In Pursuit of Color Matching

Posted on 10-08-2014 by ZX

Matching color has been a quest since the early days of color reproduction. Prior to the 1970s, most printed color was separated using red, green, blue, and visual filters in a graphic arts camera or enlarger, skilled operators tried to get a better "match" to, or to improve upon, the original photograph with multiple exposures, color-correction masks, and dot etching that chemically ate away at the halftone dots or physically changed their size through contact exposures. With so many adjustments, it was easy to see why the process took a long time and still did not always produce the expected color.

in the 1970s high-end electronic or "laser" scanners, with their myriad knobs and dials, ushered in an era of unprecedented color adjustability. Although these half-million dollar scanners lacked the computer memory and digital storage to hold an image, they used proprietary analog and, later, digital color computers to convert RGB signals to CMYK separations.

In the 1980s advances in minicomputers, memory, and storage permitted color electronic prepress systems (CEPS) like the Scitex Response and Hell Chromacom to store, display, color-correct, and electronically retouch images. These multimillion-dollar systems represent a pinnacle of achievement in the quest for quality color reproduction--but at great cost and with long learning curves.

In the 1990s, the power of the CEPS system came to the desktop. Innovations like a common way of describing output (PostScript), graphical user interfaces from Apple and Microsoft, and publishing programs like Adobe photoshop and QuarkXPress brought high-end color capability to the desktop. Easy-to-use, low-cost systems quickly replaced the more expensive, monolithic systems.

Scanning and color separation, once the domain of highly trained specialists, became "democratized". Anyone who could operate a computer, scanner, and printer-including photographers, designers, typesetters, and computer operators could make color separations. The desktop computers they use are open systems, supporting a theoretically infinite number of color peripherals. Today, many of these color publishers manage projects from start to finish. And, they still face the same question, "why doesn't the color match?" Without the training and expertise in color and the integrated, black-box publishing systems, these jacks-of-all-trades are confronted with complex color issues.

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