Want Pixel Perfect Prints? – Then Make Colour Management a Priority

Debbie McKeegan
June 21, 2023

Why should colour management be a priority for your design team and print workflow?
Colour is the baseline of design, once set – the colour that the designer, client or brand specifies, is the colour that must be achieved and delivered – First time, Every time.

In a digital world many expect this to be an exact science, a simple and automatic function of the print process – simply place your on-demand order, and voila – your print arrives on time and just as you imagined it – unfortunately that’s far from true. Colour management within the textile industry can often feel more like the wild west, shoot from the hip and hope for the best! The end result – broken expectations, unhappy customers, dead stock, lost revenue, spent resources and mountains of waste.

Having democratised the print space with on-demand digital textile printing technologies, surely colour is now accurate at the push of a button?

Not yet, but the clock is ticking – colour science is a highly technical and scientific field. The Holy Grail for the textile industry would be to standardize colour, offering a simpler way to format the workflow. This is a work in progress and most definitely a good space for AI, and as textile technology and science converge, who knows what may be achieved in the very near future.

Invest to Impress

Taking control of your colour space requires investment, time and commitment. The print, software and colour industry have a whole host of options with which you can create and control your workflow accurately at any volume – start-up or industrial, to create pixel perfect prints – prints that match your expectations, pre-press samples and your legacy production.

Investing your time to control and manage your own colour workspace yields dividends. Print is a partnership of pattern and technology, source the right software for your workflow and take control of your colour output.

With such a huge and growing marketplace to fulfil, it’s no wonder that the global colour management and RIP (Raster Image Processor) software sector for digital textile printing was valued at $607.52 million in 2020 and is expected to reach $939 million by 2028, growing at an CAGR of 5.6% during the forecast period (Research and Markets).

The most important factor in the colour transaction is Communication

Wherever you sit in the supply chain, and whatever your product – colour is critical. So how can you make sure Colour Input matches Colour Output?

Remember that all devices (human or synthetic) measure colour differently and use different methods of colour generation to create data. It’s also important to factor in the light in which a physical, coloured object or digital simulation is viewed. The perceived colour of a printed surface or digital screen will be dramatically affected by the ambient light source; therefore, we have to add measured data to the colour conversation to ensure that all devices are aligned and calibrated.

When printing textiles, this is where the process gets a little more complicated. Here’s a couple of examples; The weave of a fabric will bounce light, not only when viewed but also when measured. Textiles may also contain OBA’s, known as optical brightening agents which do just that – they trick the viewer by bouncing light to make a product appear whiter. If you have ever seen a white garment glow, and take on a blueish appearance in UV light, then there are OBA’s present as a chemical coating on the fibre.

Once again all of this data should be added to the colour conversation. Each and every fabric must be measured and profiled to give the print machinery and software the information it needs to achieve the required colour and avoid waste. As technology advances, this process is becoming increasingly automated and as mentioned before AI and scanning technologies will no doubt continue to simplify this often, laborious process.

Get it Right First time – Every time.

Choosing the correct print technology and print workflow is essential. If you’re offering print online, be sure to provide thorough pre-press print advice and customer support. Encourage local sourcing, support your local community, and save time, shipping and carbon.

Remember that different machines, inks and substrates achieve different results. Be sure to choose the right technology and the right material for your project. And be aware that not all printers/inks are equal, research your print source to ensure that you are using the best sustainable print technology along with certified environmental inks and responsibly sourced materials.

Colour management should be standard practice for both the design and the print community. As our workflow gets ever faster if colour isn’t controlled at source, waste will escalate.

That’s wasted time, energy, materials and precious resources…and it can all be avoided by investing in best practice, good colour communication, and accurate colour management.

We asked Oliver Luedtke of ColorGATE why colour must be managed and how software can assist?

“Colour is defined by the designer at the beginning of the product cycle, and yet at that point, the designer usually doesn’t know how the product will be printed or onto what material. The designer may use multiple file formats all of which contain important information for the printer. Transposing this data into the correct language for printed output is a specialist skill.

ColorGATE bridges the gap in-between, managing input and output, as it controls colour across the manufacturing workflow, to ensure that the printed output meets all expectations. This is a complicated process, and yet to the outside world it appears seamless. Colour, technology, inks and materials are balanced and managed utilising intelligent software that when fine-tuned will consistently deliver high quality printed output.”

When input matches output the circle is complete, when all stakeholders comply, colour can be controlled to ensure 100% accuracy –  Let’s get it right first time – Every time.