Xrite and Gretag: What it Means for Printers

By Ron Ellis

A Merger of Giants (in a small industry segment)

Recently Xrite and GretagMacbeth, two longtime industry rivals merged. The two companies were fierce competitors for so long that few of us ever foresaw the merger. An equivalent in the auto industry would be the merger of Ford and General Motors. Many customers had taken sides, and had a strong preference for either GretagMacbeth or Xrite products. Many pressrooms and prepress operations filled themselves with products made exclusively by one of the two manufacturers. Now that they have merged, the aftermath has left many customers confused about the products they own, and the future of these products. (The day it happened the first people I told thought I was making it up.)

               Why the Merger?

               Will Holland, Vice President of Marketing at Xrite shared a story about how the merger came about. “In May 2005, Mike Ferrara of Xrite and Tom Vacchiano from GretagMacbeth got together in New York City as they occasionally did, to discuss the current state and future of the color industry. Over their breakfast (Mike had eggs and Tom had French toast) they came to the realization that given the direction of the industry in technology innovation, new market opportunities and high volume/low cost solutions, they should consider joining forces.  That meeting came to fruition just a bit more than a year later with the closing of the merger between the two companies.”

That amazing story shows a common thread between these two former competitors. It is clear that both companies had great technologies, and that many of these technologies and products competed directly with each other. Now that they are no longer competitors they can focus on the best products, as well as sharing their knowledge to develop newer technologies. Though the future promises to be bright for Xrite, the average user is left wondering what will happen to their current GretagMacbeth or Xrite products.

               Which Products Stay and Which are Going Away

               There are a number of relatively new products that will no longer be in production. On the Xrite side, the Pulse spectrophotometer and Pulse Color Ensembles are being discontinued, as are the Optix and Optix Pro monitor calibration products. These products were very successful, and there are a number of them in the field being used on a daily basis. Being discontinued doesn’t mean they won’t work and most RIP and color management software still has drivers for them, but they will no longer be available as a new purchase. X-Rite has stated they will service any discontinued instruments from either X-Rite or GretagMacbeth for a minimum of seven years (except in the case of parts obsolescence) to ensure our customers receive a positive return on their investment.

 On the GretagMacbeth side there products have also been discontinued, but these choices are less surprising. The Spectrolino/Spectroscan and the ICColor are being discontinued, as well as the ICFilm, SpectroMat, DensiEye 750 and the QuickDensi. Most of these are older and slower products, and for the most part they won’t be missed. I asked Will Holland from Xrite how they decided which products to keep or discontinue. “We carefully assessed our product portfolio using a short list of key decision criteria. This list included technology, feature set, cost, size of installed base and strength of product brand,” Will Holland said.  “It was a lot of work, but now we believe we have a complete line of solutions to offer to the market. We are also committed to provide practical migration paths for customers who have an installed base of any products that are being discontinued and choose to move to new hardware or software solutions.”

               If you look at the products that are left in the lineup there are some product technologies that stand out. For example the i1 products have not only been continued, but also extended. The i1 has been a very successful product, and there are more i1’s out there than any other spectrophotometer in history. (It is estimated that over 250,000 i1’s have been sold). In addition to the handheld i1, the product line has been expanded to include the i1 display, the automated IO table, and the new i1 Isis high-speed spectrophotometer that comes in both letter and 17” width versions. In addition to these products i1 spectrophotometers are beginning to have many OEM applications, such as the i1 embedded in the new HP z3100 printer. The handheld has always been a good product, but when you see how the product has been extended it makes sense.

“Eye-One is our flagship spectro product,” Will Holland of Xrite says. “It’s unbelievably reliable, stable and useable.  It makes sense for a measurement company like us to have a good technology platform like Eye-One, which is easily adaptable to our own future products as well as OEM products.  It means inter-instrument agreement and consistency for color users.”

Though it competes with the Isis, the popular and successful DTP70 is still in production. It is however the odd spectrophotometer, as all the other spectros are based on i1 technology. Also many competing pressroom densitometers are still in production as well.

One unanswered question is what will happen to the leading but redundant color management software packages. Both Xrite’s Monaco Profiler and GretagMacbeth’s ProfileMaker are leading high end color management packages. They both do the same things (also they also have slightly different feature sets so that both consultants carry both). Almost every customer who uses color management asks me what will happen to these products. The answer is not clear, but I know in my daily use I would hate to be stuck with just one of these, as they both do some things better than each other.

One of the biggest fears customers have is that there will no longer be any competition, and hence, no innovation or competitive pricing. Though there are some new products and competitors, the merger is still recent and there appears to be a lack of competitors. I asked Will Holland of Xrite about the perceived lack of competition. “There’s plenty of competition out there, Holland said. “We compete with companies who make handhelds, monitor solutions, software, provide services—just about every area of our business has competitors. You’ll also see new technology players entering our market in the coming months.  We can’t rest on our laurels.”

From the perspective of the customer, one thing hasn’t changed. The New England Xrite sales representative is still Jack Coughlin, and he offers continuity to customers who use either line of products. New England never did have a resident GretagMacbeth sales representative so in some ways GretagMacbeth customers will have even more support than they have ever had in the past. More information about the company and current products is available at http://www.xrite.com.

The merger of Xrite and GretagMacbeth has the potential to offer customers new products and technologies that may never have made it market if the companies has stayed separate and used their resources creating duplicate products. Only the future will show us what is possible for this combined company.