I have been working around big printers for quite a while, a couple of years after the International Color Consortium was formed. I remember when Photoshop 5 introduced colour management which included the well known ICC Adobe 1998used in all manner of devices and software now. Soon after all the publishing applications had colour spaces and rendering intents to convert one ICC to another in the most effective way for the circumstance. By the early 2000s it became clear colour management was now a necessity in the large format printing industry.

Many hours colour correcting artwork against what you would have expected was great for learning how curves worked, but was crushing when you realised the manufacturer supplied output profiles just couldn’t produce what you wanted.

The first book I read on the subject was Real World Color Management: Industrial-strength Production Techniques. It was a good resource for understanding the terminology used and what it is you are actually trying to achieve, although the software constantly updating put the book out of date pretty quickly in spite of new additions.

I was a big advocate after reading it, and still am. I have seen colour management implementation cut colour corrections down to subjective or lighting specific reasons only. I have seen it dramatically decrease ink usage. I have seen shadow detail rendered that was previously impossible. Hard copy proofing almost becomes needless (well, not really) because 99% of them will be signed off. This is simply because it allows you to assess new materials quality and suitability to a printer, and then get an accurate result printing to it.

It also allows you to keep colour consistent through heads wearing and inevitably needing replacement, ink batches changing, and substrates changing. Even between changing printers all together.

If your company hasn’t already implemented colour management, do your clients and your staff a favour and start looking into it. It has never been easier, with all the RIPs having robust wizards that will support your spectrophotometer and guide you through the process. There is a learning curve which can be frustrating at times, and you need to be prepared to use some material and spend some time, but the benefits are great. There are plenty of resources out there from the RIP developers, printer manufacturers, substrate manufacturers and user forums.

A decent spectrophotometer from Barbieri or X-rite is expensive to be sure, and has always been the case. If you want to do backlit products, fabric or you don’t want someone’s time taken with their head over the spectrophotometer for hours reading in swatches, you have to fork out for the top of the line products. Luckily they last a very long time, generally hanging around for at least 10 years. 

Weigh this cost against how much time your prepress team spends correcting files and their sanity when doing it, reprints attributed to colour shifts or other colour related reasons, or in the worst case you simply can’t match your clients expectations consistently.


A good list of terms when you need to know what something means. Some that you should look into are Delta(E), Metamerism, Linearisation, ICC profiles and Ink Limiting since they will be used as soon as you start profiling your materials.

LAB colour space represents all the colour us humans can see. It is used to convert one profile to another since nothing is out of gamut in it.

ICC website with heaps of information.

Plenty of talk on forums such as this, you can usually get over specific problems having a look around.