Color Management for Sublimation in a Nut Shell

6 12 2011

What is Color Management?
To sum up, color management is the process of managing colors so that they come out the way you expect them to and to make this consistent every time.  There are many variables in the process of printing.  This includes the inks, the printer and the canvas that have to be considered.  Color Management uses a color profile to profile the inks, the printer, and the canvas in order to achieve predictable color.  When we use the color profile, we keep all three of these variables consistent so that the final color output is consistent as well.  With color profiles, you are able to achieve more predictable results.  Most of the time, color management is used to match – as closely as possible – the colors that are printed out compared with what is shown on your screen.

What is a Color Profile?
A color profile is something that we create to convert colors more accurately.  When converting colors without a color profile a lot of inaccurate guessing is done by the computer.  By providing a profile, we eliminate much of the guesswork and if some guessing is required, the profile gives the computer more information to make a better informed guess than without a profile.  For instance if your third party inks tend to print colors a tiny bit more red, this information is given to the computer to adjust for the red tint when using a color profile.  In sublimation, when you buy sublimation inks from your supplier, they will normally provide you with either an ICC profile or a Power Driver (embedded color profiles are in the Power Driver).

Why is Color Management Necessary?
Without some form of color management, it would be very difficult to print anything that has color as you wouldn’t know the final result.  Without color management, it’s anyone’s guess how your image would come out on paper compared to the screen.   Color Management basically takes out the guess work in printing.  With a profile, you know that the color you are seeing on the screen is more likely to be the same color that comes out on paper or on your substrate.

How Come We Don’t Need to do This With Our OEM inks?
OEM stands for “Original Equipment Manufacturer”.  This is the standard inks that come with your printer (if you bought an Epson, the OEM inks would be the Epson brand inks).  OEM inks also require a color profile for them to print properly.  All printers with OEM inks will need a color profile and they are normally embeded in the printer driver you have to install before being able to print from your printer.  So there’s no need for a color profile for your OEM inks as your printer driver is already using one.

If you bought a sublimation package, your vendor may have taken out of the box, the OEM inks and replaced them with sublimation inks to prevent users from accidentally loading the OEM inks for their sublimation printer.

When using inks other than OEM inks such as sublimation inks, you will need a different color profile.  When you buy sublimation inks, your supplier will supply you with either a Power Driver (with embedded profiles for individual substrates) or an ICC profile.  It is recommended to use the profiles provided by your sublimation vendor to achieve predictable color results.

Other factors that affect Color
Because sublimation isn’t just printing to paper, it gets a little bit more complicated than just color profiles.  And the following factors below can also affect your color.

Heat Press Temperature and Press Time – Be sure to follow your vendors recommended settings when printing to your substrate as different variations of press time and temperature will also affect how your colors will turn out as well as the sharpness of your image.  If you are unsure, call your supplier.

Nozzle checks – If you are finding color shifts but you know that your color profile, press time and temperature settings were correct; it may be that your printer’s nozzles are not firing correctly.  With sublimation inks, we recommend doing daily nozzle checks to ensure your printer is performing normally.  And clean your printer heads if your nozzle check fails.

Choosing The Correct Color Profile – Use the correct profile!  Don’t use a profile specifically designed for a different printer than the one you are using.  For example, don’t use an Epson 1400 color profile for your Ricoh 7000 sublimation printer.

Last but not least, be sure that your color settings in your design software are correct when using your profile.  Sawgrass has very good instructions on how to set up your Power Driver or your ICC profile for your Ricoh GX7000/3300 sublimation printers.  You can download the instructions/ICC Profiles/Power Drivers here.

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