Setting standards for colour accuracy and ink consumption

Photo courtesy Océ Display Graphics Systems

Photo courtesy Océ Display Graphics Systems

By Abhay Sharma
Wide-format digital inkjet printers are a new replacement technology for older, analogue screenprinting. There has been a strong pattern of market demand, adoption and implementation of both flatbed and roll-to-roll models, and the technology is already being used for all mainstream signage applications, such as point-of-purchase (POP) displays. As yet, however, there are no accepted standards for reporting metrics for these devices with respect to colour management and ink consumption.

Given the ubiquity of inkjet printing today, there is an urgent need to establish baseline metrics for ink use, colour accuracy and repeatability, rub resistance, weathering and uniformity across a printed sheet. Inks themselves represent a significant proportion of the costs of printing large banners and posters. In a competitive industry with tight margins, it is certainly relevant to consider parameters for determining how much ink is being used to print a particular image and how accurate the colours are in the resulting graphic.

The International Digital Enterprise Alliance (IDEAlliance), a not-for-profit trade organization that certifies digital presses for meeting or exceeding industry-established tolerances, is conducting research in conjunction with Ryerson University’s School of Graphic Communications Management (GCM) in Toronto into testing the various qualities of wide-format inkjet printing.

IDEAlliance is already well-known for publishing the General Requirements for Applications in Commercial Offset Lithography (GRACoL) and the Specifications for Web Offset Publications (SWOP) and providing the G7 system for colour calibration. The organization offers GRACoL/SWOP certification for inkjet proofing systems and digital press certification for xerographic devices. Now, IDEAlliance is turning its attention to wide- to grand-format inkjet systems by conducting the new technical tests with Ryerson.

“Such third-party independent testing is greatly appreciated, as there is a real lack of good information of this sort in the market,” says Jeff Edwards, international product marketing manager for Océ Display Graphics Systems, which manufactures wide-format printers in Richmond, B.C.

Some of these tests were conducted as part of a feasibility study earlier this year, whereby 17 different wide-format inkjet systems were tested. The process has helped inform a new formal testing procedure that Ryerson and IDEAlliance are set to launch this summer. They are also working with California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) on this project.

Standards and metrics
To understand the need for metrics, it is worth considering common examples like the automotive industry, which has established methods for determining a car’s fuel efficiency in terms of miles per gallon or kilometres per litre, along with safety ratings and other measurements. These metrics help both the consumer, who can better select the right vehicle, and the manufacturer, who can fairly rate the vehicle against the competition.

For wide-format printing, on the other hand, no universally accepted methodology exists for measuring ink consumption, colour accuracy or other metrics.

A new document focusing on large-format printing for the sign industry—International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 15311, Graphic Technology – Requirements for printed matter utilizing digital printing technologies for the commercial and industrial production—is currently being developed. It is still in its draft phase, but when finalized, it will provide an important set of standards and metrics for determining reasonable expectations for inkjet systems.

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