By Mike Scrutton, Director of Print Technology & Strategy, Adobe
The following is a contributed post from Datacolor partner Adobe.
Not having a common understanding can have disastrous effects. In 1999, NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter failed to reach the red planet when the designers had two different ways of expressing units of thrust. One team had designed software to use metric newtons, and a second team pounds of force. The result was a disastrous encounter with the atmosphere of Mars rather than a stable orbit. What could have been addressed by a simple conversion, or at least by a common understanding between the teams, instead ended in failure, and a massive waste of time and money. When you must fly a spacecraft hundreds of millions of miles to satisfy the customer’s requirements, you’d better get it right the first time!
Color workflow can sometimes feel like a similar problem – one where the customer or designer isn’t quite on the same page as the supplier or printer. Different terminology and perspectives can lead to unmet expectations, and multiple attempts to get things right. I’m often told by major brands that it can take up to 12 iterations to get the required results, which is extremely time-consuming given the designers and mills can be separated by continents.
One way of approaching the problem is to accurately capture the Intent of the designer – what is it they had in mind, or what do they expect to see in the execution of their work. This needs to be balanced with the Capability of the printer – what are the boundaries of what can be produced, given the parameters of the materials being used, combined with manufacturing process, price and time. These two concepts of Intent and Capability need to be in harmony if the designer is going to request something that is Achievable, and the printer is to produce something that meets the designer’s expectations at the first attempt.
The use of Color Standards is a common technique to align the worlds of the retail brand and their mill in the textile manufacturing industry. Brands work to develop a precise definition of the exact look and appearance of colors, on a range of fabrics and under several lighting conditions, and work with their suppliers to make sure they can reproduce those colors on the fabrics they intend to use for their garments.
The definition of the color standards is shared with the mill which uses them to prepare their operations to accurately reproduce (and verify) those colors. When designers are using colors for prints or solids, they can describe their intent using the agreed upon color standards, safe in the knowledge that the mill will have the capability of reproducing their designs correctly. Everyone in the supply chain, from designer to the mill, have a common understanding of the color standards.
The designer and mill may use different tools to refer to those colors. While both designer and mill might receive a physical fabric swatch or color ribbon for reference, a designer may receive a swatch palette file that they can use within Photoshop to draw or create a print, whereas the mill would receive a recipe for mixing the color and maybe spectral data for testing that the printed fabric matches the specification of the color standard.
Such solutions have proved reliable in the textile industry, at least in the production of apparel. Companies such as Color Solutions International (CSI) work with color specialists at major brands to help them select their color standards and provide services to share the necessary information with appropriate participants in the workflow. Together, they spend time testing the production processes to avoid unwanted metamerism, where a reproduced color might look different under different lighting conditions.
Importantly, Datacolor provides measuring equipment that can be used to verify that the manufactured colors meet the agreed specification.
When we at Adobe started working on our new solution, Adobe Textile Designer, we wanted to make sure that we could integrate well with these established and proven workflows. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator are widely used by designers to create prints for textile manufacture but very often we found in our research that designers were picking colors that “looked nice” on screen rather than working with colors that were achievable in textile manufacturing.
Even if those colors could conceivably be printed, it’s all too easy to stray from those agreed and reproducible colors that were set by the brand’s color specialists. For that reason, we worked closely with CSI and Datacolor to implement a solution that enables the designer to be creative using whatever colors they like, but that generates a final digital design that conforms to those “safe” colors.
In this screenshot, we see that the designer has specified their color reference library “Global 440 Palette” – this is the brand’s own library of color standards. They then use the software to specify which of the color standards they want to use to reproduce the design in their colorway. For example, the off-white color (which in Photoshop terms is referred to as RGB[253,251,236]) is to be reproduced using “Vanilla Cream 120066”.
If the user wants to make an alternate colorway, then they can use the Datacolor ColorReaderPro to measure a sample. This might be a ribbon that has been produced to match exactly the color standard or could just be a scrap of fabric or inspirational color measured on the designer’s own desk. The software will automatically offer the closest match to a color standard that’s available in the library, in this case “Poolside Aqua 0600392”.
By this method, we’re solving the Intent, Capability and Achievability requirements. Capability is expressed in the color library of standard colors loaded in Textile Designer, the Intent by the designer choosing colors from that library and the Achievability is already assured in the creation of the color library. It works well when we’re manufacturing using traditional roller or flat screen-printing processes because we’re using a common understanding – that of the color standard – and all participants in the workflow from the designer onwards though the supply chain are referring to it. Textile Designer embeds information about the color standard into the design’s digital file and conveys it downstream to manufacturing, where it can be used by the mill both to select the correct color to be applied and for quality assurance to ensure the result matches the color standard required by the brand.
Challenges for the future
As the industry explores an increasing use of digital printing technology, the challenge for textile printing is how to replicate the color reproduction in the supply chain to meet the needs and expectations of the customers. Digital textile printers don’t use inks that correspond to the color standards that a brand might refer to and that are used in their analog supply chains. Digital Textile Printers emulate those colors, using a mix of Cyan Magenta Yellow and Black, and maybe some additional colors to expand the gamut. Unfortunately, there is little or no standardization of the formulation of those colors, and different printers are often compatible with different ink-sets. Precise reproduction of color standards using digital printing remains challenging and will be one of the major factors that limits the adoption of digital textile printing.
At Adobe, we’re working with partners on solutions to these problems and how the need to capture Intent, Capability and Achievability will affect both the software solutions we provide, and the information that flows between the designer and printer. There are experiences and technologies we can leverage from the past, but to truly meet the expectations of the customers, we’re going to need to produce new tools and solutions. Designers don’t want to be locked into any a specific manufacturing process downstream and want to enjoy flexibility in their creative process. We need tools to both describe precisely what is expected as well as devices to measure what we have achieved. Together with Datacolor, Adobe is excited to be playing a role in the Textile Designer community.
Now, who wants to design the clothing for our first colony on Mars?
The Adobe Textile Design plugin for Adobe Photoshop can be found online at https://adobe.com/go/TextileDesigner
About Mike Scrutton: As part of his role as Director – Print Technology and Strategy in Adobe’s Print and Publishing Business Unit, Mike is leading a team focused on developments in the textile printing space. Mike draws on his 25+ years in printing, and extensive understanding of creative and production workflows. He routinely works with end users, brands, vendors and partners, both within Adobe and externally. Mike has been with Adobe since 1997 and has been responsible for many technologies in the field of PDF, color, and printing, including the new Adobe Textile Designer plug for Adobe Photoshop. A native of the UK, Mike currently lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Disclaimer: Adobe is a partner of Datacolor. The views, opinions and insights expressed by Datacolor guest bloggers are those of the authors. They do not inherently express the views of Datacolor and our employees.