by Mike McNamee Published 01/02/2010
It is now about 14 months since we reviewed the paper and printing scene and so it is timely to take a look at the state of play. Since the last one about five new paper suppliers have entered the UK market (or at least become more active). At Professional Imagemaker we have looked at Tecco, Canson, Pruf, Moab, Museo, Breathing Colour, Hahnemuhle, Fotospeed, Ilford and Permajet products. For printing the Epson 7900 has arrived with even more inks and the 3800 has been installed with the Vivid magenta ink set and becomes an Epson 3880. Glamour Gloss varnish has been tested and become a favourite. The Digie Graphie accreditation has been launched across Europe although as far as we can judge only the French (the prime movers) have taken to it with any enthusiasm. On the measuring and profiling front the Eye 1 has become a market favourite especially as it is one of the accredited spectros for Fogra certification. As far as we can tell, little progress has been made with monitors, the best are still very good but the lower end of the market has deteriorated if you count the fact that you cannot even calibrate a new, shiny Mac screen. The gaming industry is still pushing the default monitor luminances to eye-searing levels. On the viewing side of things incandescent bulbs are now effectively gone and we must all get used to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) with the implications that they bring to light quality (see the rant). For high-grade viewing the 'temperature controllable' LED has emerged with very favourable reviews.
We have said it many times but it bears repeating - the standard of output from the modern inkjet is amazingly high, far ahead of anything that wet chemistry can even dream of. It is not without reason that the only devices that have been able to create reliable contract proofs are inkjets - if wet chemistry had been able to do it (at any cost at all), then they would have done so, such was the prize that awaited the developer of a reliable colour-consistent proofer.
Talking of colour accuracy we have been working quite hard on our methods for measuring and characterising the outputs from inkjets and paper combinations. Colour management has improved, expertise has improved, profiling kit has improved and here we have improved our methods of teasing every last ounce out of a printer. This has resulted in the frequent ability to announce that a paper has 'broken this or that record' on a regular basis. This is a situation that cannot easily continue, there is hardly any headroom left for improvement, when the errors get to zero that's it! At the moment the very best we have achieved are average errors down to around 1.5ΔE₀₀ across the Macbeth ColorChecker swatch set using standard printers and drivers. The acceptable value for high-quality commercial and portrait work is about twice this value (ie worse) and this is close to the average value we obtain across a broad spread of attempts and situations. Our average value hovers around 3.3ΔE₀₀ but what we have noticed is that the paper-makers are getting better and better at making profiles (and sorting out their printer settings) so that we sometimes generate better statistics off a generic profile than we do off our own bespoke profiles. Overall though we find that profile editing is required to tweak a profile to deliver values of less than 2.5ΔE₀₀ average.
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