Spectraproof is a new groundbreaking Softproofing application, based on spectral color prediction.

The idea to replace intermediate hardcopy proofs to speed up approval processes, is nothing new. More than 15 years ago, it was predicted, that Softproofing, or monitor-based proofing, would eventually replace hardcopy proofs entirely. In reality, this has never been the case. So why has the market never adopted this technology, despite all the advantages? 

One reason, of course has been the color space and display quality of the monitors in the market. With the availability of inexpensive highly accurate flat panels at very reasonable prices, there is no reason, why a file should not be displayed with contract-proof color accuracy. In fact, most monitors are actually more accurate and have a better color space than even the latest inkjet printer, given the right color management software. The quality and price of a monitor is, however, only one aspect of softproofing. There are numerous factors influencing the accuracy of a softproof, such as room lighting, surrounding reflective surfaces (wall color behind the viewer, color of the desk, and yes, even the garment the person in wearing). The hurdles to establish a reliable and accurate softproof environment were so high, that most companies quickly abandoned the idea and went back to paper based proofing, also in the light of inkjet printers and consumables become cheaper and cheaper. One other important aspect when comparing a softproof and a, for instance, press sheet or hardcopy proof is the physical nature, one is reflective, the other light emitting. Especially an inexperienced user has a hard time to relate one to the other. Typically, a viewing cabinet or light booth, although it has the right color temperature, is typically much brighter and affected by ambient light.

Initially, softproofing systems were primarily intended for magazine productions, where a lot of pages had to be produced and approved in a short period of time. Since nowadays common standards like Fogra 39 or GraCol are fully established in the industry, the need to produce a proof for each and every page has much diminished. One area, where highly-accurate proofing is still a must, is packaging. Contrary to commercial printing, there is little to no standardization, a lot of different print processes, spot or brand colors, and subsequent finishings. Here, a softproof system capable of accurately visualizing artwork, would be a key factor to reduce cost and streamline processes. 

However, a calibrated wide-gamut monitor is no guarantee that colors will be displayed accurately. In essence, there is no difference to a hardcopy inkjet proofer. A calibrated proofer with no color management does not automatically produce an accurate proof. 

The current pandemic situation has tremendously revealed the need for accurate instant proofs at any place and time. With many people, including decision making brand owners, working from home, there is a distinctive need for a quick versatile and inexpensive system, which can even be used from home, easy to operate, not taking up too much space.

Spectraproof has been developed with all these requirements of the packaging industry in mind. It is a system combining hard- and software elements, making it the ideal solution for the task.

Apart from the software, the system includes an LED flat panel light source, which is directly built into the hood of the monitor. The hood with light source can easily be mounted on any suitable monitor, like for instance the Eizo CS series. Prices for these monitors are typically as low as 800 €.

There are two versions of the LED panel available. One version features three pre-programmed settings to emit 5000, 5500 and 6500 K light with a luminance of 500 Kelvin, i.e. standard viewing conditions. The light panel will automatically recalibrate itself. There is another version available, which can be calibrated for instance to other spectral conditions, like 5000, 6500 K or US store lighting (CWF, TL84). Several presets can be stored in the controller.

To calibrate the monitor display, standard applications can be used, like Profilmaker, Eizo ColorNavigator etc. As a measuring tool, any standard spectrophotometer is suitable (IOnePro, IOne Display etc.) Most suitable is the X-Rite IOne Display. The calibration, which takes only a minute or two, has to be renewed approx. ever 200 operating hours or so.

When the Spectraproof application is started, it will first ask the operator to verify the monitor condition. After putting the measuring device in the center of the monitor, it will flash color patches, which will be read by the spectrophotometer. The result is then displayed by the software (typically an average DE of below 1 and a max. around 2-3 DE). 

When a PDF file is loaded, the file is being analyzed and all separations will be displayed. The software uses a database of around 20,000 spectral color definitions (Pantone etc.). Any unknown color separation will be highlighted with a question mark. The user can directly within the application either add a LAB definition or measure a color with a spectro, adding it to the database. The software supports all common devices. There is also the possibility to add colors separately in volume, i.e. adding a number of colors to the database. The most accurate color definition is the CxF/4 definition, as it will also describe the opacity and overprint behavior of a color. CxF/4 spectral color data can be added to the Spectraproof library, using the CGATS definition.

Then, the ICC output profile is selected from the database. This can be an industry standard like ISOcoated or a custom press profile (fingerprint). By changing the target profile, jobs can be instantly viewed under different printing conditions. 

The substrate coloration or paper white, is either taken from the output condition or can be selected individually. An unlimited number of substrates can be measured and added to the system. This way, it is for instance very easy to display how a different batch of a substrate like GD2 carton will affect the result. One unique feature of the application is the ability to not only visualize the coloration of the substrate, but also its visual properties like carton fiber, corrugated flutes or reflective surfaces. Other unique features are the ability to assign varying opacities to multiple white separations, showing the result of spot-varnish overprints and the simulation of cold/hot foiling.

When comparing the softproof to a hardcopy sample or press sheet, the print is simply held underneath the monitor hood, which provides standard light and viewing conditions, thus making it very easy to compare. This system provides a self-contained viewing station right on the desktop, eliminating a separate bulky viewing booth etc. making it also ideal for home office environments.

To verify the job, the process and spot colors are again flashed and measured, so that a certification report can be generated at the touch of a button. The report does contain all necessary information, like date and time, viewing condition, DE of the job, operating system, user name and company etc.

Jobs can also be exported. The software is using a custom container format, which includes the file as such, and all necessary parameters, like output profile, substrate coloration, spectral color data etc. including the quality report. This container in turn can then be imported again for instance on the receiving side (brand owner etc.) . On the importing side, another quality report is generated, which now includes all parameters on the sending and receiving side, which can easily be compared, in other words, it is documented that both users see exactly the same on both sides, making approval chain management processes easy and fast.