14 Replies Latest reply on Apr 23, 2010 11:05 AM by Printer_Rick

    Anybody using CMYK workflow?


      I'm in a desperate need of a case study for my disertation on CMYK and RGB workflows.


      I'm looking for somebody (graphic designer, studio, repro house or similar practices) who uses a CMYK workflow, meaning that the images are converted to the CMYK destination profile in the beginning of the workflow before any colour correction is performed. It is very important that this CMYK profile is the known output profile that the printer requests the work to be delivered in.


      I would hugely appreciate if somebody working in such a workflow could offer me some of their time for a telephone/skype interview which I would use to write the case study. I would like to ask a few questions about how the conversion is performed, how the retouching and colour correction are done, InDesign settings, proofing, and delivery formats. If anybody could/would help me with this, please do get in touch with me here or via email: viktoriavass * gmail.com.


      Even if somebody culd name such practice if would be glad to hear about it. I know finding such a practice sounds like an easy job, but actually many of those working in CMYK perfor the conversion withouth knowing the output profile.


      I would also also be interested to hear about practices that use a medium binding workflow (converting images to destinatation profile after retouching, before placing them in the InDesign file) or an extreme late binding workflow (delivering RGB data to press, for exmple PDF/X-4.)

        • 1. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
          Rick McCleary Level 3

          Just curious...


          What are you looking to discover in your research of early-, mid-, and late-binding workflows? Will you be making a recommendation at the end?


          The reason I ask is that the entire capture-to-CMYK world is so open now that the answer to the question, "Which workflow is best?" will always be, "It depends." The "X" factor in all of this is that theoretical ideals about how to achieve best color on a press sheet are contaminated by real-world issues of knowledge (or lack thereof), experience (or lack thereof), agreement between software tools (or HUGE lack thereof), etc, etc, etc.


          I'm happy to share my thoughts with you, but first I'd like to know where you're coming from.



          • 2. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
            kjhiugiog Level 1

            Dear Rick,


            I'm not looking for a black and white answer, but I am describing both methods and comparing advantages and disadvantages for both. Of course at the end I am making a comparison and a conclusion, and I must say, so far I have more advantages on the late binding side mostly due to the flexibility of output. To support and build my observations I am going to include case studies, and so far I have some good ones: one intermediate, and two different stages of a late binding workflows.


            They have given me some very valid and passionate arguements in support of their approaches, but I wouldn't like my paper to be one-sided, and I would really like to find some more good points on why or when it is the best decision to opt for an early binding workflow. Unfortunatly I have been struggling to find practices that employ a true early binding workflow, as those that I have asked, that convert to CMYK at the begining don't yet know what the actual output profile is going to be.


            I am very interested ho hear your oppininon on the topic, especially anything in support of early binding workflows. Thanks in advance.

            • 3. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
              kjhiugiog Level 1

              This might also be relavant: I'm a garphic design student, so I am writing this paper from a designer's point of view.

              • 4. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                Rick McCleary Level 3

                kjhiugiog wrote:


                ...Unfortunatly I have been struggling to find practices that employ a true early binding workflow, as those that I have asked, that convert to CMYK at the begining don't yet know what the actual output profile is going to be...


                I think you just answered the question about why you're not finding anyone doing good quality work with an early-binding workflow: Converting without knowing the destination is a wrong first step, because the second step is always trying to repair the busted picture. And then, everything goes downhill from there.


                I appreciate your desire to offer balance in your research paper, but I think you'll have a hard time finding a good justification for an early-binding workflow for the reasons you stated above as well as elsewhere in your post.


                Early-binding (i.e., starting with CMYK and going from there) is a hold-over from the old days when everyone shot film, only the printer could afford the $150,000 drum scanner, and all the scanners output in CMYK (even though they scanned in RGB). Offset printing was a closed-loop process with the printer in control of everything. It was a great system and CMYK from the start was the right way to go. Photographers could concentrate on shooting pictures, designers could concentrate on creating layouts, and printers did the rest. (...ahhh, the good old days?...)


                The notion that, in this day and age, with the digital tools we have at our disposal, CMYK is the right way to start, is highly questionable. It hamstrings the process and limits possibilities. As you're already finding out, mid- and late-binding workflows offer the most flexibility and the highest quality (assuming there's good communication and collaboration between each of the players.)


                Of course, there are times when working exclusively in CMYK might be appropriate. For example, an illustrator may want to create his drawing in CMYK if he knows where it's going to be printed, and has to use client-defined CMYK values in order to match corporate standards. (Even in that case, the company should define their standards in L*a*b values, not CMYK values.) But I think you're talking about a more broad, general approach.


                Good luck. Let us know what you find out.


                Rick McCleary

                author, CMYK 2.0: A Cooperative Workflow for Photographers, Designers, and Printers

                Peachpit Press

                1 person found this helpful
                • 5. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                  Rick McCleary Level 3

                  kjhiugiog wrote:


                  ...I'm a garphic design student...

                  Well, hallelujah! I didn't think there was ANY discussion about this stuff in design school. Bravo.

                  What school?

                  • 6. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                    kjhiugiog Level 1

                    Thank you Rick, these are very good points, do you mind if I will refer to what you wrote in my paper?


                    I don't think that using an early binding workflow is wrong, but late and medium binding ones certainly seem to have more advantages, and those that are concious about colour management are aware of these, which may be the reason why I have difficulty finding somebody who is working in an early binding workflow. However I think there are some circumstances which can make an early binding workflow just as appropriate as others, so I haven't given up on finding one : )


                    I am a student at the University of Reading in the UK. Unfortunately in the last two years of this course (I missed the first one as I have transferred from another uni) this, or any other pre-press related topic haven't been adressed, and having studied on other design couses as well I have to agree with you: this is a neglected field in the education of graphic designers. I too think it should be given more attention to, that's why I have chosen this topic. I should be submitting it on Monday, so I can post a link to it when it's ready - or even before if you would want to read it.


                    Viktori Vass

                    • 7. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                      Rick McCleary Level 3

                      kjhiugiog wrote:


                      ...do you mind if I will refer to what you wrote in my paper?...

                      Viktori -


                      Feel free to refer to my posts. And yes, I'd love to see what you write. Good luck with the rest of the paper.


                      Rick McCleary

                      author, CMYK 2.0: A Cooperative Workflow for Photographers, Designers, and Printers

                      Peachpit Press

                      • 8. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                        Printer_Rick Level 4

                        There are valid comparisons to older early binding workflows and more modern workflows.


                        As Rick stated, years ago originals were supplied to the printer for scanning. Many times these were transparencies.


                        Transparencies are RGB images, because they require light from behind. One can draw parallels between developing transparencies and converting Camera RAW files to composite RGB files.


                        Also, even today there may be instances where you need an early binding workflow.


                        Assume a print design is very complex. There are lots of swatches used in InDesign and Illustrator. Also a wide variety of Photoshop images – some ordinary captures, others large, extremely dark images (night shots), others are black and white but need to print in all 4 colors to create depth.


                        In such a case, an artist could use a single destination CMYK color space and create multiple ICC profiles for it. The differences in the profiles would be the separation parameters. You may choose a heavy black generation for swatches and the 4C black and whites. For the night shots you may need a separate profile with a lower total ink limit, especially if it's going to be a long press run.


                        This method harkens back the past, when a scanner operator controlled CMYK parameters depending on the needs of the particular job.


                        Early binding could come in handy, because it is difficult to output one document to multiple destination ICCs at the same time.

                        • 9. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                          Rick McCleary Level 3

                          Hi, Rick.


                          Your complicated job (multiple process swatches in ID and IL, multiple types of imagery individual attention to the handling of the black plate) actually seems to argue for a mid-binding workflow. With the aim toward a single, known CMYK destination space, the RGB elements (imagery) would be individually separated using one of the family of ICC profiles you've built (light black, heavy black, etc.), then placed into the ID document.


                          I've always thought of early-binding as bringing the objects into the ID document already separated without regard for destination: a dangerous situation.


                          Perhaps it's just semantics, but I think we're advocating the same thing.


                          I've long pushed for CMYK profiles to be packaged as families. At the very least, use the same dataset to build three profiles - light, medium and heavy black. Easy to do.

                          • 10. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                            Printer_Rick Level 4

                            You are right. My example was medium binding.


                            To the original poster –your question related to an all-CMYK workflow and if it still used today. The answer is absolutely, unfortunately, yes. And quite often.


                            You also mention a purposeful conversion to a known destination as early binding. That may not qualify. The other workflow you described – conversion to a default CMYK without regard to the true destination – that’s definitely early binding.


                            This problematic approach may start with a printer, one who’s been in the trade for many years. All he knows is CMYK. He hates the “new” color management system. He hates RGB and he tells all his customers “RGB is a complete and utter no-no.”


                            After the designer hears this sort of thing, over and over again, it’s off to the CMYK workflow we go. So the capture is RGB? Well, it can’t stay that way.


                            MODE: CMYK. Which CMYK? Who knows? Who cares? The application default, yeah, that should work.


                            On to the contract proof. This is where results vary. Sometimes, the proof looks great. Hey, what do you know, the blind CMYK workflow did its thing. So the story continues.


                            Other times, well, the color is off.  Who cares that it’s because the CMYK used was not an accurate description of the print condition. Who cares if it’s because the soft proof was innacurate and a lot of unnecessary, damaging corrections were made prior to proofing. That’s just more of that color management mumbo- jumbo.


                            So now it’s CMYK correction time. Throw a little selective color adjustment on those images, the faces are too red.


                            The next job is on uncoated paper. We’ve got 340% ink coverage in a shadow area, lots of coverage. Too much coverage. Hey, no problem, the print master says. Load a luminosity selection, make a mask. Scale the mask way back with a curve, fill the layer with 200% rich black. Scale the layer opacity back a little. There. Around 260% ink now. Much, much better.


                            This is how the cycle perpetuates itself. It’s the old way, the wrong way, but it keeps getting used.


                            You should not have a hard time finding people who advocate early binding. After all it’s what printers demanded for years on end, and some of them still do. It's the same people who save images as EPS and output post script from InDesign. Archaic file formats for an archaic workflow.

                            • 11. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                              Rick McCleary Level 3

                              Rick -


                              Nice synopsis of where we are right now.

                              Sounds like a good premise for one of those dysfunctional family sitcoms.

                              • 12. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                                Printer_Rick Level 4

                                OK. Backing up a little, the OP is interested in hearing positive things about the early-binding approach. So I am willing to go out on a limb and make the case for early-binding, for the sake of argument and the OP’s dissertation.


                                So first step, I turn off color management. Any RGB file I get, the very FIRST thing I do is Mode: CMYK.


                                I’ve got my first project on the table. Ready to send it to any printer in the world.


                                Now, someone tell me what’s wrong with my workflow and I will debate your point.


                                • 13. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                                  Rick McCleary Level 3

                                  So first step, I turn off color management. Any RGB file I get, the very FIRST thing I do is Mode: CMYK.


                                  I’ve got my first project on the table. Ready to send it to any printer in the world.


                                  Walk us through that a little bit; help us follow the bouncing ball of color intent.

                                  Then I'll debate the wisdom of such an approach with you. (This'll be fun!)

                                  • 14. Re: Anybody using CMYK workflow?
                                    Printer_Rick Level 4

                                    OK. “No Color Management” settings in the US defaults to US Web Coated SWOP v2. I don’t really know that, or care, but it’s what I’m using.


                                    I calibrate my monitor, using the free calibrator that comes with my system OS. I have a decent monitor. But more importantly, I realize it’s not perfect, not by any means. And I accept that.


                                    Remember I’m a CMYK numbers guy. That’s how I edit my images – by the numbers. The monitor is an RGB device, and it’s just ball park color. I have learned never to trust it fullly.


                                    So I open all the RGBs. I’m casting the RGB profile for each to the side, even though I’m not aware of it. But that’s OK. Because I’m not staying in RGB.


                                    I get it into CMYK RIGHT away. Because that is the native color space of my print design.


                                    After Mode: CMYK, I make adjustments. Moderate adjustments, mind you. I concern myself with two things initiallly: color cast and tonal range. For the cast I pay special attention to the highlights and neutral midtones, using a selective color adjustment layer to get the desired numbers. A whites shift and neutrals shift can work wonders. It is very helpful with skintones, furniture, yuou name it. Any thing that’s supposed to be gray or silver –those are GREAT to reference. Stainlesss steel, pavement. The cyan a few clicks higher than the other two.


                                    The tonal quaility, no problem there either. Two dark? Drop the midtone. Washed out? Bump up the three quarter. Flat? S-curve –up with the 3/4, down with the 1/4. Moving the quarter down is really helpful –it removes that unwanted color component you encounter quite often.


                                    Man I am working wonders on these images.


                                    I keep things organized. All adjustments are layered, then grouped (Initial Adjustments).


                                    Now a little monkey wrench in the mix, but no worries. This job is going to the UK. What’s more it’s on an uncoated stock. I know they do things a little differently over there so I contact the printer directly. The biggest concern is always total ink limit. 260, they say.


                                    I’m at 300 now. No problem. A simple mask on a layer and I knock it down to 260. You can’t even tell.


                                    I also realize the dot gain will be a little more on uncoated stock. I make another curve layer, dropping the midtone. That’ll open things up a bit.


                                    There’s a possibility the printer will use a different standard than what I’m used to seeing in the U.S.. But that’s OK. This being my first job sent to them, I need to get contract proofs on randoms. I’ve got 200 images, so I pick 20.


                                    At this point, no guessing. I send off the images for proofing. Once I get the proofs back, then I can make more adjustments if necessary. Which will be an extremely simple process, and I’ll never need to go through it for the same printer again.


                                    What do you think so far?


                                    You’re my customer – tell me how the proofs look and we’ll go from there.