Why Expanded Gamut Matters - It’s About The Future of Print

Some of the most exciting Print Properties projects are about Expanded Color Gamut (ECG). The most popular of these are the 7 Color ECG project and PrintWide®. The ECG project is about standardizing expanded gamut printing, including characterization charts, methods and a target print condition. The PrintWide project is a colorspace for use with wide gamut digital print, as well as a wide gamut CMYK translation space. Both projects share something in common— they both use G7® as their calibration method and they are both targeting color spaces that are larger than standard CMYK print conditions. (Gamut is the volume of color a device can produce. Expanded gamut is defined as producing a larger gamut than a standard print condition such as GRACoL®.)

Most current print targets are based on litho print standards, the most famous being ISO 12647-2, which is the basis for GRACoL and Fogra. These color spaces are widely used, even in non-lithographic printing such as digital and flexo. Printing technology is changing, and while these standards still represent good printing, many new print technologies can print with much more color. Using standard print targets on these devices means users are printing with much less color than the device is capable of achieving. So, while print conditions based on ISO 12647-2 such as GRACoL are great and widely used, many newer print technologies can print with a lot more color. If you ask designers if they would like more color or less, most will pick more vibrant and colorful.

For packaging, printing with more color means being able to reproduce spot colors with less wash-ups. While it requires more units on the press, it can be a much more efficient and cost-effective workflow for many types of packaging. For wide-format and display printing, expanded gamut is easier, and simply loading the right profile means producing more color with no extra effort. Some parts of the display market turn off color management to get more vibrant color. For example, PrintWide users can simply load the profile and take advantage of all the color their machine has to offer. While more color can be better, looking at trends in the industry, there are other reasons expanded gamut is important. The first trend is the decline in lithography, with the exception of packaging (which is where most of the new litho presses are going and litho is actually growing). Other segments of print are rapidly moving towards digital. The second trend is seen in digital print,  where new devices tend to have larger gamuts. Examples of this are seen with the cut sheet inkjets where the inkset yields a larger gamut. Other print segments such as display, and wide format have devices that yield even larger gamuts. 

To summarize, more print is becoming digital and capable of printing with larger and more colorful gamuts. Print conditions like GRACoL and Fogra are great, but the future is looking more colorful. Because of this, we need G7 based print standards and specifications based on larger color spaces. Designers need these spaces so they can create designs that take advantage of the additional color, and printers need to be able to consistently calibrate and print to these spaces. For digital printing this is quite easy and print spaces such as PrintWide provide us a much more colorful print while maintaining continuity, due to the built in G7 gray balance and shared neutral appearance. With a PrintWide print, the neutral tones and skin colors will look similar to GRACoL, while the more saturated colors will use the full gamut, providing an extra boost in colors. Using the full gamut in digital print is easy— we just need to use the expanded gamut print condition.

As digital print proliferates and market share grows, the litho and traditional print will feel more pressure to match these expanded gamuts. Right now, litho and flexo primarily use expanded gamut to make up spot colors (saving money on makeready and wash ups). This use of expanded gamut to make up spot colors saves money for the printer but rarely offers the designer the opportunity to design using the larger and more colorful colorspace. As digital offers these more colorful design opportunities, traditional print will need to be able to keep up and match the same color. For traditional print, the Idealliance ECG color space offers designers an expanded gamut color space to design and printers a method and set of aims to calibrate to. Current traditional ECG is custom to each printing plant, while the Idealliance ECG color space offers a standard ECG color space to design and print to, much like GRACoL provided a CMYK standard color space. Standard CMYK color spaces such as GRACoL have been very successful in providing design and print a standard space to work in. The Idealliance ECG color space is designed to do the same for expanded gamut.

Expanded gamut matters because it is the future. Digital devices almost all have the ability to print in larger and more colorful color spaces. As digital dominates the industry, its color spaces will become the norm, rather than just emulating traditional print. The future is coming  and it’s going to be more colorful than ever. At the Idealliance Print Properties Committee we are working on and welcoming a more colorful world!

Also Tagged: Pre-Press
Ron Ellis G7 Expert Trainer Ron Ellis Consulting
G7 Expert Trainer, BrandQ Expert Trainer, Chair of Idealliance Print Properties Committee & Global Print Supply Chain Expert