Using A Custom Test Print To Evaluate Color Quality
On a sunny morning in October, my business partner and I arrived at the SEMA show in Las Vegas. SEMA is known for being among the largest events for automotive and related products. As color management professionals, we had started to work with more vehicle wrap clients. So the SEMA show seemed like the right place to be.
SEMA is an indoor and outdoor show. Most of the vehicle wrapping is inside the convention center; so that’s where we spent most of our morning. Later, we ventured outdoors to watch the race track events and see the collector cars.
I was interested in finding the Carroll Shelby collection. Besides being my namesake, I’ve just always liked the cars. When we found the Shelbys, I posed in the middle of two cars for a picture. It was a simple image taken with an iPhone camera. We didn’t know how important this image would become for our business.
The Color In Your Mind’s Eye
After the show, we took a closer look at the image. We realized that it was a great test image. It was a sunny day with a bright blue sky. The two cars were a darker blue and white. I was in between the cars in an orange dress. The flooring was red. I was slightly sunburnt. Best of all, the truck behind me had images in shades of gray.
What made this a great custom test image for us was that we were there that day. We knew what color the sky was. We remembered the blue and white on the cars. We knew my face was redder than normal and recalled how it contrasted with the orange dress and the red flooring. Your mind can remember colors and association between them. If I mentioned “Coca-Cola red” or “Home Depot orange,” you can picture those colors in your mind. In the same way, the colors in this image were ingrained in our minds.
The Benefit Of A Custom Test Image
You can use a test image that includes a color bar that can be measured into verification software. But there can be benefits in creating your own custom test image too. If you have customers trying to hit brand colors, you could create a test image using those colors. Then each time you run a job with those colors, you can first print that test image for comparison.
As consultants, our color management work is broad, so it is helpful to us that our test image includes many contrasts in color, skin tone and grays. We added our logo with black type over a spot in the image that was gray. If we can’t see the logo when the image is printed, we know we have a gamut compression problem.
If you’re going to create a custom test image, make sure it includes critical colors and/or colors that you have memorized with your mind’s eye. Know what the test image should look like so you can keep your color under control.
To learn more about color management, attend one of these boot camps, and then become a Digital Color Professional.
Shelby Sapusek is a color management consultant who also serves as CMO of ColorCasters LLC. She grew up in the newspaper industry; working primarily in graphic design and prepress. In her editor capacity, she was responsible for the print and color quality of several newspapers around the country. In 2011, after 17 years in the newspaper industry, she joined fellow instructor Jim Raffel in his company ColorMetrix, and later co-founded ColorCasters. Today, she works with graphic designers, end users, and manufacturers in the print industry to improve their color management skills.