Sublimation Colour Management

The importance of correct colours

Have you ever felt frustrated when a design you were really happy with comes out differently once printed? This can be especially irritating when it comes to sublimation or inkjet printing. Are we being naïve in presuming that an image displayed on a screen will look exactly the same once printed? Technically, yes. Monitors and printers use different methods in producing colour, and understandably, results in differences between the two.

 Why do printers and computer monitors differ in this sense?

 Display Monitors and printers do not interpret digital colour the same way. Furthermore, whilst monitors, cameras and scanners use RGB colour; for the most part printers use CMYK inks or a variation on those to produce colour.

 There are three basic methods of printing for dye sublimation: Professional design software and OEM printer drivers, RIP (raster image processing) software and Sawgrass Powerdriver [custom print driver]. While the three methods are somewhat similar, they all utilise the use of ICC Colour Profiles.

 ICC profiles are software files that ensures that when a specific colour is selected on the computer screen, the designated colour is consistently and correctly delivered on the substrate. The screen colour rarely produces exactly the same output colour. So a profile creates a link between specific screen colours and specific output colours. It doesn’t change the colour. It ensures the correct output for a given input.

In professional design software (e.g. Photoshop, Corel) the profile will be placed in the output stage of printing in the applications print dialogue window and the manufacturer’s (OEM) printer driver will be set to ‘no colour adjustment’. This setup will colour correct the image and then send the data to the printer without affecting the colours further.

 In RIP Software the ICC profile is built into the imaging configuration of the RIP for the specific printer ink and substrate combination and the the RIP’s colour engine takes care of the colour correction and output.

 Custom printer driver like the Sawgrass Power Driver is a software program that has colour correction built into the printer control system. The advantage of this method is the ability to use any design software (e.g. Paint Shop Pro, Print Shop) as well as ICC-compliant software (e.g. Photoshop, Corel), as the colour correction is performed at the printer driver stage. In addition, it’s easier and less technical to use a custom printer driver like Power Driver than it is to use an ICC profile.

 Colour profiles for sublimation have their own problems. When a printer has printed out the colour swatch for testing under normal profile creation, the profiling software knows how to adjust the colours to print out the correct ones. When a sublimation transfer is pressed onto a substrate, the ink turns into a gas and, while in this state, the colours change properties. This change can be quite dramatic (e.g. some blues look like green on paper) and it is therefore impossible to judge whether the print is correct or not until it is sublimated onto the final substrate. So, many sublimation users create custom profiles that correlate the screen colour to the final sublimated colour, rather than just to the ink colour.

 One of the biggest mistakes any sublimation user can make is to use the wrong colour mode when choosing colours. CYMK (cyan, yellow, magenta, and black) comprise the basic four colours all inkjet printers use. It is easy to make the assumption that, because the printer is using CMYK colours, a design should be created using the CMYK colour palette. If CMYK colours are used, it’s not likely the colour you are looking for to come out the same on the finished item. This is because CMYK is a set of very specific colour instructions meant primarily for the offset printing world. When we are sending prints to a desktop printer, the print driver and the design application are responsible for translating the information it receives from RGB into CMYK.

 So what colour mode should colours be chosen from then?.

 RGB (red, green, and blue) are the colours that we see on every computer monitor. There are millions colours that can be created using the RGB colour mode. RGB is used because it is how the human eye sees colour. RGB colour mode is used in many industries and all artwork for sublimation should be designed using this colour mode.

The quickest way to make sure you achieve the correct colour when designing for sublimation is to print a RGB colour chart and press this chart onto various different substrates [ t-shirt, Chromaluxe, mug etc….] Now you will have a real representation of those colours. You can now choose the colour from the printed substrate and apply it to your design knowing exactly how it will look when pressed.

 Sawgrass Power Driver inserts a RGB colour palette into the graphics program so that a user can select colours from the palette while working on images. Sublimation users can check that the correct “final” colour will be consistently produced during the sublimation production process.

 Serigraf sell a broad range of tools for sublimation printing and have experts on call for any colour management queries.