I wish I had a dime – alright, a dollar – for every time a digital press operator has asked: “How often should I calibrate my device?” I wouldn’t quite be a millionaire, but I’d certainly be buying a few more caffé lattes in place of my usual double-double.
What is meant by “calibration”?
When I talk about calibration, I’m referring to the process of linearizing, reading density and fine-tuning the printer to meet a particular specification – such as G7. Calibration should be performed a minimum of once per day before production starts, this much we can all agree on. However, many would argue that calibration should be performed throughout the day to ensure consistent print quality, while other times printers are simply forced to perform multiple calibrations to meet customer needs or as a result of exogenous factors. Scenarios that require recalibration vary but can include: a customer’s need for accurate colour reproduction, a device’s tendency to drift over the course of a shift or sometimes over the course of a single print run, or even just environmental factors like temperature and humidity.
Despite the need for recalibration, the realities of life on the production floor often get in the way of or slow down this process – rush jobs, schedule crunches, operator capabilities, etc. – leading to inconsistencies and loss of standards.
Simply put – calibration takes time, and time is precious. It can involve a lot of time-consuming steps and requires the attention and knowledge of a skilled operator to perform correctly.
Isn’t one calibration good enough?
You might be asking yourself: “If it’s such a difficult process, why should I calibrate more often than when it is absolutely necessary?” Well, there are a number of reasons. Repeat customers who may not demand totally accurate colour may still spot differences between a job you ran earlier for them, causing them to ask you to redo a job so that they match. Beyond just disappointing a customer, this costs you the time and money it takes to redo a job. And repeat customers who demand perfect colour may not accept a job until it is 100% accurate, leading to your shop missing a deadline and possibly losing that customer. In short – skipping calibration can have a direct effect on your bottom line.
Is there a solution?
Luckily, there is. Digital press manufacturers have made a concerted effort in recent years to simplify the entire calibration process. Some manufacturers offer a hybrid system – which requires moderate operator intervention – while others offer fully automated systems which require little to no operator involvement. Digital presses with these capabilities have internal spectrophotometers and/or scanners which constantly measure and feed information back to the device in real-time. Konica Minolta’s version of such a device, the Intelligent Quality Optimizer IQ-501, performs the entire calibration process automatically at the push of a button.
In addition to an initial calibration, these systems often perform measurements through the length of a print run to ensure colour accuracy is maintained from sheet-to-sheet. For example, through a continuous feedback loop the IQ-501 measures each printed sheet, makes any necessary colour adjustments on the fly without operator intervention, and ensures every page is virtually identical – from the very first to the very last.
Further, this technology has advanced to the point where front-to-back registration for 2-sided or duplex printing is also made easy. Scanners look for misalignment, skew or rotation issues and channel these readings back to the press instantly, and then make automatic corrections if any issues are spotted. Operators can view these automatic adjustments in real time as the job is printed.
The next time you’re looking to purchase or upgrade a digital press, make sure to ask about options for automatic calibration. This technology has been designed to save you time and money, and it’s sure to keep your clients happy with consistent colour quality across every print.