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The Problem with Generic Profiles

My colleague, David Hawkes, talked about color management in last week’s Friday Fare, and I would like to jump on the bandwagon and provide you with some additional reasons to learn more about color. As a former software product manager, I had the opportunity to participate in several dealer and end-user color trainings.  I found that many users knew very little about color going into these workshops, and that they were employing a very simple color workflow: use Generic profiles for everything.  Let’s look at three things that make Generic profiles a temporary workaround, rather than a solution for precise color workflow.

White point of the media
It should be no surprise that the color of the media affects printed colors.  Because inks are translucent, the color you see is actually a combination of the ink and the media.  For example, with the Generic Vinyl 1 and PCV4 combination, the white and the yellow cross points on the graph below show the white points of Generic Vinyl 1 and PCV4, respectively. Using the Generic Vinyl 1 profile to print on such media with different white points is sure to produce slight shifts in color (especially for light colors), as the profiling software will try to compensate for the white point of the media.

Each media is different
Each media reacts differently according to the inks that are used, and colors will vary from media to media, even if the amount of ink used is the same.  Let’s look at how PANTONE® colors are converted to CMYK on the VersaCAMM® VS-540i when using GCVP and Generic Vinyl 1, respectively. As you can see, when using the GCVP profile, PANTONE 652 C is converted to C=31.9, M=34.6, Y=16.7 and K=2.0. With Generic Vinyl 1, the same color is converted to C=33.8, M=31.0, Y=13.3 and K=11.4.  If you are using the Generic Vinyl 1 profile on GCVP for some reason, it seems pretty clear that the results will be very different when compared to the output from actual GCVP profiles.

GCVP – High Quality on VS-540i

Generic Vinyl 1 – High Quality on VS-540i

Individual ink limit and total ink limit
Other important factors that can affect color include the individual ink limit and the total ink limit. Ink is limited during profiling for several reasons, but the most common reason is that the media cannot handle the maximum amount of ink that the printer can print. Looking at the same Generic Vinyl 1 and GCVP profiles, you can see that there’s a big difference between the maximum ink amounts in each case. For example, if you are using the Generic Vinyl 1 profile on the GCVP, you’re  limiting the magenta to a maximum of 80%, while the GCVP can actually take up to 95%. This difference can translate into a big difference in color saturation, especially when printing colors that require magenta, such as RED.

Magenta channel on Generic Vinyl 1

Magenta channel on GCVP

Don’t get me wrong. Generic profiles can produce acceptable results right out of the box, and it’s a good starting point for a novice user.  It’s fine to go this route if you don’t have access to a better profile.  However, for all the reasons cited above, Generic profiles simply can’t match the quality and consistency of a profile that has been created for a specific media.  Actually, even the GCVP profile we provide wouldn’t be the best choice for your particular installation, as the printer and the environment we use for profiling aren’t identical to yours. For optimum results, I recommend investing in a spectrophotometer and profiling software to calibrate your printer on a regular basis. Attending a color workshop will also allow you to learn the skills required for profiling any media.

Written by:
Hiroshi Ono
Group Product Manager – Specialty Products
Roland DGA