Cover for Why it's important to characterize your printing machines article

(Applicable to any printing technique)

Today the use of standardized processes has become almost the norm, no matter the technique used. To apply them printers, agencies, industry and others use standards such as ISO, FOGRA, IDEAlliance and many more. Each standard or standard provides more or less generic profiles that cover their scope. These profiles are used as a working basis throughout the graphic chain and are used especially for proofing. But are they really reliable? If they are often satisfying, there are often problems too.

Why ? Each machine has its own characteristics that come from various factors. The blanket, the striking, stripping ink, etching plates, sleeves or cylinders etc. Second factor is the printing substrate. Even though many papers, cardboards, films, and more are comparable to each other in their category - none are really identical to another. Even labeled substrates are no exception as each standard has its margins. All these points make us doubt the relevance of the graphic chain used - and for good reason!

Here is the example by a real case of the packaging field in gravure printing.

Global gamut difference. Grid the CMYK profile that the machine can actually produce. In solid the standardized profile.
We see that despite a huge gain on some axes we also have a loss in a specific place.

What will be the consequences ?

First we deprive ourselves of a large part of the gamut that we are actually able to reproduce because during the stage of conversion the gamut of the original will be compressed in the target gamut. Another important point is that we will not be able to reproduce the gamut that goes beyond the real gamut of our machine / substrate pair. What can do this: Part of the print delivered does not match what the customer had as a "certified test". (The photo was taken by chance, the result could have been worse or better with another one, the quality of your screen as well as its calibration also come into play.)

Even if the customer accepts the result, he will at least have doubts on our quality of work - which may influence him when he has to choose a printer for his next order. And, with a machine characterized the test will not only reliable but could be closer to the original Customer satisfaction is nowadays a major issue.

Original Proof Printed

Now let's talk about economics

When a print contains not only composite parts but also spot colors such as Pantone, RAL, HKS etc. the printer is forced to print CMYK + N. In our example, however, we have a gamut much higher than the generic profile, so we have the possibility to reproduce even more spot colors with CMYK - in addition, the transformation will be reliable with a predictable result. In the screenshot we can see the shades of the Pantone solid coated color chart which are now also in the reproducibility zone.

With a dedicated software we can establish if a Pantone, RAL or other will be reproducible in CMYK WITHOUT loss of quality.

Pantone 2464 C outside generic profile

Pantone 2464 C, inside the profile of our machine

We can print the whole job in CMYK (the real Delta is 0.16 - therefore not perceptible).

The printer in question went even further. He characterized his gravure printing machines with different combinations. He applies an old trick that I knew before standardization becomes the norm. In old times time we replaced, in case of need to "catch up", one of the primaries by a Pantone. There it is no longer a method of last resort to save the job but a controlled process with a predictable and entirely reliable result.

Even more Pantone in our gamut. Comparison between CMYK machine profile and "improved" machine profile

If all the machines in our workshop are characterized then we can choose the most advantageous machine. Use 4 color instead of 5/8/12, 8 color in double side mode in case of double sided prints etc. The savings can therefore be made on several axes: Number of plates, cylinders, setups, rolling time ... If the cost of an offset plate may seem derisory (and again over the year ...), for rotogravure, rotary screen printing or flexo (sleeves) the return on investment is very fast.

Characterization and its costs.

Contrary to what is often heard, there are much less time and equipment costs than some people claim. Basic equipment requires a spectrophotometer and software to create profiles. It must be chosen according to several criteria: reading mode (attention, new standard in view - check compatibility), substrates used, time to perform readings ... And especially the quality and versatility !!

Even though I have already read in some commercial flyers that you have to block the machine for a whole day and maybe even pay a provider € 4,000 per profile if you do not have the equipment, the truth is elsewhere. Ok, they want you to buy their solution…

In machine time it costs the time of a set up, if you are a little organized you characterize several substrates on the same machine at one time. A standard set up takes how much time already? Once the plates set the paper change and ink setting takes a day? Even in the time of typography we were already faster ... I also know some providers, none would dare ask for such an amount.

However it must be paid by profile and in addition you do not have the opportunity to use a quality control system that allows the quick readjustment of your profiles when needed. I can not give precise figures because each installation must be looked at individually according to the activity, the machine park, the equipment already on site or not ... But I can guarantee you that a return on investment will be fast and assured. If the subject interests you, you want to take the step - you can contact me by mail sales (at) Apart from the fact that we propose solutions, we like to share our know-how to improve the quality by simplifying the work in the workshops.


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