production inkjet presses are in market today that can run both conventional paper stock and inkjet treated stock. This provides a distinct advantage for marketing collateral and other communications that may run in multiple locations, using a mix of platforms. Paper is no longer the barrier; it is the facilitator that drives speed-to-market and regional printing opportunities.

In order to take advantage of the expanded paper stocks and inks available, it’s important to allow time for comprehensive testing. Don’t assume you have to do this on your own. Mills are happy to provide resources for testing new paper stocks and inksets. This is also an opportunity to take advantage of Certified G7 Experts to ensure you understand and can control the inherent variability of color gamut depending on the paper and inks being used.

G7 expertise is another line item for consideration when building the capital justification for inkjet equipment. The reason is simple: G7 works. The implementation of G7 processes and standards has helped IWCO Direct ensure a similar neutral shared appearance across the multiple devices in our print platform in multiple locations. Investing in G7 training and certification has provided benefits in many areas, including productivity, color consistency, and repeatability. It has also reduced plate remakes, shortened make-ready time, and mitigated or eliminated color issues.

G7 steered us in the right direction. What was still needed was a solid color management implementation, associated with various ISO standards, process control metrics, print condition specification guidelines, and established color tolerances. It hasn’t been an easy task—a lot of effort goes into establishing processes, rolling out standards, and applying quality controls to the point where they become your everyday norm.

Becoming Fluent in The Language of Inkjet

The learning curve for production inkjet includes a new vocabulary. “Linearization” is one of those terms that comes with inkjet. Its dictionary definition is simple: “to make linear, give form to.” Wikipedia’s definition has a lot more syllables: “In the study of dynamical systems, linearization is a method for assessing the local stability of an equilibrium point of a system of nonlinear differential equations or discrete dynamical systems. This method is used in fields such as engineering, physics, economics, and ecology.”

In the graphic arts world, InkjetInsight provides the best definition of linearization and its importance beyond expanding your vocabulary: “The key to print quality and color management is controlling the migration of the ink into the paper. The size of the drops jetted along with the pattern which forms upon contact with the paper surface can make any print go from crisp and clear to dark and plugged up. Linearizing your device before the ICC color profiling step is critical to controlling how dots spread, bridge and merge into each other.”

InkjetInsight reminds its member community that people often use the words “linearization” and “profiling” together in a way that is confusing. They are really two different steps. Linearization is an iterative process used to control dot spread using software and press settings for each color for a particular device, ink, and paper GSM (grams per square meter, or the term used to describe paper quality; the higher the number, the higher the quality of the paper).

IWCO Direct’s experience attests to the fact that linearization can be very time consuming—especially the first time you do it—but it is fundamental to ensuring the success of your platform and the importance of color standards. In today’s marketplace, tight color tolerance is expected on every platform and investing in color management capabilities provides the toolset needed to make your inkset perform to the standards required.

About Steve Malec

Steve is an expert in color theory and color management for conventional and digital print production. In his role as Manager, Color Technical Support for IWCO Direct, Steve’s expertise in calibrating proofing and printing systems to enhance color fidelity was instrumental in driving IWCO Direct’s leadership role in the transition to continuous color digital. Steve has more than 25 years’ experience in prepress and printing, and is widely recognized for his knowledge and expertise across multiple platforms and devices. He can be reached at steve.malec@iwco.com.

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