Today’s print buyers aren’t necessarily just looking to create a brochure, or sign, or other piece that stands alone. In many, if not most, cases, print is part of a larger marketing campaign, with many different parts that might include pieces printed on different equipment and with different techniques, as well as with mobile or online components. And for a marketing campaign to be successful, it all needs to add up to one, cohesive whole.
Color is a big part building that recognition. This is especially true for brands, corporations or even universities that have built their entire image around one or two distinct colors; think Cola-Cola red or Pepsi blue. The print materials need to match that color exactly to be successful, not just get a close approximation, but for many of those specific colors, CMYK just doesn’t have the ability to be that precise.
Extended gamut printing, however, offers printers a solution. “Expanded gamut in the wide-format inkjet printing world is generally defined as the ability to more closely replicate colors outside a defined CMYK standard such as US Web Coated SWOP or GRACoL,” noted Josh Hope, Applications Product Manager for Mimaki USA. “More specifically, it means the ability to use a combination of CMYK plus special ink colors to reach a wider range of the L*a*b or RGB color spaces, Pantone color chart, or produce more vivid output than is typically possible with a four-color process.”
“There are a couple of definitions for extended gamut printing,” said William Li, the Color Technology Manager at Kodak, and the Chairman of the International Color Consortium (ICC), “both of which have a bit of currency for the way we do printing today. The most basic is to go beyond what we think of as a SWOP or a GRACoL type of color gamut, printing beyond the range of colors you would get for what we’ve come to accept as the standard. And there are a couple of approaches to allow people to do that. One that many people think of is to add more inks — a red or an orange, maybe a green or a blue or a violet — so they can print more saturated and colorful colors. Another approach, if you look at what IDEAalliance is doing, is working with the ink vendors to establish how you can do something in a similar vein and increase colorfulness of the CMYK colors.”
The ability to match Pantone colors, in particular, is a huge benefit, said Lou Prestia, Senior Product Line Manager at EFI. He noted that even 10 years ago, there were attempts to use additional color to extend the gamut, but unless it was for very specific applications, like needing to really match the blue of the ocean or the green of a jungle shot, CMYK got close enough to not make it worth the additional 50%-plus it cost to run those inks. Spot and Pantone colors, on the other hand were — and remain — a much different animal.
“Most colors are reproducible with CMYK — maybe not as bright, but most of those colors are close to the edge of the gamut and the expense absolutely wasn’t worth it to make the red roses a little redder,” said Prestia. “The real value of expanded gamut printing is that it allows me to match spot colors, such as Pantone, without mixing pantone inks. In the conventional world, if you run a job, say a catalog with a brand color, And wanted to get it perfect, you would run CMYK for process colors and the lab would mix up an ink, put it on the press and it would exactly match the Pantone book. The problem is, as a printing company, I have your job running a few hours, then another for a few hours, etc. If everyone wants those colors, I’m constantly mixing inks, constantly washing the press. The key benefit has nothing to do with more colors or brighter images; the real benefit is matching Pantone color. If I have orange and green inks, I can run all day without having the change the inks.”
“It is mostly for high-end commercial jobs with the intent of capturing someone’s attention, such as cosmetic and jewelry advertisements and high-end gifts or merchandise,” said Eric Beckmann Sr., Director of Technical Service — East, for INX International Ink Co.
But that’s changing. Even brands that wouldn’t be classified as being “high end” are starting to see the benefit in creating advertising and packaging that helps them to stand out from the crowd in an increasingly cluttered field. “In today’s world, print is more than just means to carry information, but a business’ unique opportunity to stand out and show its ‘true colors’ when reaching a target audience,” noted Jacob Shamis, Market Development Manager, HP Indigo and PageWide Web Press Solutions, HP Inc., Americas. “it’s more important than ever to make sure that color is truly represented on the final printed piece.”
“An additional use of the expanded gamut is to recreate more vivid or almost neon/fluorescent colors for dramatic, attention-getting effects,” agreed Paul Miller, World Wide Marketing Manager, iGen Product Family, Xerox Corp. “In many cases, an expanded gamut capability allows printers to take advantage of all of the benefits of digital — short runs, variable data, personalization, lower costs, eliminating warehousing, etc. — without having to manage an inventory of colors, mix colors or the hassle of cleaning.”
The Price War
Expanded gamut is increasingly offering printers a way to help their customers truly stand out from everyone else, which comes to another important point: charging for it. Print has become something of a commodity, but extended gamut capabilities and the options they open up allow printers to sell on value rather than cost. For PSPs looking to break out of the cycle of bidding for jobs at the lowest possible prices, extended gamut is a powerful tool.
“PSPs should strive to move out of providing commodity product, presenting print in the reinvented form of marketing communication that can help marketers better reach end customers,” noted Shamis.
That’s not to say that the value is just in charging more per piece. In some cases, it means landing a large brand client looking to do more than just print a single run. “Some brands may not be willing to pay more but PSPs could leverage brand accuracy with digital printing to be the differentiator that helps land business, where the volume justifies a slightly smaller margin,” stressed Miller. “I always remind people that the real driver in margin in printing is the entire workflow, not a toner or per page print cost.”
“It depends on how they do it and how they market it,” noted Li. “In some markets, its going to end up being a ‘do it or wither on the vine because everyone else is doing it’ situations. While in other cases they might be able to charge more; it all depends on how they work out the relationships with their customer base.
“For example, I know of a printer in Holland who has a marketing branch set up that does paint brochures,” he continued. “And one of the things they do is print using an expanded gamut system. They take an eye dropper and grab the expanded gamut build that matches the paint chip — they don’t use the paint, they use expanded gamut to match the paint. Then they drop the expanded gamut color into the middle of a scene in Photoshop to prove it is exactly the same color. And they are using that as part of their marketing to customers, saying ‘if we do this for you using our expanded gamut system, you’ll get brochures where there is no question it is exactly how it will look on the walls.’ And they can charge a premium for it. But in other cases, I see printers use it to replace spot colors and they are very definitive that they don’t want anyone to know about it. In their case, it helps them reduce their costs, but they don’t want their customers to know about it, otherwise end up with an uncomfortable conversation about what the job should be priced at. So it really depends on the market situation.”
For those who do want to upsell the capabilities, as Li pointed out, it’s all about being able to show the customers what the additional cost will get them. Hope agreed, noting that it’s all about showing the customer their own files with CMYK side-by-side with an extended gamut version so they can truly understand the value. “If vibrancy in bold colors are desired, a side-by-side comparison [of CMYK and CMYK+Or+Gr] will quickly show the superiority of the expanded gamut print,” Hope said. “When tonal range is most important, for smoothness in skin tones or chrome reproduction for example, CMYK + Silver + Light Black can set one shop apart from other print providers. A comparison of Pantone CMYK build vs. a Pantone solid L*a*b* build is very effective, as is an Adobe RGB 1998 color space image printed with CMYK plus Orange & Green inks and again with just CMYK inks.”
At the end of the day, expanded gamut capabilities offer printers options. Whether it means upselling print buyers on the ability to match a wider range of brand colors and produce more vibrant, eye-catching materials, or as a way to quietly reduce costs by cutting out the need to create and store custom inks, expanded gamut will help PSPs further establish themselves as the go-to shop for all of their customers’ needs.