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If you've ever had printed out a page on your desktop inkjet printer and held it up to the monitor, chances are you've been a little disappointed at how far off the printed output is from your monitor. Well, it's a common heartbreak, and that's because your monitor and ink on paper are two very different realities. And if you compare your screen and your inkjet print to the final printed piece, you may very well be looking at three rather different versions of your job. It's really maddening. So what you do you hang your hat on? Well, the solution to this problem is to have a fully color managed workflow.
But that can be expensive, kind of confusing, and a big complicated to implement. If you want to fully pursue the color managed workflow, you have to invest in expensive equipment to profile your monitor and all your printers. But if you don't want to go that far, you can still improve your monitor substantially by using the colorimeter, such as I've right here. Now you can expect to pay from $200 and up for colorimeter. The way it works is the colorimeter and its software combine to send color signals to the monitor. The colorimeter reads the values and then compares them to an internal ideal value.
And then it sets up a Reference File that's called a Profile, that's used to control the output of your monitor. Now if you're part of a work group that produces a lot of work for print, it actually might be worth hiring a color management consultant to come in, profile all of your equipment for you. They'll use their own sophisticated equipment to set up your monitors and printers without you having to make the investment in that equipment. Now they'll probably recommend that calibrations and profiles be updated periodically, especially if you add new equipment.
Now in color-critical environments, for example in printing plants fresh profiles are often generated just after new ink is installed in a printer, if that printer is being used for generating proofs. You should also consider the lighting conditions in your work area. If you have ever gone to a printing company to view proofs, you've probably stood in a viewing booth that's specially constructed for optimal viewing conditions. It may even be a stand-alone room. It's usually painted a neutral gray, and special lights are installed. You may have heard them referred to as D50 or 5000 K lights, and that refers to their color temperature, the K if you care, stands for Kelvin, and that's the temperature measurement system.
So why is 5000 K chosen? Well, it's supposed to mimic the temperature of sunlight at high noon. The higher the color temperature, the bluer the light source, and as you go below 5000 K, lights get warmer. For example, the household incandescent bulbs around 2800K. Now those official viewing sources can be really expensive, but I am going to let you in on a little secret. You can come very close by using fluorescent bulbs from the hardware or home improvement store. Just make sure it says 5000 K or D50 on the bulb.
Now I realize that it's true that your final printed piece is going to be viewed under a wide variety of lighting conditions, from kitchen fluorescents to candlelight, to incandescent living room lamps. So why pick a particular color temperature for viewing? Well, it's for consistency. There has to be some constant to ensure color accuracy, especially when you're judging color corrections from one proof to the next or you are looking at a press proof. Now, I worked as a color specialist and retoucher for many years, and we even avoided wearing clothing that could reflect on the monitor or on a proof that you're viewing with the customer.
Now maybe that's why we all wear black and gray, it's not because we're stylish, we're just being color correct. If you want to delve deeper into color management, I'd recommend Chris Murphy's course for lynda.com that's called Color Management Essential Training, and Chris is also one of the authors of Real-World Color Management, which is sort of an instant classic on the subject. Don't be intimidated by the heft of the book. It's very readable, very understandable, and it's actually funny in spots--which is pretty amazing given that that's a technical and arcane topic.
Now while calibrating, profiling, and special lighting might seem like an awful lot of extra work, all those things together can go a long way toward giving you more realistic expectations of your final printed result.
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