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Monday, April 30, 2007

That's exciting . . .

Well, maybe not for you, but as someone who's spent the last fifteen or twenty years of my professional career evaluating/processing/correcting color for the commercial printing trades, this is a big deal.

Xerox Scientist Creates 'Color Language' Making Color Matching as Easy as Describing a Color

"You shouldn't have to be a color expert to make the sky a deeper blue or add a bit of yellow to a sunset."

Anyone familiar with a box of crayons can describe the color "carnation pink" but how many people can make that color appear "correctly" on a document or on a computer display?

Xerox Corporation scientists are developing a new technology to make adjusting colors in a document as easy as simply describing the color. Users can type "make the sky a deeper blue" or give a voice command "make the background carnation pink" and the software does the work. The invention, still in the research stage, creates "color language" by translating human descriptions of color into the precise numerical codes that machines use to print color documents.

"Today, especially in the office environment, there are many non-experts who know how they would like color to appear but have no idea how to manipulate the color to get what they want," said Geoffrey Woolfe, principal scientist in the Xerox Innovation Group. "You shouldn't have to be a color expert to make the sky a deeper blue or add a bit of yellow to a sunset."

Printing tradespeople have spent the last century plus removing the subjective element from color description and reproduction. (What the hell does "carnation pink" mean, anyway? Any 5 varieties of pink carnations can have 5 different hues, or saturation values, or luminance values.) The whole problem has been that one person's "pine green" is another person's "forest green." That's why Pantone Matching System guidebooks are so frickin' expensive – they give us the tools to describe hunders or thousands of exact shades using objective language.

Color reproduction has gotten cheap and ubiquitous, but only marginally easier to reproduce correctly, over the past 40 or 50 years. Pick up any glossy magazine, such as LOOK, Sports Illustrated, or Playboy, from the late 1960s and compare it to today's equivalent. It's astonishing just how much black and white imagery was still being used in mass market publications as recently as 35 years ago. Helioklischograph scanners, first introduced in the early 1970s and followed in short order by digital scanners, proprietary digital retouching systems like the Scitex and Hell Chromacom, and more recently near universal software apps like Photoshop Elements, high quality digital cameras for under 800 bucks from Canon, Nikon, and others, and extremely good photo quality printers from Epson and HP, have all created a world in which nearly everyone with an interest in making color images can afford to do so.

Although still in the early research stage, Woolfe's invention could be applied in many different ways. Add voice commands to the technology, and one could literally "tell" a computer to "punch up the purple" in a bouquet of flowers. Or office printers could be commanded to print colors a certain way ("when printing green, make it more of a teal green"). It also would have many uses in digital printing - making it easier for print providers to communicate with their customers.

Punch up the purple? The problem is that the gamuts (that is, the total range of colors which a device is physically capable of creating) of existing color printers do not match either the gamuts of color monitors, nor of the real world. Most color reproduction is based on the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, BlacK) model. Once you gotten all the cyan and magenta in and all the yellow an dblack out, there's no more punch for the purple in the tool box, regardless of how close or far away your print is from what you see on the monitor or in your head.

I can only say i'm glad that i'm far enough along in my career that i'll be done before this technology becomes widespread. Oh, and as a matter of full disclosure, i do own a few shares in Xerox. So i hope the software is a huge success.


  • It sounds interesting, but I think the proof is in the pudding. Or to put it another way, I wouldn't quit my day job over it. :)

    By Blogger Joe, at 6:19 PM  

  • Hmmm.. I most definitely read a couple of articles about this topic and it brings me back down memory lane :)
    The question that I ask myself is what caused something like this to happen or be written??
    Xerox Encre

    By Blogger HEROIC, at 4:00 AM  

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