Matching colour: An Alice in the Wonderland experience

One of the nice things about being unwell is, you have time to potter about at home. Rummaging through discarded documents and old chits. I came across an old diary with my notes pencilled in.

02 Aug 2014 | By Ramu Ramanathan

It was a session on colour proofing systems by Suresh Gupta in 2002. Today, Suresh Gupta is in the news for the sale of 18.84 lakh equity shares on 21 February 2014. As Paper Products' Indian promoter, Gupta, sold 3.01% equity, of Paper Products in an off-market transaction to Huhtavefa BV through a negotiated private placement at an aggregate amount of Rs 35.81 crore.

But that is now, my notes are about Paper Products in 2002.

Even then, Paper Products offered a portfolio of packaging solutions that included flexible packaging, labeling technologies and specialised cartons.

According to my notes, Suresh Gupta, said three things in 2002:

- There are no global standards that can attain accuracy in digital proofing for packaging

- Pantone with 60 pages are too few; and the shades are very different for coated films and uncoated foils

- Matching colour is an Alice in the Wonderland experience; since none of the three process magenta shades tend to match; nor do the inks from two different companies; nor do two Pantone books.

Alice in the Wonderland of colour
In this children's book by Lewis Carroll, which is a little gem, we have the instance of the red queen, who is running (almost all the time) yet getting no where.

And yet, the Red Queen keeps hollering "Faster! Faster!". The curious thing is, Alice (the heroine of the book) feel she cannot run any faster, but she does not have the energy to say so. 

Meanwhile the truly brilliant touch by Carroll is, the trees and landscape never changed their places. No matter how fast the Red Queen and Alice run. 

This is the message for colour management. In today's environment, continual striving keeps you merely on par with your competition. Getting ahead takes a massive effort. 

Companies can be so intent on getting colour right that sometimes they fail to see they are running in the wrong direction.

Colour is madness
My notes from 2002 have a lot of tech-tips on effect of substrate and ink on colour proofing; ink colour gamuts; impact of pigments on smoothness and compressibility; about the right opacity, gloss and reflectance and the I word - inkjet - which I heard for the first time.
Studying the notes reminded me of the conversation between Alice and the Cat in Alice in the Wonderland. The reason, I recall the Vote of Thanks for the event in 2002. It concluded with the presenter saying, "if you love colour, then you are totally mad."
- `But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
- `Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: `we're all mad here. I'm mad.  You're mad.'
- `How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
- `You must be,' said the Cat, `or you wouldn't have come here.'
- Alice didn't think that proved it at all; however, she went on` And how do you know that you're mad?'
- `To begin with,' said the Cat, `a dog's not mad.  You grant that?'
- `I suppose so,' said Alice.
- `Well, then,' the Cat went on, `you see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased.  Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry.  Therefore I'm mad.'
Not much has changed in the colour world since 2002.