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Quality colour from down under

Developers claim a new seven colour process will consistently enhance the print buyer¹s graphic image and give more than 2,800 special colours, reports Robin Meade

Opaltone came to Europe from Australia via the USA at the beginning of last year. European operations manager Augusto Cordero Berents says the UK is seen as an important market. “Opaltone has been proved in Europe. It is very easy, it’s very clean and is being used now in Scandinavia, Germany, Belgium and Spain. I have been getting interest in the UK as well,” he reports.

The process works with litho, screen, gravure and flexo, and while it could be used for annual reports, fine art, publications and brochures, labels and packaging is where Opaltone is aiming its efforts.

Opaltone Europe is based in Amsterdam and is part of the Brouwer Group. One of its packaging prepress companies, Neroc Prepack, had been impressed by results in the USA and wanted the licence to market the process in Europe.

The company claims that while various methods of ‘Hi-Fi’ printing exist – including seven colour printing – the new process is an automated system completed at the prepress stage with no need for difficult or messy work on-press. Opaltone software is a plug-in to Adobe Photoshop. This produces seven separations that can be assembled using existing kit, such as ArtPro, Quark XPress or Freehand, and then used throughout the remaining prepress and printing processes.

Essentially, a second layer of RGB is overprinted on CMYK, in the same way that black is overprinted on cyan, magenta and yellow in four colour printing to achieve a true black. Without black, CMY produces a muddy brown. By overprinting black, ink density is increased from 1.50 to 1.80.

Density upped

Opaltone admits this approach is nothing new and printers have long used bump or touch separations to increase saturation in four colour printing.

This may mean a fifth plate created by the printer to reinforce a specific colour. Or it can involve automated methods such as MaxCYM, printing two layers of CMYK, or Hexachrome, adding fluorescent orange and green to a modified CMYK set.

Opaltone adds process red to M+Y, process green over C+Y and process blue on C+M. The company says that when compared to CMYK alone, Opaltone increases ink density without excessive dot gain, and raises print contrast by up to 30 per cent. Using the process, the result can be achieved at the click of a button.

The original CMYK data remains intact. The output from a scanner for CMYK half tone compression of 256 levels is far above the 100 used for printing.

Opaltone says it takes the spare information to create the second RGB half tone range, effectively expanding the range from 100 to 200 grey levels. The company says this is achieved by its patented algorithm that inverts and extracts the RGB saturation data from the original CMYK file.

Subject to computing power, the process happens in seconds. The operator then opens the CMYK file in Photoshop and clicks on any or all of the red,

green or blue buttons. Photoshop automatically writes up to three extra colours as an eps or tiff, which are saved in DCS2.0 file format. Most RIPs will handle the file. Complementary screen angles are used and stochastic screening is optional.

Analogue proofing systems, such as Cromalin, Matchprint and Agfaproof produce the Opaltone colours by approximation, and K+E inks have been approved for offset proofing.

In four colour printing, adding spot colours gives up to 960 shades. Opaltone says its process offers more than 2,800 colours ­ all from seven inks. With reduced wash-ups, faster makereadies and less spot colour matching, it claims there are substantial savings.

The colour matching system comes in three swatch books, with a set each for litho and flexo. The ink supplier in Europe, pending accreditation, is Sun Chemical. Augusto Cordero Berents would not reveal the cost of licenses.

Savings

He adds: “The whole idea is to widen the colour gamut and reduce spot colour use. Our company closely examined the CMYK system and its deficiencies. Our research concluded severe market frustration. Print buyers and designers have grown tired of being told they can’t match spot colours out of CMYK. In today’s digital revolution, why mix ink in the can?

“Opaltone is bringing another standardization to print and saving money. It is not another Hexachrome. Opaltone is much more predictable from beginning to end, and it’s not so difficult. We are telling not only the suppliers, but also the print buyers. It will be led from there. Designers often have to use two or three red spot colours to achieve the result the print buyer wants. This is much cheaper.”

One UK self adhesive label printer familiar with the process believes every opportunity to improve print quality has to be examined. Gareth Farmer, managing director of TAG Labels, in the UK, uses litho, UV flexo, screen, letterpress and digital. He says print quality is coming back to the fore and customers are requesting more complex print with higher quality. TAG recently completed a job on PE with two silkscreens, foil blocking over 75 per cent of the surface, and litho printing.

He says: “It could be like Hexachrome ­ that was out for a long time before anyone had the means to use it. Since it came to Europe, Opaltone has been quiet. But, we have friends in Australia and they say there have been some good results.”

More information from Augusto Cordero Berents, Opaltone Europe – TEL: +31 20 5121640. EMAIL: europe@opaltone.com