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Printed colors look bad (offset print)

Community Beginner ,
Nov 20, 2021 Nov 20, 2021

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The book that I worked on for a long time just came out of the printshop (offset print). The grayscale content looks great, the book cover is not bad, too (albeit the color is not 100% the same as on the screen, but it's still nice). But the inner color content is not good. This is a huge dissapointment for me and a waste of money, too.

 

I'm not being fussy, I'm not a "drama king", I'm not the kind of person who would analyze every dot under a magnifying glass. And I'm aware that you can't get exactly the same colors on screen and in offset print. But this is not good.

 

The color is dull or washed out or lifeless, it's lacks the warmth and shineness it had on the screen. The light green turned dark green, the basic red turned darker red, the yellow became pale yellow etc...

 

Some people tell me that the problem might be in the paper (ordinary 80-gram paper was used in this case), but I find this explanation unconvincing. I printed test pages on ordinary paper on laser color printer and ink jet printer and in both cases the results looked GORGEUS.

 

I printed the test-pages at a small photocopier (xerox) shop just across the street for like 50 cents, so how come this tiny shop can give me fantastic results, while a professional printshop is not able to do that? I know that offset printing is a different thing, but still. Why it is so complicated, unpredictable and unreliable?

 

I tried to make photos of the prints so you can see them, but for some reason, the smartohone cannot properly catch all the details and all the differences.

 

The worst of all is that I'm not an expert and I don't know whom to blame now. Maybe it's no one's blame, maybe it's just a limitation of offset printing, but something is fishy here.

 

The damage is done and I can't do nothing about it now. I'm just thinking why this happened. I have some theories, but they might be wrong.

 

I exported the inner color content from Indesign with that misleading "Include All Tagged Source Profiles" setting, which, ironically, did not include any profiles. Basically, Indesign made decisions for me without my approval. This converted the color images to DeviceCMYK, so the printshop was supposed to put this undefined "beer" into the right "bottle", so it can show it's "true colors" (metaphorically speaking).

 

In the email that I sent together with the PDF, I told the printer which color space these images were created in (it was Euroscale Coated), but did the printer read that carefully, who knows. Since the images didn't have ICC profiles, maybe this confused the printer. God knows what colors they saw when they opened the file in their Adobe Acrobat. I have no clue what they were doing there, maybe they were converting from one thing to another, maybe not. It's chaos.

 

Please note that I sent the book cover with all profiles included and maybe that's why it turned out better than the inner color content. But this is just my assumption. Maybe the presence of ICC profiles or the lack thereof did not play such an important role in all this.

 

But anyway, I think that one should always include the ICC profiles (unless this creates some kind of problem), because that way you will know that you did everything properly, i.e. you sent to the printer a well-defined content. If the printer messes smth up, at least you'll know that it's not your fault, so you won't blame yourself for it.

 

I got some really useful advices on this forum, I thank everyone, esp. forum member @rob day , who seems to be one of the most informed (if not the most informed) in these matters. But unfortunately, I learned some things too late, and, unfortunately, those advices are for an ideal world, where both the designer and the printer know exactly what they are doing; where they have a perfect communication and coordination; where you have a good budget and the printer is (financially) motivated and patient enough to listen to you and to assist you; where the machines are ideally profiled/calibrated; where you have plenty of time and no deadlines; etc... etc...

 

Also, some designers can personally access the printshops and are allowed to oversee the process and to give suggestions like: "Make this darker/ lighter for me or warmer/colder for me" or smth like that... But not all of us have such opportunities. I cannot go there and boss them around.

 

In the real world, this is like a lottery, you send one thing and you just pray it turns out right, but in the end you get something completely different. I'm not competent to judge about all these things, but as an ordinary person I would like to say that this experience was an absolute nightmare. This offset tehnology is complicated, probably outdated and most importantly, unreliable. It seems to me that it didn't advance much from Gutenberg's press.

 

At some point, I had a crazy idea to spend the money not on offset printing, but on some more advanced laser color printer or a similar device (a more "sturdy" one) with which I could do everything by myself. But is there such a model that can handle large number of pages without breaking up and then how would I cut the pages and bind them together etc. Another problem is that, AFAIK, the laser printers cannot print litteraly from end to end, i.e. they add some margins of their own.

 

I even have a crazier idea: to somehow cut out the bad pages and to replace them with pages printed at that tiny photocopier shop.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 20, 2021 Nov 20, 2021

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Uncalibrated laser printers, which bake toner to the surface of the page, will tend to show more vibrant colors than an offset press. Usually it is on much better paper too, so paper could make a major difference, often making the colors appear darker.

 

How did you calibrate your monitor(s)?

What were your color settings in ID, PS, and AI?

Did you output profile include an accurate paper simulation?

How did you proof you colors in the above programs?

Did you talk to the printer about contact proofs (on a few critical pages)?

 

BTW, there are long-run laser printers that can be bound into perfect bound books. 

_____________________

 

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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Community Beginner ,
Nov 20, 2021 Nov 20, 2021

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Thank you for your reply, @Creamer Training 

 

Uncalibrated laser printers, which bake toner to the surface of the page, will tend to show more vibrant colors than an offset press.

 

I understand, but this test-page not only looks more vibrant and attractive than the offset version, but more importantly, it's an accurate representation of what I see on the screen (well, more or less accurate). Now I will not analyze each dot under a magnifying glass, but simply speaking, this is it, this is the color that I wanted. Plz note that I also tried Inkjet, which is a different thing, but again, the result looks pretty nice and accurate.

 

Usually it is on much better paper too, so paper could make a major difference, often making the colors appear darker.

 

The paper that I used on both laser and inkjet was not something special. 80 grams, A4 format, maybe a bit smoother than the paper in the book, but not shiny, glossy, photographic or something too fancy. I doubt that the paper plays a significant role in my case.

 

Somewhere in the basement, I have a very old and cheap stylus color printer that looks like a toy, but I'm sure that it can print these colors much better than this "professional" printshop.

 

Laser, inkjet, stylus... everything is better than this offset garbage that I got: the light green turned dark green, the burgundy is now almost brown, the banana yellow is pale lemon, etc. Most of the things turned out darker, but there're few that turned out lighter, it depends. But all of them turned out colder than what I expected. One way or another, it's bad.

 

How did you calibrate your monitor(s)?

 

I admited that I'm not an expert and my monitor is not professionally calibrated. But plz note that the book cover (which is also in color) turned out more or less fine, which tells me that my setup is not that bad. You noticed that I don't complain about the book cover, only about the color content inside the book.

 

The inner color pages were exported from Indesign with the HQ Print Preset and the "Include Tagged Source Profiles" setting, which, in my case, did not actually embed any profiles and which turned everything into DeviceCMYK. Maybe this is the root of the problem, maybe this caused some confusion, but I don't know. The book cover, however, was exported with all profiles included and maybe that's why it turned out better than the inner color pages. Now some might argue that the book covers are printed on a different material, this and that, but I don't know.

 

What were your color settings in ID, PS, and AI?

 

When I worked on the book and when I exported it, the ID the settings were as follows:
Edit>Color Settings:
Working Space:
RGB: sRGB...
CMYK: Euroscale Coated v2

Policies:
RGB: Preserve Profiles
CMYK: Preserve Numbers (ignore profiles) <--- Recently I changed it to Preserve profiles. But since the placed images are Euroscale anyway, it's all the same, just their profiles are honored.

Engine: Adobe (ACE)
Intent: Relative Colorimetric

 

In Photoshop, my settings are the same as in ID. I don't see something very wrong with them.

 

Did you output profile include an accurate paper simulation? How did you proof you colors in the above programs?

 

In Indesign, View>Proof Color is checked, Proof Setup is set to Document CMYK - Euroscale Coated or Working CMYK - Euroscale Coated, which is all the same. I don't know what else should I do.

 

I don't know about choosing an accurate paper simulation.

 

In Adobe Acrobat, my Color Management is set to Euroscale Coated to correspond with the color content of the book. I go to Output Preview and I choose profile simulation: Euroscale Coated. I play with the settings, like simulate paper color on/off and all that, the colors are fine. They change only if I choose a different Profile simulation (like US SWOP, FOGRA or smth), which is normal.

 

Did you talk to the printer about contact proofs (on a few critical pages)?

 

If you are a small publisher and you don't have much money, the printers are not  motivated to waste time with you, let alone sign special contracts. But tho my budget is not big, I don't think that I'm demanding too much. The whole book is not in color, just few pages, so why it was so complicated for them to print them right?

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 21, 2021 Nov 21, 2021

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I suspect you are not getting an accurate preview on your monitor or the laser printer. That doesn't mean that every job will print inaccurately, just that you can't be sure of the outcome. 

 

A "contract proof" is not a special contract--it is a color proof from the printer that the printer guarantees will be what comes off the press (within reason). Often, they can be created on the actual paper used. One doesn't have to proof every page--just pick some of the more critical pages to see how they would turn out. If the job didn't match the proofs, you can get a rerun or a discount. (With so few color pages, they could have been printed on a separate signature to save costs, so it would have been possible to view those pages before bindery.)

 

That said, you could have done everything perfectly and still get a bad print job. The printer could have farmed out some of the work--perhaps that is why some of it looks good. Smaller printer will farm out the larger bindery jobs, which would include the cover.

 

Have you discussed the issue with the printer? If so, what did they say? I don't think this is really an Adobe issue, but a hardware, workflow, and press issue. 

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 21, 2021 Nov 21, 2021

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quote

In the real world, this is like a lottery, you send one thing and you just pray it turns out right, but in the end you get something completely different.


By @Stavre0D4C

You need to get printed proofs from the printers.

Failing this - you send them a sample of the pages and the colour expected.

Otherwise, you're relying on someones interpreation, and different devices interpretation of the files.

The thing is - you can send the same file to 5 different printers and get 5 different print results.

 

I've even seen in the same printshop when they split a job over 2 machines for technical reasons and they colour shifts - even though it's in the same print shop, using the same plates, but different machines and settings and printer person in charge of the job will have different ways of handling the job.

 

Your digital prints from an office laser jet printer are handled a completely different way, in a RGB colour space probably - and offset deals with CMYK - so you're probably seeing a shift in CMYK colour spaces. Where not all colours in RGB can be reproduced in CMYK due to limitation of gamuts.

 

If you're not happy with the results - like light greens turning dark - etc. you can speak to the print shop. 

They might be accomodating enough to re-run the job, maybe for free, or maybe at a lesser cost, or maybe they will refuse.

But you can ask.

 

 

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 21, 2021 Nov 21, 2021

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Some people tell me that the problem might be in the paper (ordinary 80-gram paper was used in this case), but I find this explanation unconvincing. I printed test pages on ordinary paper on laser color printer and ink jet printer and in both cases the results looked GORGEUS.

 

It sounds like the interior printed on an uncoated sheet? If that’s the case Euroscale Coated would have to be the wrong profile, because it is for a coated sheet.

 

Also, in the Adobe print apps all color —RGB, CMYK or Lab— is converted into your system Monitor profile for display. The displayed color conversion is from the image’s source profile (e.g. AdobeRGB, US Web Coated SWOP) to the RGB Monitor profile. So, in the case of the interior, the color management setup is completely broken—both the coated output profile and the monitor display profile used for softproofing are likely wrong.

 

You are in a printflow where there is little communication, but you are making final CMYK conversions and have no idea if the printer is going to make additional conversions. If CMYK is going to be converted into a different CMYK space at output, there does need to be a profile, but why make the conversion at all? If you place RGB and export to PDF/X-4 or the [High Quality] preset, the RGB color will export with an embedded profile.

 

 

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Explorer ,
Nov 21, 2021 Nov 21, 2021

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It sounds like you are detail oriented and put a lot of effort into this book. I'm sorry that you were dissapointed with the results. Unfortuately the answer to your questions are both simple and complex.

 

- When you're professionally printing something where the color is important, ALWAYS get a hi-res proof from the printer. Your file will  potentially look different on various desktop printers. A professional offset printer spends time matching their proofs to their equipment. Even with a perfectly calibrated monitor, it may look close, but it's not a "proof" of how it will look printed. If the printer says you don't need a hi-res proof, or can't provide one, or gives you a cheesy paper printout, find a different printer. Printers have their own niches. Each will be a good fit for some projects and a bad fit for others. It will take trial and error, but find printers you can trust. 

 

- Paper is very important. Even if it's plain white, there are hundreds of types of paper. Each has a different surface, brightness, etc. If printing offset, the difference in color between the broad catagories of coated and uncoated paper can be night and day. If you're printing digitally, this is less of an issue (although it can vary between types of digital presses) since it's an entirely different process than offset.

 

- Desktop printers and corner copier shop equipment all vary as well. I have a high-end Epson printer but unless I set it properly, and depending on the paper, the same page can look wonderful or awful.

 

I hope this is helpful for any future projects. Keep at it! Years of time and experience are ultimately the only way to learn any of this (I still learn new things after many, many years). For the most part there are no simple answers, so it's very important to keep asking questions!

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Community Beginner ,
Nov 22, 2021 Nov 22, 2021

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@Eugene Tyson:
Your digital prints from an office laser jet printer are handled a completely different way, in a RGB colour space probably - and offset deals with CMYK - so you're probably seeing a shift in CMYK colour spaces. Where not all colours in RGB can be reproduced in CMYK due to limitation of gamuts.

 

Thanks for the reply. I made those test-prints from a PDF with CMYK images, not RGB images. But I understand that laser printers handle the content in a different way than offset printing.

 

I was thinking, if digital printshops can give me something similar to laser or inkjet, maybe this would be a better choice for me than offset? I would like to know the ups and downs of this method.

 

And yes, maybe my problem is related to the limitations of offset printing. But I don't think that my colors were that complex, it was just normal stuff. I think that the printer could process them better than this.

 

@rob day:

It sounds like the interior printed on an uncoated sheet? If that’s the case Euroscale Coated would have to be the wrong profile, because it is for a coated sheet.

 

What you say makes perfect sense, but I didn't choose the profile myself, the printer told me so. I was confused by this, too. Also note that they didn't require PDF/X as you would ussualy expect from a pro.

 

Maybe they don't know what they're doing, it's all dodgy. But when you are on a budget, you can't choose the best printer. And these dodgy printers are not that bad as long as you publish prose, poetry and such stuff, where the colors are not that important. The problem begins when you have a more ambitious project. They'll give you a more-less affordable price, but then you can't complain and demand too much. Forget about guarantees or re-runs unless the book turns out totally wrong.

 

As I said before, rob day, your advices are very good, but that's in an ideal world. In the real world, some of these printers don't even adhere to a particular color system and their machines are not profiled (here I wonder: do they need a certificate for this and if the answers is yes, that explains a lot). As Eugene Tyson and Creamer Training said, some printers have their own ways of doing things, some adjust the colors "on the fly", there might be inconsistencies between different machines and even different operators, etc.

 

And finally, Rob, it's ironic that the copier corner shop gave me much better results. It doesn't matter whether your monitor is calibrated or not calibrated, or whether the color profile is for coated or uncoated paper... the results are great. I should have printed the book there (sort to speak). For an indie publisher this would not be so crazy, I think.

 

I'll see what can be done about all this, but I'm not a great optimist to be honest.

 

And btw even the grayscale content did not turn out perfect. Say, you take two copies of my book and on some pages, you see that the print is stronger in the first copy and weaker and paler in the other one. Also, here and there there might be some dirt, like some ink spots or something. But fine, I will not make drama out of everything.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 22, 2021 Nov 22, 2021

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Say, you take two copies of my book and on some pages, you see that the print is stronger in the first copy and weaker and paler in the other one

 

So they are not a very good printer—the profile of the press is changing during the press run.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 22, 2021 Nov 22, 2021

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Also, randomly check the entire run. At some point, the printer will decide to start keeping the signatures off the press--even if the color is not perfected yet. They may continue adjusting as the job is run. Samples early in the run may not look that great, but later in the run, they may be adequate. OR, the samples could be bad all the way through. 

 

If the former, you can get a credit for those samples; if the latter, you should be able to get a discount off the entire run IF you can show the issue was on their end.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 22, 2021 Nov 22, 2021

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It sounds like a print on demand printer? POD printers usually use different printing methods for the cover and text pages and there’s a significant trade off in quality for the short run price.

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Community Beginner ,
Nov 22, 2021 Nov 22, 2021

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I'm not sure what information you want from this post. Nobody here knows all the details--especially with the printing company.

 

@Creamer Training, I'm sharing my experience, I'm listening to opinions and I'm replying to them, I'm thinking about solutions and I hope that all this might help someone else. I hope that you don't mind that, Creamer Training. After all, this is a forum. And, unfortunately, we can never know all the details about anything. And I'm not rushing to confront the printer, first I want to see things from all sides.

 

Also, here I'm comparing the results that I got from offset and laset/inkjet and I'm wondering would it be better if I reprint this book from scratch, but this time digitally. That's why I asked about the ups and downs of that method when compared to offset. That's one of the many informations I wanted from this post, Creamer Training.

 

I also asked here about buying a more advanced and "sturdy" laser printer and binding tools. Thank you for telling me that such devices exist, it might be an interesting thing. I even considered unbinding the book and replacing only the problematic page (if that's not too crazy). This sounds the best, but how feasible it is, I don't know. Various solutions come to mind.

 

@rob day 

It sounds like a print on demand printer?

 

No, it's not, we don't have that concept here (as far as I know). Plz note that I'm not from the US.

 

So they are not a very good printer—the profile of the press is changing during the press run.

 

I'm not an expert, you are probably right. Service in my area leaves more to be desired.

 

@Creamer Training:

 

Also, randomly check the entire run. At some point, the printer will decide to start keeping the signatures off the press--even if the color is not perfected yet. They may continue adjusting as the job is run. Samples early in the run may not look that great, but later in the run, they may be adequate. OR, the samples could be bad all the way through. 

 

If the former, you can get a credit for those samples; if the latter, you should be able to get a discount off the entire run IF you can show the issue was on their end.

Thank you for explaining the process.

 

Yes, I'm checking the entire run, i.e. every single copy. It's not that big run, so I can check everything in several days. I already noticed some error repeating itself in several copies on a same page (like ink spots or something). Then I put the books in bunches. I have a good bunch, bad bunch, medium, too pale, too dark, etc. In the end, if the percentage of defective books is not significant, I will not make drama about it. There're some books with small defects, they can pass. Here I'm talking about the grayscale content only, the color problems are a different issue.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 22, 2021 Nov 22, 2021

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No, it's not,

 

What was the print run?

 

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 22, 2021 Nov 22, 2021

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If the print run varies that much, it's most likely a press problem. After your sorting, you really need to talk with the printer. I suspect that the printer will blame the files, i.e. "That's what you sent us...". Ask them for a few contract proofs (accurate color proofs) from some of the most egregious pages at their cost. 

 

It would be interesting to find out if they farmed out the cover to another printer. 

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 22, 2021 Nov 22, 2021

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I'm not sure what information you want from this post. Nobody here knows all the details--especially with the printing company. Even a perfect setup and workflow will fail if the printer can't control their end. 

 

Have you discussed the issue with the printer and what is their response?

 

_______________________

 

There is an old saying I learned in my early days: "Good, fast, cheap--pick two."

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