By Vickie / June 9, 2022
New Standard Evolving to Unify Color Printing
By Andrew Brockhaus
Why Extended Gamut?
A common problem for digital wide-format printers doing work for major brands is matching the colors that can be created with offset/analog systems. Major brand owners have a vested interest in the precise presentation of their logos and require printers to demonstrate their ability to output to colorimetric standards. Some use colors that are notoriously difficult to output with just CMYK. Dense reds such as the one used in the Coca-Cola logo are a well-known challenge to achieve with a traditional CMYK process.
Historically, printers using analog methods such as offset, screen, or pad printing have added spot colors to precisely achieve the results their customers demanded. By contrast, inkjet printers, not having the ability to spontaneously add inks and printheads, have built-up color using custom screening and specialized cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks with spotty results. This allows for a simple printer design, but by using just these four non-standard colors, complicated color management is required and many colors in the visible spectrum are still left unachievable.
Wild West Struggles – XCMYK
XCMYK is an extended-gamut printing method that yields a much wider color gamut than regular 4-color printing. In an effort to bridge the gap between what is possible to print in the press world vs the digital inkjet printer space, inkjet printer manufacturers turned to using specialized dot screening and uniquely vibrant CMYK inks. Using custom printer profiles these digital devices can produce a colorspace larger than traditional 4-color printing (XCMYK). Some have stretched the vibrancy of primary ink colors to the point that they need additional channels of lighter colors. These inks (Lc,Lm,Lk and even Llk) assist in gaining back areas of gamut lost in gradients, light areas and shadows. Of course, this comes at a cost of increased complexity, additional ink channels, slower print speeds and often needing additional expensive printheads.
The Road to Standardization – ECG with CMYKOGV
Gaps and smaller defined missing areas of the deep green, bright orange and violet portions of the color spectrum plague even the most aggressive of today’s XCMYK print systems. Home Depot® orange, Lowes® purple and Hulu® green are good examples of targets that just can’t be hit. But, by adding three extra primary color inks, Orange Green and Violet, a broader range of colors becomes available to print via inkjet. Some prominent manufacturers have already explored this print process under the guise of adding ink colors like Red, Green and Blue. Some are adding only a single additional channel like Orange or Red to improve gamut. It is clear that these manufacturers are responding to the increasing demands of print operators responding to the print-buyer needs, but each is doing it their own way without a clear standard to adhere to.
The addition of orange, green,
and violet greatly extends the color gamut over CMYK alone.
If you are trying to organize a game of follow the leader, start by playing “Follow the Money”. Flexo and Litho are the cash kings of the printing world and expanding from CMYK+Spot to CMYKOGV is becoming the standard method of extending the color gamut of printing in that world. Why? Because Manufacturers like Heidelberg, Bobst, Esko, Kodak, Sun Chemical, The Flint Group, Du Pont…are pouring money into the development of processes and equipment capable of consistently reliable ECG output.
Often called extended gamut machines, this new equipment provides several compelling advantages. Its primary advantage is the ability to print many more colors than CMYK+Spot alone. This then allows for much more vivid color designs. Printing with ECG also reduces print costs while at the same time reducing the environmental impact of every piece produced. By NOT using spot colors, fewer washups and press materials are necessary for each print run leading to less money spent on materials and less hazardous waste produced. Additionally, reducing the number of setups and cleanups improves the all-important print-turnaround time for each project.
Make it Simple and they will come…
All that development money spent has simplified the adoption and more importantly the operation of these new print presses and processes. This has resulted in many master printers spending millions converting their plant operations to this new ECG format. Continuing our game of follow the leader, as early adopters find increasing success working with ECG more and more competitors must upgrade just to keep up.
With all these advantages and more improvements on the way, it is clear this emerging standard will become the dominant print method designers will embrace. Luckily, it is a standard that can easily translate into the wide format inkjet printing world as well. Unlike in the past, a single standard can span all printing technologies. This unification will lead to unprecedented consistency across all printing tech.
Andrew Brockhaus is a current VP and a long time Color Specialist for National / AZON. He holds a G7 Expert certification along with training and certifications from Xerox, HP, Canon, Mutoh, X-rite, Onyx and others. With experience and focus in wide-format print for over 25 years he continues to pursue new theory and technologies in the fields of color and color printing.