How GRACoL® Changed Everything

By Ron Ellis

7 years with GRACoL 7 and the difference it made

GRACoL 2006 is the de facto print standard in North America as well as many other parts of the world. Before GRACoL 2006 was released, the US print industry used many custom print conditions and had virtually no standardization in place. How GRACoL  helped US printers standardize, adopt G7®, and become more efficient is an important story.

A World Without Standards

    In  2006 when the G7 based GRACoL 2006 was formally introduced, the US print market had very few standards in place. Most printing plants were aiming their proofs at their own on-site press conditions, which varied widely over time. Proof to press calibrations were frequently adjusted because of unstable press conditions, often several times a year. This inability to be repeatable made reprints or moving jobs across presses and geographies difficult and expensive. Every printing plant had their own custom proof, and they all looked different.

    In 2005 Don Hutcheson as Chair of the IDEAlliance GRACoL Committee was tasked with updating the GRACoL specification. The original GRACoL committee was formed in 1996, but the prior GRACoL specification was not widely known or used by commercial printers. The GRACoL dataset prior to GRACoL 2006 was an unpopular alternative to SWOP®. SWOP at that time was known by many printers, and used as a relative print target with density and TVI aims. The goal of the GRACoL Committee was to redefine a standard appearance or color space for commercial printing and proofing.

The initial approach Don followed was to simply follow ISO 12647-2, which used TVI (dot gain & density) methodology. The TVI method did not provide the needed colorimetric results for nor a consistent visual match.

The second approach involved replacing the ISO TVI method with Don Hutcheson’s gray balance calibration method that he had been using for a number of years, now known as G7. During a series of test pressruns around the country, observers noted that the G7 method showed great potential. Development of the G7 method continued, led by Don Hutcheson and assisted by the GRACoL committee.

Reasons for Acceptance

    In 2006, an updated GRACoL dataset was formally rolled out along with the G7 calibration method. Prior to this rollout most US printers had custom proof and press calibrations that varied widely. Within a few years most US printers, and agencies were using GRACoL 2006 as their target print condition. Several important factors led to the widespread adoption of GRACoL.

    First the GRACoL profiles and results of the G7 calibration process led to beautiful looking press sheets. The tonality and neutrals on these sheets were typically much better than printers were used to. Also the G7 calibration process let printers easily calibrate multiple presses to the same print condition, which using other methods was much more difficult and time consuming.

    Second, Agencies and creatives had often proofed to a generic standard such as SWOP. This earlier version of SWOP was often modified to compensate for paper color, so there were many interpretations of it. When GRACoL 2006 was released, proofing manufacturers included it as a default print condition. During equipment and software installations, GRACoL became the generic profile, leading to many agencies and print buyers specifying GRACoL by default. The fact that there was an easy calibration method printers could use to match these proofs led to many printing plant adoptions.

    Third, word of mouth. As printers and buyers began to have good results GRACoL and G7 became hot topics. Interest in GRACoL and G7 increased, and has continued to increase to this day. Contrary to popular belief, there was no G7 or GRACoL marketing campaign. The popularity of G7 and GRACoL were due to word of mouth, and the fact that G7 and printing to GRACoL worked so well.

How GRACoL Changed the World of Printing

    The adoption of GRACoL changed the US print industry in many ways. First it introduced US printers to standardization. Prior to GRACoL there were no common print standards in the US, which led to a great deal of waste and rework. For a printer GRACoL provides the ability to easily align all proofing and printing machines domestically and internationally to one print condition. Having a common proof and print aim makes reprinting of jobs an easier task. This sounds basic, but prior to GRACoL, press calibration was not easy, fingerprinting and readjusting the proof was more common than press calibration. This often led to print conditions that were unstable and were moving targets.

    A universal target like GRACoL also meant that customers no longer needed different proofs for each printer they worked with. No longer did they have to correct or re-process jobs when moving from one printer to another. For agencies and creative this resulted in tremendous savings by cutting out rework and color correction that had been caused by aiming at so many varied (non-standard) print conditions across the industry.

    At the same time creative and brands were benefiting from a universal target like GRACoL, they also began to benefit from shared or common visual appearance. This is a great benefit of the G7 calibration process, when used with GRACoL and virtually any CMYK printing process. If you use the same process on a flexo press, or other substrate you get something that can look remarkably close to GRACoL. The result of this was that with one GRACoL proof, a user could then print across many printing processes. For brands this is important. If a brand is going to print on paper, board, poly, canvas and many other varied substrates, they can still begin the creative process with one common proof and print aim. This is very important because the segments of the print industry with the most growth are no longer sheetfed offset, and these new segments all rely heavily on G7, and often GRACoL proofs. Nearly all digital printers aim at GRACoL.

    Another benefit of GRACoL is its alignment with international print standards. GRACoL is a valid implementation of ISO 12647-2. GRACoL 2006 looks nearly identical to the FOGRA 39 specification. It looks so close that most people cannot tell the difference. For companies printing internationally this harmonization with the standard means they can safely use GRACoL anywhere in the world, and expect prints to simulate each other.

    GRACoL and SWOP were the first colorimetric print specifications the world has ever seen. Prior to GRACoL 2006, print standards defined mechanical attributes such as TVI curves. G7 was based on LAB targets and measurements. Simply put G7 is about the grayscale of color. Users look at the right color of the grayscale, and based on results they adjust the color of the gray scale. It removed reliance on visual interpretation and moved it to color based on objective values.

As printers learned more about GRACoL they became better printers. GRACoL taught printers to pay attention to quality, and provided them a simple method to calibrate and aim presses and other CMYK print process. In the time since 1996, US printers have improved their quality and efficiency dramatically. Much of this movement towards standardization is because of GRACoL, G7, and the methods and education provided during the G7 revolution.

GRACoL Continues

GRACoL continues to evolve, with a slightly adjusted version being released in Fall of 2013. The GRACoL Committee is active continues to work on projects such as expanded gamut printing using normal CMYK inks. For those who have used GRACoL it has helped them to be more efficient and profitable. If you have not used GRACoL now is the time to learn more about it, and how you can use it to make your operation more profitable.

Ron Ellis is a Boston-based consultant specializing in color management, workflow integration, and press calibration. He has provided installation and training services to dealers, manufacturers, and content creators since 1986. An IDEAlliance G7 Expert, G7 Process Control Expert, G7 Expert Trainer and chair of the GRACoL Committee, Ron has performed hundreds of G7 calibrations. In addition to calibrating pressrooms for brands and printers, Ron also specializes in creating internal working spaces for brands and agencies that allow them to work more efficiently with vendors, saving both time and money. Ron is published frequently in industry magazines, and has produced training materials for numerous printing industry vendors and publishers. He holds a Master of Education from the University of Massachusetts. He can be contacted at 603-498-4553 or through his web site at www.ronellisconsulting.com.

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