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The graphic-arts industry has traditionally put a lot of time and
energy into developing standards. To a large degree, however,
these have been ignored”?especially by wide-format print
providers. While the idea of having a standard to print to is certainly
sound, there is good reason these standards have not
generally been used for wide-format output.

SWOP, the Standard for Web Offset Printing (,
was the first printing standard to be widely used by printers. But
SWOP is much too limiting to be used for any printing application
beyond high-speed web presses. Intended to be a standard that
all web presses could hit, it
is a generic specification.
After all, when you create
such a standard, you have
to design it not only so the
very best presses with the
very best operators can
duplicate it, but also so that
just about any press under
any conditions can do so.
As a result, running to
such a standard is far too
limiting. Since just about
any press can print a wider gamut of colors than strict adherence
to SWOP allows, very few companies want to be confined to that
specification. Yes, it provides a decent frame of reference, but
everyone wants their final results to be “better” than SWOP. It is
basically the lowest common denominator.

Which is one of the reasons GRACoL (General Requirements
for Applications in Commercial Offset Lithography) came along.
Originally, GRACoL was SWOP for sheetfed presses. Because
sheetfed presses most commonly print higher ink densities,
produce finer and cleaner dots, and have less press gain, the
gamut of colors that can be reproduced is greatly increased.

But, recently, the GRACoL standards organization decided that
the standard is lower than it should be. Most printers use brighter
papers and print a wider color gamut than is covered by the current
standard. As a result, the standards committee ( is
in the process of generating a new standard that will reflect the
industry's ability to print at a higher quality level.

The consistency factor

Even so, wide-format printers generally have the ability to print a
higher gamut of colors and higher resolution than any printing
press, and press gain is not a factor. Indeed, when wide-format
devices are asked to simulate a printing press, they must be
“dumbed down” to simulate press gain and the limitations of 4-
color process inks. For wide-format printers, 6 or 8 colors are the
rule these days, and the inks generally have a wider color gamut.


So even when GRACoL releases the new and wider gamut
standard, why would a shop primarily executing wide-format
prints want to print to that standard?

The answer is consistency. Many of the projects produced by
the wide-format segment of the market are also produced on
sheetfed presses, on the Web, and under a wide variety of output
conditions. Designers and print buyers want the posters they run
on wide-format devices to match the brochures they run on offset
presses”?and both of these should match the bus wraps that
are also an integral part of the campaign, and so on. Standards
like GRACoL give everyone a target they should be able to hit.

One of the things printers have requested is essentially a
generic GRACoL ICC profile. Assuming that their device can hit
the GRACoL target, why not have a profile that anyone can use
with nearly any output device? The GRACoL standards committee
says that just such a profile is in the works and should
soon be available.

Of course, wide-format shops would not want to use it for
everything they print. If you are running a one-off, fine-art print,
for example, you want to use the entire color gamut your printer
will allow, and your only concern is how close you can get to
matching the original. And there will be many times where
exceeding the capabilities of other printing devices is exactly
what you need to make a sale.

The new GRACoL standard won't change that. But it will give
you the opportunity to meet a customer's demand to match the
printing being done on other media. And it will allow you to
match the output on different devices in different locations
under different printing conditions.

No perfect match


There is a catch, however: Even when running to standards, there
is a tolerance range. There has to be. Even GRACoL acknowledges
that it's quite possible to print within the standards and still have
a visually discernable difference when comparing output. The
hope, though, is that running to standards can provide a closeenough
match across devices to be acceptable to print buyers.
While not perfect, it will give printers a shot at keeping their
clients happy.

Stephen Beals ([email protected]), in prepress production
for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager
with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.



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