Printing and Design Tips: May 2010, Issue #106

Closed Loop Color

Your printer may use the term “closed loop color” in selling the virtues of his printing press. What does this mean, and why is this important to you?

Closed loop color is essentially an on-press feedback system that scans and measures the color bar on the moving paper (web or sheetfed) -- while the press is in operation -- and then feeds this information back to the press console to make automatic adjustments. When the color information recorded across the sheet: the ink density (or ink film thickness, and amount of light reflected off the press sheet) and the spectrophotometric data (or measurement of the hue of the ink) deviate from the specified levels, the closed loop system automatically adjusts the press to bring the color back to its target.

Why is this important? More and more presses include such measuring devices to ensure that the color you specify within your design application (InDesign, Quark, Photoshop) can be carried consistently from your computer to the printer's proofing devices and then on to the pressroom. This is also called color management.

In addition to color fidelity, additional benefits of closed loop color include reduced make-ready times, reduced paper waste and ink consumption, and the ability to save ink-presets for later use (i.e., to record all color information in the press console for later replication in future jobs).

If your printer has equipment capable of doing closed loop color, consider this a very good sign.

QR Codes

QR (Quick Response) codes marry the benefits of print with the benefits of the Web, using your camera-equipped smart phone. Essentially, QR Codes are two-dimensional barcodes (patterned squares) included in print advertising. To the user, it's a simple operation: While reading a magazine, you see an ad that interests you. You point your camera, and your smart phone Web browser takes you to the advertiser's website.

(Actually, QR codes are also included in much larger versions, as huge squares on building wraps, signs, and vehicle wraps, that allow the viewer to link to a website using a smart-phone camera from a distance.)

Combining the Internet with print media has been an exciting trend recently. Instead of focusing on one or the other medium, advertisers, printers, marketers, etc., have been embracing the “convergence” of technologies, using multiple media as tools for “integrated marketing.” This is the new mindset that will expand marketing and advertising, allowing vendors to reach out to you and you to reach out to vendors in an interactive manner.

It is an exciting time indeed, and QR Codes are a good example of this trend.

Expert Font Sets

Consider checking out “expert font sets” on the Internet if you are a designer. Basically, this is an expanded set of alpha-numeric characters for a font. Such a set includes all the letters and numbers you use on a daily basis in your work, but it goes beyond this, adding the fine points of typographic design. (This will be difficult to illustrate without images, but at least I will get you started in your search.)

For example, an expert set includes actual fractions. Instead of typing a “1,” a “/,” and a “2,” for a “half of something,” you can type the fraction as a single, proportioned digit. You can also type “small caps,” (smaller versions of capital letters useful in some design situations, such as introductory material). You can type ligatures (intentionally touching letters, which were once desirable in fine typography for such letter pairs as “fl,” “fi,” and “ae”).

Think of it as bringing the artistry of actual typesetting back into desktop publishing. Expert sets are not available for all fonts made by all type foundries. But if you do a web search on “expert sets,” you may bring more beauty and grace into your design work. Start with Adobe's website, and then expand your search to include other font vendors. (Depending on the number of fonts in a set, and their manufacturer, expert sets can cost anywhere from $40.00 to $400.00, more or less.)

Lab Color

This actually is not “LAB” color (like a medical lab). Rather it is L*A*B color. The “L” stands for “luminance,” which is the lightness/darkness (or brightness information) of the image, and then A and B stand for two color channels: red/green and blue/yellow, respectively.

Essentially, LAB color replicates color as your eye sees it. It is considered a “color space,” like RGB or CMYK, a way of communicating color within your computer.

Beyond the technical jargon, you may find this color space useful for the following reason: It allows you to use Photoshop to adjust the lightness of an image separately from its color information. If you can't get your photos quite right in RGB, consider shifting the color space to LAB mode, adjusting the lightness and color information within this color space, and then converting back to CMYK (for print publication) or RGB (for the Web).

The downside is that LAB includes colors that are unprintable. Fortunately, when you shift back from LAB to CMYK (to make the file press ready), Photoshop will allow you to convert “out-of-gamut” colors to the nearest printable color within the CMYK color space.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]