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What's all the Hoopla About?

11 Oct, 2011 By: Greg Buschman, Konica Minolta imageSource

What’s all the hoopla about the G7 color specification anyway? Is it affecting the way sales organizations sell to creative agencies and commercial printers? If you’re not sure, you could miss out on the biggest digital color printing revolution since ICC profiles and Pantone certification.

For those in the digital color and production print industry, emulating and maintaining offset color quality consistently across multiple devices has been our Holy Grail. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, our emphasis was to validate our devices as true graphic art and production print output. The mission was to dial in our devices to then current industry standards and thereby “qualify” them so commercial printers and creative agencies would see them as viable alternatives to offset and traditional print methods. We had to push our way into the marketplace. G7 is changing that reality.

In the past, talk tracks focused on our ability to leverage ICC profiles, “Pantone” certified RIPs, process CMYK, RGB, and Named Colors, handle separations, and mimic trapping. Our RIPs can set and control gray component replacement (GCR), under color removal (UCR), and calibrate to maximum density values to ensure the “widest” color gamut for digital laser devices.

Unfortunately, stock type, reliability, and finishing were still issues, not to mention continued color accuracy issues. Even though our colors could be accurate to an incredible delta E between 3 and 5, the images produced didn’t have the same look and feel as offset lithography nor could they hold consistent output over time. Although G7 can’t change hardware limitations, when mixed with process control it can produce a consistent appearance across multiple substrates regardless of the printing process.

How G7 is Changing Offset & Digital Color Printing

G7 methodology has its roots in digital color printing. It is based on controlling computer-to-plate (CTP) digital workflow. It literally bridges the gap between offset and digital, creating a common thread linking the two worlds together.

I recently interviewed, Jeff Collins, Vice-Chairman of General Requirements and Applications for Commercial Offset Lithography (GRACoL®) regarding the importance of G7 and the affects it’s having on the digital printing market. Jeff, one of the first G7 Experts, has held the seat since 2006.

GRACoL’s mission is to develop and communicate best practices based on new workflow technologies for commercial offset lithography. G7, invented by Don Hutcheson of Hutch Color, is the basis of widely recognized SWOP® (Specifications for Web Offset Publications) and GRACoL® specifications. Jeff is a standing member of IDEAlliance’s Print Properties and Colorimetrics (PPC) Council, overseeing ongoing development of G7 specifications providing information from research projects directly to ANSI/CGATS as input to the North American Standards board and to the global ISO standardization efforts through CGATS. His latest’s efforts have been in color standardization and best practices in digital printing through the IDEAlliance’s Digital Press Certification sub-committee.

Buschman: Jeff, What exactly is G7? 

Collins: Greg, essentially G7 is a revolutionary method for calibrating a wide variety of printing and proofing systems based on colorimetric data or spectrophotometry for gray balance instead of traditional densitometric (dot gain/TVI) methods. G7 allows printed materials to have the same appearance regardless of printing process or substrate.

It’s also the foundation for SWOP and GRACoL specifications. Both specifications’ ICC profiles come standard in graphic design programs like the Adobe Creative Suite, major digital print controllers, and prepress color management solutions. These specifications are considered the hallmark of print quality in North America.

Buschman: How is G7 different than other methods of controlling color?

Collins: Since G7 aims for gray balance throughout the entire tonal range, including CMYK solids and two-color overprints (RGB), we are now capable of efficiently reproducing color with a similar visual appearance across a variety of printing systems. You cannot do that with densitometric (dot gain/TVI) methods without losing your shirt or risking deadlines.

Buschman: Why is that important to the digital and offset printing industries?

Collins: Great question. Take a company like Walmart or Microsoft who conduct ad campaigns requiring outdoor signage, point-of-purchase, publication inserts, product packaging, and direct mail. Brand identity is critical to them, so color must be accurate to specification.  A commercial printer offering in-house inkjet, offset, digital, and wide-format using G7 methodology can profitably handle this critical requirement and reproduce the job with confidence. The advances in quality and quality automation methods improve everyone’s bottom line.

My personal experience as a production manager and quality assurance director using G7 and process control procedures was that in a jam we could move work from one press technology to another without compromising quality or consistency. We switched between 7 different offset presses and two digital presses. We could efficiently and profitably print the same client’s images on long run equipment and short run digital devices maintaining the customer’s color expectations.

Buschman: How do you see G7 effecting commercial printers and printed product manufacturersusing bothdigital & offset? 

Collins: In today’s market every impression counts. In an industry with small profit margins reducing make-ready time, waste, errors, and increasing customer confidence and loyalty, improve their quality reputation, and ultimately attract new business. Investing in G7 can make printers and creative agencies more profitable.

For printers - sales, production managers, and quality control departments sleep easier at night. They tell me customer press checks are no longer needed, and turn-around times are quicker. Their clients no longer ask for hard-copy proofs. Make-ready costs shrink. Buyers have confidence and complain less about color. Color correction cycles are shortened. Ultimately, they find that manufacturing “sweet spot.”

Buschman: If printers and printed product manufacturers can benefit from G7 methodology why did they wait so long?

Collins: Compared to other industries, the printing industry as a whole has been late in adopting quality standards. Many just paid lip service to standards, quickly reverting to some “secret sauce” or “house standards” due to management’s lack of emphasis on statistical process control.

How G7 can Impact an Imaging Equipment Dealer or Manufacturer

Buschman: Why should a digital imaging dealer or manufacturer be Concerned about G7?

Collins: In many cases publishers, ad agencies, marketing departments, and print buyers require a printer to be G7 Master Qualified and actively seek them. Being able to offer G7 Master Printer Qualification or an IDEAlliance certified digital press would be a selling advantage. As for manufacturers of CTP digital and offset presses, quality control instrumentation and software, many offer G7 tools for hard and soft proofing solutions. They also offer G7 based color management training or G7 Master Qualification. 

Buschman: What pitfalls should printers and imaging dealer’s watch?

Collins: On the printed products manufacturing side - process control is key. Without it you risk the gains G7 brings. If you don’t measure and monitor the process you will fail. Maintaining a well-documented routine of preventive maintenance helps ensure success. Pay close attention to changing variables in the printing process like ink, paper, printing blankets, personnel, or having a major PM or component replacement on a digital press. 

Failing to educate marketing, sales, creative agencies, and buyers on the benefits of G7 is a pitfall. It’s hard to win more print clients using a G7 marketing campaign if your sales force doesn’t understand it.

Also beware of G7 services delivered in a day or for free. Typically, these are cheap in-and-out gigs. The customer gets a power point, G7 calibration curve, and report. The “trainer” jumps on a plane and the printer can’t hit the G7 target again unless they’re lucky. These “trainers” don’t teach how to maintain G7 or actually do the G7 calibration process hands-on. Good G7 services take more than a day unless it’s a follow-up service.  It’s the old saying, “teach a man to fish...”

As a G7 Expert myself, I’m proud to say that Konica Minolta has 15 G7 Experts on staff, was the first manufacturer to have an IDEAlliance Certified Digital Press system using the bizhub PRESS C8000 with both CREO and Fiery controllers, and offers G7 Master Qualification for printers with both digital and offset presses. To learn more please visit IDEAlliance.org.

Greg Buschman, Regional Production Solutions Manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions, has over 10 years experience in leading edge digital document solutions. Buschman, a CompTIA Subject Matter Expert, adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College, and G7 Expert, can be contacted at 727-742-5045.


About the Author: Greg Buschman, Konica Minolta

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