If you print on an inkjet press you’ll know that the problem of non-uniformity or banding is a particularly difficult one to resolve. It’s especially acute on areas of flat tints with the result that printed output is unacceptable to you and to your customers. This means you either don’t run certain jobs on your inkjet press or, in some sectors of the market, are forced to sell your output at a discount.
The good news is that with PrintFlat you have a solution that is quick to deploy and cost-effective, and it can be applied to any workflow with or without a RIP. With more press vendors adopting this technology, watch our new explainer video to see how you might benefit.
In my last post I gave an introduction to halftone screening. Here, I explain where screening is performed in the workflow:
Halftone screening must always be performed after the page description language (such as PDF or PostScript) has been rendered into a raster by a RIP … at least conceptually.
In many cases it’s appropriate for the screening to be performed by that RIP, which may mean that in highly optimized systems it’s done in parallel with the final rendering of the pages, avoiding the overhead of generating an unscreened contone raster and then screening it. This usually delivers the highest throughput.
Global Graphics Software’s Harlequin RIP® is a world-leading RIP that’s used to drive some of the highest quality and highest speed digital presses today. The Harlequin RIP can apply a variety of different halftone types while rendering jobs, including Advanced Inkjet Screens™.
But an inkjet press vendor may also build their system to apply screening after the RIP, taking in an unscreened raster such as a TIFF file. This may be because:
An inkjet press vendor may already be using a RIP that doesn’t provide screening that’s high enough quality, or process fast enough, to drive their devices. In that situation it may be appropriate to use a stand-alone screening engine after that existing RIP.
To apply closed loop calibration to adjust for small variations in the tonality of the prints over time, and to do so while printing multiple copies of the same output, in other words, without the need for re-ripping that output.
When a variable data optimization technology such as Harlequin VariData™ is being used that requires multiple rasters to be recomposited after the RIP. It’s better to apply screening after that recomposition to avoid visible artifacts around some graphics caused by different halftone alignment.
To access sophisticated features that are only available in a stand-alone screening engine such as Global Graphics’ PrintFlat™ technology, which is applied in ScreenPro™.
Global Graphics Software has developed the ScreenPro stand-alone screening engine for these situations. It’s used in production to screen raster output produced using RIPs such as those from Esko, Caldera and ColorGate, as well as after Harlequin RIPs in order to access PrintFlat.
The above is an excerpt from our latest white paper: How to mitigate artifacts in high-speed inkjet printing. Download the white paper here.
Global Graphics Software’s chief screening scientist, Dr Danny Hall, discusses the emerging standards designed to objectively characterize directional print variations with particular reference to the ISO TS 18621.21 standard:
Directional printing artifacts like streaks and banding are commonly encountered problems in digital printing systems. For example, inkjet systems may produce characteristic density variations due to inconsistencies between printheads or intra-printhead variations between nozzles. When these variations have a high spatial frequency they can be characterized as causing ‘streaking’ in the direction of print, where the variations have a low spatial frequency this can cause the appearance of ‘banding’ in the direction of print.
Other causes of directional streaking and banding effects may be due, for example, to variations in the speed of printhead or substrate velocities resulting in density variations across the direction of printing. The ‘wow’ and ‘flutter’ of the digital printing age.
In the décor market there is a visual perceptual test sometimes referred to as a ‘porthole test’. In this test a human subject is presented with a print (e.g. wallpaper or floor covering) rotating slowly behind a round window under controlled viewing conditions. If they can determine the direction of printing then it test is a ‘fail’. One aspect of the porthole test is that it allows for the perceptual response differences between different printed images, for example the same press and conditions may be able to print one job containing a lot of graphical detail, but still fail on another job requiring flat tints.
There are currently emerging standards designed to objectively characterize this type of directional print variation. For example, the proposed ISO TS 18621-21 standard defines a measurement method for the evaluation of distortions in the macroscopic uniformity of printed areas that are oriented in the horizontal and/or vertical direction, like streaks and bands.
Such recognized standards could be very useful for the development and maintenance of printing systems; as well as potentially allowing for the quantitative comparison of directional quality between different printing systems.
Having an objective ISO measurement of directional uniformity would therefore be a very useful step forward and something we at Global Graphics would like to encourage.
As a first step the current ISO TS 18621-21 proposal looks good and useable and provides for a robust and simple metric that can be calculated using standard equipment.
However, in exploring the potential use of this standard we also note a few limitations which may constrain the widest possible utility for a general directional measure in printing. For example, the frequency response of the proposed measurement technique may limit the response of the measure to higher frequency ‘streaking’ artifacts, this may be inevitable with the measurement devices available but this potential spatial frequency bias needs to be clearly understood and accepted.
Another challenge in standardizing such a metric across different printing platforms is the difficulty in selecting some kind of objective color tint to measure. The ‘goodness’ of the proposed ISO TS 18621-21 metric will depend on the color tint chosen for measurement; therefore making such measurements standard between systems with different color gamuts is a difficult and perhaps impossible task. Nonetheless we would like to propose a color tint selection strategy which at least a priori could have the potential to provide a selection of standardized color tints that could be used meaningfully with ISO TS 18621-21 across a range of different printers.
The frequency response is discussed in the ISO proposal. There is a potential bias in the measuring methodology towards lower frequencies due to the suggested 6mm sampling cut-off. For example, in our experience the main frequency elements of ‘streakiness’ may not be captured by this methodology potentially resulting in a bias towards lower-frequency ‘banding’ effects. That’s not necessarily a problem, it just needs to be understood that this metric may be biased towards ‘banding’ over ‘streakiness’ determination.
Where any streakiness is random and un-correlated with lower frequency banding: changes in high frequency streakiness can be expected to show up statistically as variations at lower frequencies (white noise). However, there are currently printing compensation systems available (such as PrintFlat ™) which can correct for directional variations so that high and low frequency variations are no longer correlated in a gaussian way. In such a case the proposed metric could in the worst case be blind to any underlying changes in high frequency streakiness variation above the band-pass of the sampling system.
The proposed standard does not specify the printed color to use, which may make objective comparisons between systems based on this metric difficult and the metric itself is correlated with the underlying contrast of the tint selected. For example, one can expect an apparently better metric to result from printing a 5% tint compared to a 70% tint of the same ink. Therefore, an objective method for selecting color tints could be helpful and this is something we would like to explore.
This is an abstract from Danny’s forthcoming talk at the TAGA Annual Technical Conference, March 17 – 20, 2019 in Minneapolis, MN.
Watch our latest video showcasing our award-winning technology, ScreenPro with PrintFlat.
Global Graphics Software’s Technical Services team worked with Ellerhold AG, the leading poster printing house in Germany, to enhance the printing quality of its large-format posters. The result was 100% customer satisfaction and an increased market share of outdoor advertising products in digital printing.
The Inkjet Conference Düsseldorf has been and gone for another year and we’re already looking ahead to the 2019 events that will be organised by ESMA.
This year delegates in the audience were able to submit questions via an app for the first time. I’m grateful to the IJC for sending me the questions that we either didn’t have time to cover after my presentation, or that occurred subsequently. So here they are with my responses:
Is it possible to increase the paper diversity with software by e.g. eliminating paper related mottling?
Yes, we have yet to come across a media/ink combination ScreenPro™ will not work well with. The major artefact we correct for is mottle. This may mean you can print satisfactory results with ScreenPro on papers where the mottle was unacceptable previously, so increasing the diversity of papers that can be used.
It sounds like ScreenPro is very good at tuning a single machine. How do you also then match that output quality among several machines?
There are two technologies in ScreenPro, the screening core itself with the Advanced Inkjet Screens (AIS), and PrintFlat™ to correct for cross web banding. ScreenPro generally improves print quality and Mirror and Pearl screens (AIS) work in the majority of screening situations. PrintFlat, however, needs to be tuned to every press and if the press changes significantly over time, if a head is changed for example, it will have to be recalibrated. This calibration actually makes subsequent ink linearization and colour profiling more consistent between machines as you have removed the cross-web density fluctuations (which are machine specific) from the test charts used to generate these profiles.
“We haven’t found ink or substrate that we couldn’t print with.” Does this include functional materials, such as metals, wood, rubber? or is it limited to cmyk-like processes?
No – with ScreenPro we have only worked with CMYK-like process colours, i.e. print that is designed to be viewed with colour matching etc. ScreenPro is designed to improve image quality and appearance. I see no reason why ScreenPro would not work with functional materials but I would like to understand what problems it is trying to solve.
What is the main innovation of the screening software in terms of how it works as opposed to what it can do?
“How it works” encompasses placing the drops differently on the substrate in order to work around common inkjet artefacts. The innovation is therefore in the algorithms used to generate the screens.
When you speak frequently at industry events as I do, you can tell what resonates with your audience. So, it was very gratifying to experience the collective nodding of heads at the Inkjet Conference in Neuss, Dusseldorf this week.
I gave an on update mitigating texture artifacts on inkjet presses using halftone screens.
You see, it turns out that there is more commonality between inkjet presses than we previously thought. I’m not saying that there is no need for a custom approach, because there will always be presses with specific characteristics that will need addressing through services like our BreakThrough engineering service.
What I am saying is that we’ve discovered that what matters most is the media. And it gives rise to two distinct types of behavior.
On reasonably absorbent and/or wettable media drops tend to coalesce on the substrate surface in the direction of the substrate, causing visible streaking especially in mid and three-quarter tones. These issues are amenable to correction in a half tone.
Whereas on non-absorbent, poorly wettable media such as flexible plastics or metal, prints are characterized by a mottle effect that looks a bit like orange peel.
This effect seems to be triggered by ink shrinkage during cure. This can be corrected with a halftone with specially designed characteristics. We have one in test on real presses at the moment.
So it won’t be long now before we introduce two advanced screens for inkjet that will greatly improve quality on the majority of inkjet presses. One to counteract streaking. The other to counteract the orange peel effect. And the next project is to address non-uniformity across the web. Fixing that in software gives you the granularity to address every nozzle separately on any head/ electronics.
And for those presses aforementioned with unique properties that need special tuning? Our Chameleon design tools can create unique halftones for these cases.
Making progress in half-tone screening technology – our samples are ready to display!
We’re really looking forward to the Inkjet Conference in Düsseldorf next week. Global Graphics’ CTO, Martin Bailey, will be speaking at the conference and focusing on the problems inkjet vendors have encountered when printing on high-speed inkjets, particularly with regard to optimum image quality and droplet placement.
With this in mind, for the last few months we’ve been working with a number of inkjet press manufacturers to develop entirely new half-tone screening technology for presses that can vary the amount of ink delivered in any one location on the media. We’ve just received our sample prints to show you at the Conference and we’re really pleased with the results – you can see the improvement immediately.
The samples show typical ‘before and after’ scenarios: The ‘before’ samples are quite noisy and show mottle and puddling; the ‘after’ samples, printed with Global Graphics screening technology, show much smoother gradients where we manage the transition of droplet size in multi-level heads.
We have also prepared sample prints showing what the output looks like with no tuning on: They show noise and steps in gradients for multi-level output, then we demonstrate what happens when we use transition points of drop size when using inks such as white, orange and violet in the colour spectrum.
Look out for Martin at the Conference and drop by our table in the IJC Networking Arena to see the prints for yourself.
If you are interested in the benefits of half-tone screening on high-speed inkjets and would like to join our research programme, watch our video here for more information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNrSbb46efg.