My name is Don Hutcheson and Im one of the world's few truly independent color management consultants. I develop, install and train ICC and G7® solutions for agencies, brands, photographers, separators, printers, publishers, video, cinema - anyone who needs accurate color. Over four decades of digital imaging combined with a love of science and photography help me bridge the gap between conventional and modern methods, and solve the most challenging problems. Above all, I like to show how easy and fun the otherwise confusing subject of color management can be.
I'm available to set up your own system or you can come to one of my G7 Expert/Professional training courses, hosted by IDEAlliance. You can also hear me preach the ICC and G7 gospels at trade shows, industry meetings and better brew pubs.
I learned pre-press color separation through a 5 year apprenticeship at Photengravers Ltd., Auckland, where I operated one of the first two scanners in New Zealand - a Hell C296 Vario-Cromograph. It made four continuous-tone films at a blazing 25 minutes per color, which then had to be screened on an enlarger.
In the late 1970s I worked my way through England, Europe and Iraq (complete with near-death adventures) before coming to the USA in 1979 with
Linotype-Paul Scanner Division (later RZ, then ICG).
In 1988 I joined Crosfield Electronics ending up in DuPont's Core
Tech group working on Digital Waterproof and HiFi color.
I am basically a geek. I love to push technology beyond its intended use and I think laziness is the mother of invention. Not that I object to hard work - it's just that I hate wasted effort. If there's a better, easier, cheaper way of doing something, I like to find it. That's why I love color management. That's how I invented G7.
When I saw my first color scanner in 1968 I immediately realized its potential for pure photography. Since then I've pioneered many RGB workflows for photographers, photolabs, pre-press and video. ICC profiles and Photoshop make RGB the most practical workflow, even if the end result is printed in CMYK. To find out why, download my RGB_Arguments.
From my first day of scanning back in 1968 I was dismayed by the awkward user interface. How was I supposed to visualize the end result just by numbers on a dial? Why couldn't I see the effect of each control move on a color TV?. (Silly idea.)
In the 1980s I installed hundreds of color scanners in USA Today and other newspapers, where the average color experience was nil. To simplify training and operation I persuaded Peter Nielson, ITEK's R&D Director, to build a video monitor that displayed a quick pre-scan, showing the operator what we now call a "soft proof". The monitor could simulate any press, turning scanner operation into a visual process, infinitely easier and faster than before. For this ITEK won the coveted Queens Award to Industry.
To make it easier to compare the monitor to an actual proof I persuaded Fred McCurdy at GTI to build a dimmable D-50 viewing booth that sits alongside the monitor. He said he'd never sell more than one but today it's a best-seller and absolutely essential for effective soft proofing. To see how it's used, download my Soft Proofing Tips.
Color - making lithography more like photography
A passionate love of photography lured me into this industry, but when I saw my own photographs printed by offset, I was appalled. What happened to the reds? I asked. But the old-time journeymen couldnt tell me why my saturated Kodachrome colours looked so drab on press. I discovered it was due to low ink saturation and began a life-long quest for richer, more colorful printing. In 1983 I developed an automated touch plate system (with $9 worth of Radio Shack parts) called the "5th Color Control", which dramatically improved deeply-saturated colors. Later I persuaded DuPont to develop HyperColor, which did the same thing in software. To imitate the HyperColor effect using a 4-color ICC profile, download my HiFi_notes.
How I got hooked on color management
When Apples ColorSync 2.0 made automated color management viable in 1995, the first profiling software was awful, but I knew one day it would revolutionize the prepress world. So I formed Hutcheson Consulting (now HutchColor) to help traditional users take advantage of this new technology, working with pioneers Franz Herbert & Dan Caldwell (then ColorBlind, now Remote Director) till their software was as good as any high-end drum scanner. Then I took it to real-world printers, publishers and separators to see if they could break it. At first color management was met with skepticism and fear, especially by traditional pre-press separators, but today it is universally accepted and indispensible.
My involvement with print standards
One of the eternal frustrations amongst publishers, agencies, and other print buyers, is the uncertainty about what a job will look like when it hits the press. The proof is one thing, but will the press match it? This frustration translates into lost press time and reduced profits, as the printer tries to 'chase the proof' to satisfy the client.
The root of the problem, until recently, was the lack of any true 'standard' of how a good press sheet should look. True, the US printing industry had SWOP (Specifications for Web Offset Publications) and GRACoL (General Requirements and Applications for Commercial Offset Lithography), but these were only 'specifications' with tolerances too loose for ICC-savvy users. Even the official ISO 12647 international printing standard (on which SWOP and GRACoL were, and still are, based) failed to define the actual printed "appearance" of a typical press adequately enough for today's users.
Without a standard of press appearance, there was no stable target for a proofing system to imitate. Conventional laminate-based color proofing systems like KPG MatchPrint, Fuji ColorArt, Agfa PressMatch and DuPont WaterProof all made beautiful presentation prints, but (a) they didn't match each other, and (b) each only approximated the appearance of a particular press. With the advent of ICC color management, however, any proofing system could be made to match virtually any 'target' press, but the question remained, what should that target be?
In 2003 I was asked by three major New York ad agencies to define that very target. What they wanted was a precise visual definition of 'standard appearance' for proofing and printing. One agency, Foote-Cone-Belding (later DRAFTFCB), decided to fund some research. In partnership with three local printers, Sandy Alexander, AGT and Applied Printing Technologies, we started an unofficial testing group, irreverently called The Manhattan Project, with the goal of creating a set of 'print appearance' standards with less ambiguity than the GRACoL and SWOP specifications.
Our first test was to produce a simulated TR001 proof at all four sites using a custom gray scale calibration method I'd been using for years, called "Press2Proof" that differed considerably from traditional dot-gain-based methods, plus standard ICC color management. All the proofs matched each other very closely, and FCB quickly approved the existing TR001 characterization data as their standard for publication proofing and printing. But when we tried the same experiment with GRACoL's newly-released DTR004 data, the results fell short of good commercial printing. So Sandy Alexander offered to host a trial press run to see if we could come up with some better data.
To avoid conflicting standards,we invited the GRACoL committee to participate, and the test evolved into a combined Manhattan Project/ GRACoL press run. A key goal was to test my unconventional Press2Proof method (now known by the IDEAlliance tradename G7®). The Sandy run showed that Press2Proof controlled the visual appearance of a sheet much better, while still satisfying the basic intent of GRACoL. For my sins IDEAlliance made me chair of their GRACoL committee and the two projects were blended into one.
In 2005 and 2006 GRACoL conducted additional press runs at a variety of commercial printers across the USA. The main purpose was to develop an unambiguous description of how good CtP (Computer-to-Plate) commercial printing appears on a number 1 coated sheet. The second purpose was to simplify the Press2Proof method so anyone could accurately replicate that appearance on a press or proofing system. The SWOP committee, seeing the success we were having, adopted the same approach and SWOP was acquired by IDEAlliance.
The main results of all this work were three new 'print appearance' specifications - GRACoL2006_Coated1, SWOP2006_Coated3 and SWOP2006_Coated5 - that represent good CtP-based printing on coated number 1, 3, and 5 sheets. These and all IDEAlliance characterization data sets share a common G7 'backbone' giving them a similar visual appearance in gray balance and neutral tonality, while adhering to ISO 12647. The main benefit of this 'shared appearance' is that a CMYK file created for one press type, but printed on another (by accident or design) should look as close as possible to the original intent WITHOUT any curve edits or ICC profile-based corrections. If all new US and foreign print appearance standards shared this concept, it would simplify and improve file exchange between different press types (commercial, publication, newsprint, flexo, etc.), no matter where they are.
In the past this goal was impractical due to the differences between negative and positive film-based plates and proofs, but thanks to today's universal CtP plate-making and digital proofing, virtually any imaging device can be 'forced' to conform to pre-set standards of gray balance and tonality using the G7 calibration method. By achieving this conformance with simple RIP (Raster Image Processor) curves, two of the most important visual parameters, gray balance and neutral tonality, can be normalized at a sub-ICC level. If every press shared these characteristics, a single 'standard' ICC profile could serve each print class, the need for custom press profiling would be greatly reduced, and pre-press and proofing workflows would be greatly simplified and less error-prone.
The challenges of print standardization are not trivial, given the enormous number of variables in offset printing and different interpretations of what is 'good' printing. But no matter how difficult and politically-challenging these challenges may be, there is an urgent need to accept them. As one of the few industries on Earth without effective standards, today’s print production is often frustrating and inefficient. Any effort to define a universally-accepted specification of 'print appearance' is a vital step towards improving quality and efficiency for everyone from creation to press.
To learn more about SWOP, GRACoL, or G7, go to www.idealliance.org. Better still, join IDEAlliance. The work we are doing today will benefit everyone, but it also has to stand the test of time. The more individuals and companies involved at this stage, the better.