SWOP 11: Notes from the Idea Alliance Proofing Summit

By Ron Ellis

Printers, publishers and manufacturers of proofing systems were among the hundreds of people who attended the IdeaAlliance’s recent Proofing Summit to focus primarly on the introduction of the new SWOP 11 specification.

Among the leading publishing and printing firms to attend were Quad Graphics, CondeNast, Hearst Magazines and others. Energy was also focused on proofing technology and new specifications for proofing. For readers new to the industry, SWOP stands for Specifications for Web Offset Publications. SWOP is an accepted standard in web offset publication printing for ink colors and dot gain tolerances.


A review of GRACoL and G7

During the introductory sessions, IdeaAlliance Director Dianne Kennedy explained how IdeaAlliance had worked hard during the past few years on the GRACoL 7 specification as well as the G7 methodology. Many of the printers, publishers and buyers in attendance spoke favorably of GRACoL 7 and the G7 process. (GRACoL stands for General Requirements for Applications in Commercial Offset Lithorgraphy. Like SWOP, GRACoL is a collection of general guidelines and recommendations that are used as a reference source across the industry for quality color printing.

In addition to improving quality, many attendees spoke about using G7 as a tool to level multiple presses in order to achieve similar output across pressrooms. GRACoL 7 is the updated print specification for commercial printers, and uses a new set of procedures called G7 (G for graybalance, and 7 for the seven ISO ink colors). The G7 procedure is based on graybalance rather than dot gain, density or visual appearance which was used in the past for both GRACoL 6 and SWOP. This new method had been very successful in ways that the previous methods using solid ink density and dot gain have not been. When matching GRACoL 7 there is no ‘presssheet’ to try to match, just a tight set of color metrics that indicate when the GRACoL 7 print condition has been reached.


Introducing SWOP 11

One of the highlights of the summit was the introduction of SWOP 11. Several years ago members of the SWOP committee met and re-ran the SWOP test form on press. They tried to duplicate the original SWOP results, and were unable to repeat the results that SWOP was based on. At this point they began to wonder if the current SWOP specification method was still useful. Technology had changed since the original SWOP specifications, and this no doubt had an impact on their effort to duplicate the previous SWOP conditions.

While SWOP has very successful as specification and guideline, it was a very difficult visual standard for printers and vendors to match. In the previous set of SWOP specifications vendors had wide latitude as to their version of SWOP, so that SWOP proofs from many different manufacturers often looked nothing like each other. Furthermore when using different ink sets and screening technology, simply running to density numbers with same dot gain did not guarantee the same appearance. Because of this differing appearance, they began to look to the G7 process as a way to make the new version of SWOP more accurate and easier to verify.

By using the same G7 colorimetric approach to creating the press conditions as GRACoL, they found they could produce a good sheet consistently in a variety of conditions.

The new SWOP 11 specification, which was announced at the IdeaAlliance Print Summit, is based on using the G7 technique to achieve the desired conditions. In addition to creating this new specification, vendors will now have a different certification method. Instead of being given wide latitude as to whether the proofs appear to be a SWOP 11 match, the proofs will be tested under very tight tolerances to make sure they are a colorimetric match. Under this scenario there should not be ‘multiple’ SWOP standards being provided as there were in the past. SWOP specifications were also created for both a SWOP No. 3 sheet and a No. 5 sheet to address the past issue of paper white that occurred with SWOP (The paper white was so yellow that most printers ‘turned off’ the paper white, or used a white sheet when proofing, thereby nullifying SWOP status on the proof).

These specifications will be available in March at http://www.ideaalliance.org. The International Color Consortium profiles and colorimetric datasets for these specifications are already available for download at the IdeaAlliance website.


Softproofing adoption

Softproofing was a hot topic at the Proofing Summit, although there was no consensus on when softproofing would become widely acceptable. Kin wah Lam, of Time Inc. faced numerous questions from other publishers about Time Magazine’s policy of softproofing only. Time magazine does not accept hardcopy proofs, and creates softproofs when necessary.

Many in the room asked about this, asking other large magazine publishers when they would adopt this policy. The consensus was that many agencies and art directors still require hard copy proofs to satisfy their requirements and the requirements of their customers. Once these customer driven needs were removed many attendees said they would be glad to adopt softproofing, but most of them did not see that as being a reality in the near future. Many attendees stated they saw softproofing as a way to reduce rounds of corrections, but that in the end hard copy proofs would be required until customers no longer demand hard copy proofs.


A new proof verification tool

With the emphasis upon colorimetric goals, verification of what is a good proof has become important. IdeaAlliance announced development of a proof verification tool called IdeaLink Verify to be released later this year. This tool will analyze the colorimetric values of a proof and will present a pass/fail status so that there will be no doubt as to whether a proof is compliant or not.

There are many software tools that can do this already such as Colormetrix ProofPass and others, but this tool is aimed specifically at standards such as GRACoL 7 and SWOP 11, and contains the correct metrics for these specifications. (It will also let you record your own conditions for matching.)

With this IdeaLink Verify customers can use the software as stand alone proofer verification, or can also register a specific proof with SWOP so that multiple parties (proof creator, customer, and printer) can all go online and check the condition of the proof. IdeaAlliance will host this database, and is planning in charging a small transaction fee for each proof to be registered. With this model anyone involved in the proofing process could look up the barcode information from the sticker, and check on the proof in question.


Looking ahead

IdeaAlliance has made good steps forward, with progress on GRACoL 6 and SWOP 11, as well as a new grayscale based procedure for use in reaching these specifications. Through this they have worked had to make these specifications as close to European standards as possible, and to work for unified standards.

In addition the new system certification specifications, and lab based verification methods should assure that SWOP and GRACoL certified will now match a common standard and visual look.  In the next year they will work to release new software, and improve the standards and methodology. These specifications make a big difference and it is important to be aware of them, and if possible adopt them when it makes sense.


About the author: Ron Ellis is a prepress consultant specializing in workflow training and integration. He worked in the commercial printing industry for many years and brings a strong background to all aspects of prepress. He has consulted on numerous CTP installations and he provides color management, integration, training, workflow development, and troubleshooting solutions to the graphic arts community. He can be contacted at 603-498-4553 or through his web site at www.ronellisconsulting.com.