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Ink Saving Software – Improve quality and save money

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It’s 2016 and if you’re a printer or publisher who is not using an ink saving solution, you really need to ask yourself “Why?”. Saving ink is not a new concept and there have been several waves of technology and techniques over the years with each method improving upon the last. The most commonly used software technology today utilizes 4D color conversions; it’s a mature technology that has been on the market for more than 10 years. If you’ve investigated ink saving software in the past and weren’t happy with the results, it’s worth taking another look. Many printers and publishers are successfully using it and saving up to 30% on ink costs. To better understand how you can benefit from ink saving software, let’s look at how it works and what benefits it provides.
The concept behind ink saving software is very simple. Chromatic inks – cyan (C), yellow (Y), and magenta (M) – are more expensive than black (K) ink. In theory, adding equal levels of CMY create a neutral gray. Black itself also creates a neutral gray. If you can replace equal levels of the chromatic ink (CMY) with achromatic ink (K), you can effectively reduce the amount of expensive ink with less expensive black ink while maintaining the same visual output.

Now that we understand the general idea behind ink saving, let’s look at how the process has improved. The traditional method of reducing ink was to apply a CMYK to CMYK conversion. The risk with this process is maintaining the purity of colors during the conversion. An object that is 100 K could convert to a 4-color black (a build of K which has amounts of CMY in it). If this happens, you could have quality issues on press. Neither your pressmen nor your customer are going to be happy. The evolution of 4D color conversions has resolved this problem. In 4D color conversions, primary and secondary colors are maintained; it functions differently than traditional color management. This approach allows you to optimize the color space for your output device, maintain pure colors, and perform a more advanced reduction of CMY. The quality of the ink reduction and the amount of savings vary by software provider as each has their own algorithm to reduce CMY and increase K.
There are significant benefits to running ink saving software, both from a monetary and a quality standpoint. From the balance sheet perspective, you will save money. It’s not uncommon to achieve your ROI within the first year. The amount saved depends on a many variables. The list is long, but some key points are software settings, job data, and press configuration. Most ink saving solutions have different levels of ink saving from minimal to aggressive. You determine the right threshold that maintains your quality level and provides the most savings. The type of jobs you print will also impact your savings. The more process (CMYK) color, the better. Both short and long runs can save ink, so don’t worry about run length. Lastly, press configuration impacts your ability to save ink. Savings can be achieved with older mechanical presses, however greater results can be realized with a digital ink system because there is superior control over the amount of ink delivered to each zone.
Increasing the bottom line is great, but not at the expense of sacrificing quality. One of the biggest concerns of ink saving software is that you will comprise quality to save ink. If this was truly the case, there would be thousands of printers and publishers with pitchforks angrily chasing after the software suppliers. When properly implemented, ink saved files are easier to print and result in higher quality output. Here’s why:

* Increased color stability – For each printed color, pressmen need to control a variety of settings on press to achieve consistent color. When builds of C, M, Y, and K are combined, it becomes even more challenging. By reducing the amount of CMY, there is less ink, water, and solution to deal with, and therefore fewer variables to manage. This makes it easier to achieve consistent color, not only during a single or multiple press runs, but across multiple presses.


* Improved neutrals / gray balance: As mentioned earlier in the article, equal amounts of CMY theoretically create a neutral gray. In reality, printing inks aren’t pure and it’s difficult to achieve neutral gray with CMY. By reducing the chromatic inks and replacing them with K, neutrals will be easier to achieve on press because they are using K to make gray instead of combinations of CMY. 


* Reduced show-through: This refers to the condition when printed ink on the back side of a page is visible on the front side. This often occurs on thin paper stocks when there is too much ink on the page. Paper can only absorb so much ink and when there is too much ink on the page, it “shows through”. Ink saving software allows you to reduce the total amount of ink on the page (known as TAC or Total Area Coverage), thus eliminating or reducing show-through.


* Reduced ink set-off: This occurs when ink has not finished drying and comes in contact with another page (usually during folding) resulting in the unwanted transfer of ink to the second page. It creates a ghosting effect. With a decreased amount of ink and water on the page, ink saved files will dry faster in coldset printing and require less heat in heatset printing. When your output is thoroughly dry, you won’t need to worry about set-off problems. 


* More details in shadows: Ink saving software users have reported more details in the shadow areas on both coated and uncoated stocks. This is a result of the 4D color conversions reducing the TAC and amount of ink in the dark areas of the page. More enhanced details result in greater customer satisfaction. 

Are there additional benefits to incorporating ink saving software in your production workflow? Absolutely! I’ve really only touched on some highlights. There are many more advantages, from faster make-ready to improved color registration, which will boost cost savings and improve print quality. If you haven’t looked at ink saving software or you tried it in the past and weren’t happy with the results, you really should look (again). You can save money and improve print quality. Your accounting department, pressroom, and customers will appreciate it.

Feel free to share any experiences you’ve had with ink saving software or if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to answer them.

I guess this is the new 4D color Greg?

You at Drupa this year or Graph Expo?

Hey ABC,

This article is more about general ink saving software versus our new 4D color server feature. However, there are some overlaps as their built on similar technology.

Sadly I don't think I'll be going to either. OneVision will be at Drupa. Graph Expo is still TBD. Are you coming to Graph Expo?


Yep I'll be at Graph this year, it's Orlando which should be fun!
I guess Yen was involved in the 4D idea, he was talking about that 6 years ago when I was still there, it's probably a little late now unfortunately, the buzz is around Extended Gamut and fixed ink sets at the moment.

Enjoy Orlando. Better to go in fall vs summer, especially if you'll be wearing a suit. 
Regarding the color server features... so far the beta testers love it so. We've had very positive feedback.

Just a couple general question as they relates to the original post - can a printer using extended gamut or fixed ink sets utilize ink saving software? If it's a packaging printer, they're probably not using ink saving as it's not as widely used in the flex world, but curious about an offset shop that may run 4C + Spot(s).

Might be interesting to create a new thread regarding Extended Gamut and Fixed Ink sets so forum members can ask questions on it. 



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