X-Rite Helps Newspapers Clean Up Images

April 10, 2002
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GRANDVILLE — Historically, photographs in newspapers — particularly big daily newspapers with high-speed presses — have tended to look as if they were etched upon soggy toast.

Part of the problem, the slightly absorbent nature of newsprint, just won't go away. And high-speed printing itself implies a certain degradation of photo quality. Nobody has liked the situation — not publishers, advertisers, editors, photographers or readers — so the industry has devoted a lot of time and money to the problem.

 

And over the decades, better presses and improved photography technology have brought about remarkable improvements in newspaper color photo reproduction. And now, thanks to X-Rite Inc., another improvement — a major one — seems to have arrived.

The company reports that it has begun customer shipments of its new auto-tracking densitometer, a sensor that rapidly measures and reports the density levels on very small color bars.

That may not sound meaningful to laymen, but to pressmen it means higher quality photos and big savings in scrap paper, ink, press time and considerable personal stress.

Now, X-Rite has manufactured densitometers for decades, but none really could help in newspaper printing because the presses' speed was so great.

But now the technology has caught up 

Duane Kluting, vice president and chief financial officer at X-Rite, said there's no way to tell at this point how well the new product will sell in this country or abroad. But he told the Business Journal that the newspaper printing industry so far seems very receptive to the new sensor.

Measuring the density of ink in a newspaper photo is critical, for to produce a full color photo on a newspaper page, that page must run through four units on a press: one for black ink, one for yellow, one for magenta and one for cyan (to laymen, that means red and blue, more or less).

And unless each unit imposes the right density of each ink to mimic the colors in the original photo, the photograph in the newspaper can look anything from muddy to downright bilious.

Years ago, once a newspaper's press run started, it was necessary for pressmen to guesstimate color adjustments by eye and by hand.

It literally meant a race. The pressman examined one of the first copies of the newspaper coming off the press. Then he cast the copy into the trash, and trotted to, say, the black ink font halfway at the other end of the press. There, he would nudge a handle on the ink font, run back to the end of the press, grab a new copy of the paper, thumb it open to the photo in question, throw that paper in the trash, run back to make another adjustment at, say, the blue font, and so forth.

Oh, and that hassle was just for one photo. If the paper held more such color photos, particularly in different sections of the publication, the work and the pressure multiplied accordingly.

Meanwhile, the press was rolling out neatly folded but useless copies of the newspaper that a helper was busily picking up by the armload and hurling into trash bins. And all the while the circulation folks hung around the doorways, scowling and drumming their fingers with ill-concealed impatience.

According to Dan Silvernail, the pressroom manager at the Grand Rapids Press, X-Rite's new densitometer delivers on its promise. The Press served as a test site for the product. "Our press operators loved it," Silvernail said. He termed it "a great feature that will save time in production."

The densitometer reads not the photos themselves, but a narrow color bar with densities identical to that of the photos. If the densitometer detects, say, too much magenta density or too little yellow, the pressmen can make exact color corrections to bring those densities into line. Then, when they eyeball the product coming off the press, the color should be as near perfection as is possible on newsprint.

Duane Kluting, X-Rite's vice president and chief financial officer, said there's no way to tell at this point what the sale of the new product will mean to X-Rite.

He said the potential market in this country alone is huge, and that — with its long association with the print industry — X-Rite is head and shoulders above its American competitors.

But he told the Business Journal that the newspaper printing industry so far seems very receptive to the device. In fact, Kluting explained that some manufacturers of newspaper printing presses are integrating the densitometer into their new products. In high-end models, he said, the densitometer and its X-Rite-written software automatically can adjust ink densities without a pressman having to lift more than a finger.

Kluting explained that the densitometers come in a number of configurations and that their prices can range from $13,000 to as high as $25,000.

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