By Melissa Donovan
Color—consistent across multiple projects and up to the standards of the buyer—is an important consideration in any digital print environment for most applications. Vehicle wraps are no exception, whether a commercial or private vehicle, color needs to be right the first time. If it isn’t, the print provider, installer, and customer just aren’t happy.
Above: Fleet graphics are some of the more color-critical vehicle wrap applications. They require matching color across multiple vehicle types, which may mean across different media. This is a fleet of vehicles for W.B. Mason wrapped in media from 3M.
Importance of a Match
A print service provider (PSP) should strive to meet the color request of a customer no matter the job. It is important for a number of reasons, but primarily, it can help with avoiding costly rework and waste.
In general, whether the application is a vehicle wrap or a banner, successful color management builds trust between a PSP and the customer, according to Michelle Johnson, director of marketing, SA International. “Specific colors are what separate a business from a brand. PSPs should know how important branding is to that business and make color matching in all prints and films a priority. When a PSP can match colors to specific brand colors it builds trust with that customer and they are more than likely going to run to the print shop for additional print jobs in the future.”
“Recent trends in digital inkjet printing show us that buyers are becoming more aware of color standards, not just in North America, but worldwide. As a result, matching color output is integral for PSPs to meet buyer expectations. In addition, it is essential that PSPs provide the same color output consistently over time,” advises Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager, Onyx Graphics, Inc.
For example, he suggests a print buyer may request Home Depot orange for store vehicles nationwide. “Without the ability to produce accurate, repeatable results across many different types of media, the print buyer will not feel like the PSP can help maintain their brand identity and is likely to take their business elsewhere,” continues Rogers.
“If you’re running a commercial job for a national or global brand, it’s critical to color match. Target red is an excellent example of a global brand color. Color managers hitting this color daily are some of the best in the industry with sophisticated methods of color management and a commitment to control and repetition,” explains Trip Harris, business development manager, General Formulations.
Product branding guidelines must be maintained in all of a corporation’s marketing materials. This ensures consumers recognize the company. “An example of this is Coca-Cola red. We all know Coke from the red it uses. If this color is off in any way it could make the consumer question if it is the real Coca-Cola or an imitation. People often relate colors with the brand,” says Michael Aldrich, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
“The intended audience for these investments is keen to know when a color is off and this can create a distraction from the key messaging being shared. Many brands rely on unique colors as part of their identity and consistency across media and applications is essential,” agrees Ross Burnham, senior marketing manager, Mactac.
When it comes to vehicle wraps, there are a few categories, including commercial or private, one vehicle or a fleet. They can be digitally printed wraps, color change films, or a mix of both. The project might involve wrapping an entire vehicle or just a door or hood. But which deems color most critical?
Mike Mentone, senior application engineer, 3M Commercial Solutions, argues that “all wrap applications should be critical of matching color, whether panel to panel on the same side of the vehicle, or across the entire fleet.” However, he places greater importance on consistent brand color and imagery for large fleet graphics that include 100s or 1,000s of trailers or vehicles. Citing that when driving across the country or city, having a consistent color is important to brand managers.
“You may not think the color is as critical here because these vehicles are dispersed to different sites/locations during the day, but as they come back to the parking lot or warehouse where they are all together, the colors have to match, or the client will not be happy,” shares John David Kaufman, specialist, marketing senior, large format solutions marketing, Canon Solutions America.
Harris notes that if a client is a Fortune 500 fleet provider, it “would need to have a zero tolerance and perfect the color match target.” He also says professional sporting programs like the MLB, MLS, NASCAR, NFL, NHL, and PGA are also demanding in terms of color.
These wraps include brand sponsorships. “Customers investing in these platforms have high expectations in the graphics to generate interest and drive new business,” explains Burnham.
“Most color critical wraps are advertising a business, product, or service. You want to match—at the very least—the color(s) in the customers’ logos and the design following their branding guidelines. This helps them stand apart from their competition and is recognizable to the general public,” shares Aldrich.
A personal or private wrap is color sensitive. “The personal car wrap is a one-off piece of art, and the viewing distance is going to be close up. These owners will be very meticulous and even hyper critical to every detail or flaw. These jobs are in essence a rolling form of art and you cannot have an imperfection in the color,” adds Kaufman.
Vehicle wraps offer up a host of color management challenges. “They are printed in sections, seen in many different lightning conditions, and exposed to the elements and wear in varying degrees. Despite the obvious reason to get color accurate the first time such as reduced ink and media waste and to provide faster turnaround times; ensuring the color is accurate the first time for all vehicle panels means the entire vehicle looks seamless for the print buyer. Similarly, repeatable results help in the case where a print buyer needs one section replaced. The front bumper, for example, may wear faster than a rear door panel,” comments Rogers.
Detracting from Success
Alluded to in the prior paragraph, multiple factors are at play to prevent a print provider from achieving the desired color match. This starts from the initial design file and continues with the printed media and even the laminate used to protect it.
Every part of the job is variable and influences color. “Generally, your screen isn’t going to show you exactly how the print is going to turn out. So from the screen to the RIP to the printer to the ink to the media, each combination of those variables can adjust how color looks in the end,” adheres Johnson.
Prepress challenges like mis-dialed color files play a large role. “When designing, everything starts with RGB in your design software. This is because it is on a computer screen. When printing, you have converted from an RGB source to a printer running CMYK. One of the biggest hurdles is matching color RGB versus CMYK. Many times, you have problems matching those reds and blues with the printers because this is now a CMYK mixing process matching those colors as closely as possible,” suggests Aldrich.
To avoid this, many print media manufacturers have done the hard work of profiling the print media for the PSP. “These profiles can be downloaded into your RIP software for that media and all the PSP must worry about is if they are using that specific media and if their printer is calibrated to factory specifications,” continues Aldrich.
However, “when it’s time to go to press, if the print provider has downloaded the wrong ICC profile, written a sub-standard custom ICC profile, or uses non-OEM inks, these can all mess up the color match,” admits Harris.
If it’s a large request for multiple wraps or they are processed at different facilities, these graphics may be printed on more than one device, which can leave room for error. If the systems don’t communicate with each other or aren’t calibrated to produce the same output, there is a risk.
“Each time a file is interpreted by a different system, be it design software, specific color management tools, or the RIP software, data is lost in the translation. The more conversions the file has to go through before printing, the greater the chance the end product is different to what the print buyer expects. Wraps printed across devices will have different output unless the color management profile of both devices are synchronized,” shares Rogers.
The production facility also influences final color. “It is important that the print workspace be climate controlled to provide as consistent an environment as possible. Heat and cold, excessive or too little humidity can all impact the finished product,” says Harris.
Kaufman agrees that the environment plays a crticial role depending on the print technology used. Based on discussions with customers, he suggests building a Pantone chart for each printer in the shop, and then measure the temperature, humidity, and time of day when conducting testing.
Another factor is “the experience of the printer operator in knowing how to adjust settings to get the same color output factoring in those environmental impacts. Not having the correct tools to measure color can make the job next to impossible,” recommends Mentone.
“When needed, the PSP should also utilize high-quality overlaminates to add a custom finish while protecting the image from sun fade and cleaning. Laminates can meet these needs while minimizing color shift,” adds Burnham.
To meet customers’ color demands in relation to vehicle wraps, a number of tools, solutions, and materials are available. Each is a pivotal component to a vehicle wrap printer’s arsenal.
Training and tools are one way to master color, according to Harris. “Color management workflow training is offered by many software companies and from the printer manufacturers themselves. Utilizing specialized preflight procedures reduces ink and media waste if properly executed. Calibrated monitors, new Pantone color swatch books, and color spectrophotometers are incredible tools to manage accurate color workflow as well.”
“Most importantly a shop needs a spectrophotometer and to know how to use it. The ability to measure color, make media profiles, and validate and verify that you are printing to established standards is critical when color matching to brand colors and showing repeatability. It’s easier than ever to get training on media profiling, spot color matching, validation, and verification. A shop that invests in training and has a good print quality system in place is going to save time, money, ink, and media and have a competitive edge in the marketplace,” advises Mentone.
Other tools, listed by Rogers, include an easy way to create, iterate, and fine tune an ICC profile; technology to prove color accuracy, consistency, and conformance to standards; the ability to automate and synchronize color output across devices; Relative Gamut Mapping for added vibrancy for out-of-gamut colors; the ability to add saturation of vector images; integrated G7 verification; built-in ink savings without losing saturation or texture; black point compensation for increased texture of dark colors; and support for iccMAX v5 profiling.
“Poor color management leads to inconsistent results because color behaves differently across dissimiliar media and inks. By implementing best practices and standards for accurate color output through color management, PSPs can achieve reproducible results that help delight the print buyer,” he adds.
Aldrich recommends researching wrap media beforehand and making sure the media manufacturer has a profile that is downloadable to the intended RIP software. “If the manufacturer doesn’t offer a profile for that software RIP—or not at all—then the profiling should be done yourself or find a manufacturer’s media who provides these profiles for you. Profiling yourself can be done most of the time with a color spectrophotometer. These are not cheap but are great to help with matching colors, especially if customers are relying on you to match the color(s) representing their business.”
Beyond the media, it’s important to monitor environmental changes like temperature and humidity in a production facility, as that can influence the printers in question. “Keeping those in the equipment’s recommended range can help prevent colors drifting and needing frequent recalibration. Following the equipment manufacturers’ recommendations for maintenance and upkeep to keep the equipment running like new is important. Using industry standard lighting in a light booth or viewing proofs in final lighting conditions can help with color communication when needing adjustments or changes,” suggests Mentone.
While printed vehicle graphics have primarily been discussed in this article, color change wraps may also require color matching. “For color shift and specific brand color matches, companies like Mactac provide custom color match drawdowns or swatches for approval. Specialty colors for cast vinyl films are created in the lab and measured utilizing color spectrophotometers to dial in the correct combination of compounds that can be replicated in large scale production. With these formulas in hand, they can also be repeated with great accuracy,” explains Burnham.
Wrap in Color
While color is critical for most any print job, vehicle wraps in particular provide a heightened level of color expertise. Many of these wraps include brands’ logos on the graphic, or an entire wrap of just one corporate color. These colors are the essence of the brand, and an error in color can detract the consumer just as quickly as a successful graphic can attract them.
“In today’s environment, it is more important than ever to print the job right the first time. By having the correct color management tools that are malleable and easy to use to provide the same output across device type, ink, and media type are integral to producing high-quality, accurate output to happy print buyers,” concludes Rogers.
To learn more, tune into our webinar on vehicle wraps and color management, available at here.
Nov2021, Digital Output