Print industry’s colour crusaders

Kochi-based Future Schoolz has embarked on a journey to address colour standards in India. Aultrin Vijay speaks to Kulakkada Pradeep and Jose Thomas in Thiruvananthapuram

26 Feb 2021 | By Aultrin Vijay

Thomas (l) and Pradeep are working with international associations to address the knowledge gap in standardisation of print in India

Aultrin Vijay (AV): First of all, please tell us a bit about your association with organisations such as ISO and ICC.

Kulakkada Pradeep (KP): ISO consists of more than 165 associate members and India is also a part of it. And ISO/TC 130 deals with standards for the graphic arts industry. It is a working group intended to find new formulations, technologies and advancements to improve the quality of print. It is mostly associated with colour, technology and photography. We are also part of the same committee in International Color Consortium (ICC).

Jose Thomas (JT): ICC was founded by Adobe, Agfa Graphics, Apple, Kodak and Microsoft. It was the first organisation to speak about the importance of colour. ICC profiles are widely used in all computers and technologies today. The members of the committee include names such as Komori, Heidelberg, Konica Minolta to mention a few, apart from the founders. So, the recommendations of the committee are adopted by these members and graphic arts companies.

GWG is responsible for bringing new specifications and changes in existing PDF across the industries. Nowadays, PDF is extensively adopted as the preferred format in graphic arts, medical and many other industries. GWG members and industry adopt these standards and make it part of their software and drivers. The organisation has set of standard and test profiles, which are widely used for measuring quality in presses and publications.
CIP4 specifies the standards for the machine to digital interfacing, which is the basis for CIP3 compatibility. This standard will be the basis for the automation in future as all machines are coming with digital interfaces;
simply put, the machines are becoming smarter.

Both of us are members in various sub-committees and actively participate in the forums that discuss many crucial issues and possibilities. This is an opportunity we value the most and are very proud to represent India in these forums.

AV: What are the pressing factors that need to be discussed at BIS?
Till now, India has not submitted any suggestions or alterations to the international committee with regards to colour standards. Even countries such as Thailand have contributed with their suggestions to the committee.

AV: Why is an India-specific standard necessary?
To begin with, a country such as India has its own characteristics in terms of colour. Our country is situated near the equator. You may ask: what’s the big deal? We get direct sunlight. Are there any benefits? Yes. We are able to see a wide spectrum of colours. It is vibrant. It is a fortune few countries can only claim.

AV: What about Europe? The hues are saturated?
Most of the Europeans wear dull colours. They use grey more often than black. At the same time, grey texts could be a problem in India; it could be illegible. That means different regions conceive colours in different manners. And this is always influenced by sunlight.

AV: True.
We can consider ourselves lucky to be able to see such a wide spectrum of colours. But, in the industry, the colour standards are predominantly prescribed by Europeans. There is an average value. To assign an average value, many countries contribute their own values depending on their topography. However, we are not aware about any contributions from India in these matters.

AV: How do international standards affect India? What issues are you planning to highlight?
Consider that you are using a European machine. And you have to print a beautiful landscape or a wedding photo with vibrant colours shot in India. You will observe that the greens will have a yellowish tint. That’s because Europeans have set a standard algorithm suitable to the reality there, where trees have a yellowish tint. There are many such issues faced by our printers and no one is really aware of the root causes and there aren’t any initiatives to correct them to our advantage.

This is one of the issues faced by digital printing machines in South India. A printer was not able to replicate the vibrant colours of a wedding photo. So, the algorithm used to identify the colours will never be applicable in Indian context. Rather than solving these, somehow, many are investing in multiple options to tackle these kinds of problems. That’s a pity state for our graphic arts industry. Hence, we will be taking up such issues first to the forums where we are present.

AV: And have you?
To take up the case, we need evidence. To generate evidence, we need research facilities, lab analysis and technologies. However, the bottleneck that we are facing is the lack of facilities that offer print specific test and research in India. Any flourishing industry must have such testing labs, which India, unfortunately, doesn’t have. We are currently working with an industry association to establish such a lab in India.

TC 130: A standard missing in India
ISO/TC 130 is the technical committee for international standards within print and publishing. It addresses standardisation in the field of printing and graphic technologies. This covers all phases of the process, where graphic elements are created, manipulated, assembled, communicated, and finally delivered electronically as digital products or physically to substrates using inks, toners and other marking or functional materials, and finished as demanded by the end applications.


AV: Are print firms in India aware about these issues?
We don’t have a group or organisation to standardise colour and allied parameters. We have profitable and successful printers in India. The reason for their success is the ability to use technology. There are printers who know the issue and have appropriate solutions as well. But this knowledge is restricted within their premises. There has to be an industry-wide approach to enhance the standards, and enhance the capability of the resource pool. The brands are suffering due to this, and one of the main reasons is the absence of print experts on the brand side; printers shall compensate this gap with innovative approaches and new ideas. I doubt how much of this is realised at the ground level.

AV: How will Future Schoolz’ memberships with these organisations benefit India?
Change is happening very quickly. In order to compete in global market, we need to adapt to the change at the right pace. Countries such as China have their own research and quality control labs to test their products. But we don’t. The recent advancements in material science, automation and trends such as wide-gamut colour reproduction and indigenous innovations open a lot of opportunities for us. The transition from letterpress to offset happened in less than 30 years. That transition came with lot of challenges. Only basic transitions were done here and the knowledge transfer has never been a priority. That gap is yet to be bridged.

We are trying to address these things. And the association with GWG, CIP4, BIS and ICC is our attempt to shed light about the scenario in India.

AV: Is it doable?
Recently, a young girl from a German University made a presentation on Fogra standards with suggestions for modification. And Fogra supported the student in preparing the research paper. It was an attempt to develop new standards. But in India, such attempts have not been undertaken by our government or universities or any institutes yet. That’s a big challenge we are facing today. Our aim is to bridge this gap by working closely with industry and institutions.

AV: What are the issues that need to be addressed at war footing?
We want to share the expertise of the collaborations with international organisations to the Indian print industry. At the same time, we also want a robust standard and colour profile, which is specifically designed for the Indian industry keeping in mind the topography and geographical conditions. These are the two major aims that we have been striving to achieve with these associations in the short term.

About ICC Profiles
Knowing ICC profile is fundamental to colour management. It provides colour management systems with the information necessary to convert colour data between native device and device independent colour spaces. The specification divides colour devices into three broad classifications: input devices, display devices and output devices. For each device class, a series of algorithmic models are described, which perform the transformation between colour spaces. These models provide a range of colour quality and performance results.

AV: How is India managing its colour reproduction standards right now?
Indian printers are trying to get certified by agencies from different countries – for example, Idealliance from the US and Fogra from Germany. Most of the companies are compelled to acquire such certifications, as that could give some mileage in their new business. Unfortunately, in India, certifications are often acquired without going through the procedure strictly. And the irony is we don’t know about the mechanism to check whether the certification is valid or not. Once the certification is acquired, nobody bothers about the adherence of these standards.

AV: Has BIS set any standards in place?
BIS does not have any India-specific standards. But it is trying to bring about some standards, as it has identified many issues with regards to print and graphic arts.

AV: What are our print associations doing?
Change is happening, but we are not adapting. Although Europe has put global standards in place, they still have their own standards that are used within the continent. Intergraf has its own standards, auditors, specifications. So, any business trying to venture into Europe should adopt their standards, which is not the case in India. All printing associations shall seriously look at implementing standards and quality parameters, knowledge building and professionalism. Many smaller countries have moved ahead of India in such areas, though their print volumes are way smaller than us.

AV: Sounds grim.
As Pradeep said, academic collaboration with the industry is yet to produce results in our country. There are a lot of areas that industry and academia can work together. And there is a vacuum in establishing these connect. We are here to make this connect and collaboration.

AV: What are the challenges from automation? Is it an answer to many challenges faced by the industry?
I can tell you one thing for sure. The print segment will not exist in the same form as it is today. There is no denying that a big change is about to happen and that change will be based on technology. The more and more you adopt automation, the more problems you are likely to face in the future. Why? As and when machines become more ‘smart’, the people who run them shall also get upgraded in knowledge and intelligence. This shall be addressed with priority.

JT: People believe that if automation comes into play, human resources would most likely play a meagre role. But that’s not the case. The existing resources will need to be re-oriented and there would be a requirement for the right resources.

AV: Consider that India suggests a colour standard to ICC, and thereafter ICC releases new standards; would that be globally viable?
Suggesting a colour standard in itself a herculean task. We used to deal with brands before. Jose knows what the brands need and their challenges in relation to printing. Though brands face these issues, they are not documented or resolved proactively. There are lot of efforts required to present the data and evidences at forums. Our industry has to mature towards many best practices to achieve this.

AV: How has the lack of standards affected print in India?
KP: In
India, a majority of printers do not consider paper or paperboard as the fifth colour. As long as the substrate is not considered as a colour, there will be issues with colour management. Colour has a constant value and it is applicable globally. But we need to ask ourselves whether the value of the colour being used here is the same as the brand standards followed globally. Right colour is fundamental to print quality and that itself goes for a toss.

AV: Does this apply in mono carton production?
Oh yes. India uses duplex boards. What are the standards followed? We need to address that. We need to standardise the brightness, whiteness and density of ink in order to obtain a desired colour in the end product. This may not be a problem in other countries where there are standards in place. However, considering the Indian scenario, we need to standardise our input materials in order to obtain an output that is accepted in India as well as other countries. There are many more in our list.

AV: Has Covid-19 altered the functioning of Future Schoolz?
We used to conduct live courses. This ceased abruptly due to the lockdown. The first thing we thought of was how Covid-19 will impact India and its industries. We conducted a series of webinars based on that. Another benefit we had was that we were able to source very good resources from across the world for the online classes, eliminating the hassles of travelling.

Covid made us adopt digital classes and we have conducted many courses for print entrepreneurs and professionals during this time. Now there are lot of participants attending our courses from many parts of India, even from other countries such as UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia to name a few.

AV: What message would you like to give to the industry – or sector?
KP: Everything in this world is scientifically measurable. One centimetre is one centimetre, wherever you go. And it should be like that for colour as well. Measuring colour should be the same across the regions. Colour has various factors attached to it, such as consistency and quality. We need to understand what suits our press. It is impossible to move forward and survive with sub-standard attitude, as competition is very severe. Commercial segment is going to witness a sea change. If you are not ready to change, you will be out of business.

AV: What are your future plans?
KP: We will be focusing on 3D printing, printed electronics and smart/connected packaging segments and we will be launching some new initiatives very soon. We will take up consulting in a big way to help printers to sustain profitably by changing the way they work. Quality, standardisation, productivity, pre-press, workflow and processes are key areas and technology implementation and assuring utility of technology bought are going to be main focus area for us. We will be working on integration of technology more than any other services. We want to see Indian
printers compete and win in the global market.

Future Schoolz - At a glance
Kochi-based Future Schoolz is a finishing school that provides short term courses and training for workforce development, also consulting services for print, packaging and allied industries. It is the brainchild of Kulakkada Pradeep, a print technologist and a G7-certified colour management expert. Joining him in his journey to provide “excellence in print” is Jose Thomas, who also happens to be a print technologist with wide experience in software and advertising, working closely with reputed brands.

Future Schoolz is a member of the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA), CIP4 Organization, and an educational member of Ghent Workgroup. However, the notable ones include the honorary membership at ICC. It is worth mentioning that Future Schoolz is the only organisation representing India in the above organisations. And most recently, it has become a member of Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) – Publication and Graphic Technology Committee, and a member of technical committee at international level for ISO/TC 130 – Graphic Technology. As Pradeep says, by being associated with these organisations, one can also see that the world is looking at us – the Indian market – with lot of expectations. But at the same time, in order benefit from this, we need to uplift ourselves and standardise our processes and workflows and stay competitive and quality focused. 


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