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Opinion and Insight

Balancing Art and Science: Top 5 Best Practices for Pre-Press Post

PostAds Group and Colorhythm offer insights on best practices of photographic retouching for print

Balancing Art and Science: Top 5 Best Practices for Pre-Press Post

PostAds Group, a content production consultancy for global marketers, and Colorhythm, a San Francisco-based digital imaging and service company, jointly provide marketer-direct consulting and post production services for brands. 

In this second installment of a new series of insights, PostAds Group and Colorhythm offer insights on best practices of photographic retouching for print. Be sure to review the first installment on ecommerce here.

It sounds like a situational comedy skit but imagine if your photo retoucher had colour deficient vision – could the very best desktop technology fix their eyesight?  Answer: absolutely not.  The technology is only as good as the vision behind it.  Not that top-flight digital imaging firms are in the habit of hiring talent with colour deficiencies – but in an industry that blends art and science, critical details make all the difference.  That’s why in the world of digital imaging, there is a test known as the Farnsworth-Munsell Hue Test that serves as the industry standard by which retouchers test their colour vision, discovering even minor colour vision problems that could otherwise go unnoticed - but still cause problems.

And that is just one example of how human inputs balance against the tools of technology. As marketers consider photographic retouching best practices, here are the Top 5 things to keep in mind: 

1.  Consistency Across Channels. Top-tier retouching houses are capable of preparing images both for print and the web, making the most of your dollars and ensuring consistency across channels.  This minimises misalignments and doublework, and reduces both photography and post production costs.  A robust image publishing system generates final output for different targets without issue, and a quality post provider has expertise in the efficient creation of variations from a single source image.

2. Print Imagery Rigor. Retouching print imagery requires an understanding of the critical differences between RGB and CMYK colour spaces.  Source imagery should be corrected in an RGB space with a wide range of colours, with proper simulations of target colour spaces, to ensure the best results. This requires a fully colour managed infrastructure more sophisticated than what’s needed for ecommerce alone. Print timetables are also less forgiving than the rolling, live updates of ecommerce. Schedules are very strained, with long nights and overtime. Professional retouching firms typically offer extended hours and multiple shifts to support strenuous deadlines without impacting fixed per image pricing. Such firms can even place retouching professionals on-site, eliminating the need to ship samples and offering the opportunity for immediate feedback when needed.

3. Technology Requires IT Maintenance. Professional level colour management demands not only educating retouchers and art directors about software settings, soft proofing and colour, but to make sure lighting, lightboxes, viewing environment, and monitors are all properly set up.  There’s the further expense of purchasing and maintaining a proofing inkjet printer and RIP software, along with a computer to serve the RIP, and setting up each workstation to connect to the RIP properly. 
Monitors and proofers must be calibrated and profiled as often as every week, or at least once a month. There’s the additional expense of purchasing and maintaining a spectrophotometer and profiling software.  Monitors are specialized and more expensive because they must have sufficient gamut to display colour differences in wide colour spaces, have smooth gradations, and display the same brightness in levels and colours across the whole surface of the screen.  Thus owning this type of technology necessitates an IT department to perform regular maintenance and upgrades.

4. Press Checks. Pre-press requirements are more demanding than ecommerce because of the discrepancy between monitors and paper and the necessity to create proofs beforehand.  Simply put, mistakes are more costly in print. A press check is a round of proofing at the printing press and it’s a vital last chance to achieve color accuracy and image quality.  It often involves travel and typically the fees of a veteran imaging pro overseeing the process. Understanding the properties of the paper being used, which profile to convert to, what the proper line screen is, and what the maximum density is helps ensure the best possible outcome.  

5. Hard Proofs vs. Soft Proofs. There are reliable soft proofing platforms that permit remote review without the expense and logistics of hard proofs.  Such applications increase the speed of approvals and feedback.  They also allow easy communication across space if a provider isn’t close.  Audio/video chat, screen sharing, and online markup platforms also empower coordination. If hard proofs are desired, a firm can provide a proofing solution and absorb the complications of regular calibration, profiling, maintenance, nozzle cleaning, RIP upgrades, and the rest.

Retouching firms invest in these measures as a matter of their core business. They amortize these expenses across many clients and jobs, and these resources are more fully utilized. Core competency remains the hallmark of the “Insource vs. Outsource” debate.  Make sure when it comes to digital imagery your strategy involves trusting your work to those who balance the best of human inputs (art) and state-of-the-art technology (science).  

Genre: Strategy/Insight