Marco Roos: mastering the colour matrix
We speak to Color Concepts founder Marco Roos about how he created a company that sits at the cutting edge of colour profiling and print material testing.
Color Concepts founder and CEO Marco Roos believes that by combining curiosity and energy, we can figure out anything – including the vexed question of perfect colour management.
“We live in a matrix; I’m convinced of that. In the end, everything is a question of mathematics – and colour is no different. Everything is explainable,” Marco says. Marco is an industry innovator, with a background in computer science and some early practical experience in the print indudstry.
“Before starting Color Concepts, I had previously worked in various positions for a material manufacturer – always on the edge of sales, product marketing, product management and technical,” he says.
“But my interest from a young age was in computer science. I was programming and building software when I was young, and I actually did it for a living for a while. So, when large format printing arose 25 years ago, I was the only one in the company who understood computers and software, and when everything became digital, it was obvious that I was the person who was going to sell it.”
After almost a decade working as an employee, Marco decided to set out on his own as a colour consultant.
My commitment is to make these complex things as simple as possible
“It became clear to me that there is a massive gap between what the scientists in laboratories invent, and how the market makes use of it he says. “The complexity of our industry is that we buy hardware from company A, we buy software from company B, then we buy materials from company C, and all those three components need to work together to produce a result that satisfies company D – the customer. That is the problem – mixing all the technical settings and specific parameters with the application of the material. But my commitment is to make these complex things as simple as possible.
“When I started my business, I went to printshops that had a problem printing campaigns for example Heineken or G-Star or Apple – big brands. They had problems achieving the right colour or recreating the same image quality across all print technologies and all materials. I like this technical challenge, so I started setting up workflows and doing colour profiles.
“That went really well. But after a couple of years, I realised there was a limit to what I could do on my own.’
The way around this was to start his own laboratory with a small team and some in-house printers, and invite material manufacturers to send in their products so Marco and his team could start creating – and cataloguing – more ICC profiles.
Material manufacturers understood that if they don’t have profiles for their materials, it becomes really hard to support and sell them
“That was a concept that annoyed a lot of people. They said: ‘You can’t do that. If you want to do correct colour profiling you have to be at the customer’s place with their printers, materials and environment – humidity, temperature, everything else has an influence on the quality. You can’t create generic profiles and distribute them through email,’” Marco says.
“But material manufacturers understood that if they don’t have profiles for their materials, it becomes really hard to support and sell them. Plus, they didn’t have a baseline, they didn’t know what the material was capable of. If a customer said it didn’t produce the right blue – how could they defend themselves if they don’t even know what the material is supposed to look like with this particular ink and printer?
“So, the goal of colour management became less important, and it became more about supporting sales, supporting reduction of complaints and making it easier to generate peace of mind across the sales channel, with end users and material manufacturers in mind.”
The birth of ColorBase
The next step forward came in 2009. By that point, Marco had 20 printers in his lab and his staff were full-time profiling every day. Color Concepts was also giving training to material manufacturers’ employees to explain the importance of colour profiling and providing businesses with hard-copy files of their specific colour profiles. Marco came to think that there must be an easier way to do it.
“The profiles we created were very specific, not just down to the material and printer but right down to resolution, or speed or ink set. In the beginning, everyone was happy with just one profile, but we started to get very detailed questions and they wanted to diversify and have different profiles for different qualities. I realised we needed a system to store all these different profiles and where they could be searched. That was the birth of ColorBase,” Marco says.
For the end-user, it was now easy to find what you needed from a trusted source, which is the website of the material manufacturer themselves
“I normalised the database and built the whole thing with two students on a server in a closet that we were renting. Then, instead of giving firms DVDs with their profiles, I thought: why don’t we just connect them our server in the closet? We could give them their own interface that matches their existing website, but it could link to our data.
“That was the birth of what we call the profile download client, which features on numerous websites today across the industry. It allows you to set up a user profile – what printer you have, what inks you have, what software you use – and then it shows all the compatible materials from a particular manufacturer with the profiles available. And if the profiles aren’t available, you can request profiles.
“That solved three problems at once – firstly, we didn’t have to make DVDs anymore. The moment we finished a profile in our lab, it was available on the website of the manufacturer. Secondly, manufacturers didn’t have to worry about maintaining their profile download websites anymore. Thirdly, for the end-user, it was now easy to find what you needed from a trusted source, which is the website of the material manufacturer themselves.”
The power of potential
Today ColorBase has around 112,000 printshop users on the platform, with more than 1.1 million profiles. The profiles are made with ColorBase’s comprehensive database of 3,300 materials featuring between 60 and 80 data fields – including the exact dimensions, the weight, the flexibility, the colour, certificates, and tests. It also holds very detailed information about printers.
“The combination of all these factors – what they are capable of – is very important,” Marco says.
“Our mission is to make it as easy as possible for anyone out there to use profiles to get the right results. With ColorBase we’ve been storing every single parameter, every single measurement we have ever done on any material. We store that as structured data, which has resulted in a massive data lake with lots of information about anything to do with the material, and the results of the material in combination with a particular ink or a particular mode. Anything in there is searchable.”
While there is still much more to do, with ColorBase’s most recent expansion (which we look at here) Marco is seeing his dream of a fully predictable printing industry matrix come to life before his eyes.
Everything in nature and the world around us, including colour, is built according to a mathematical pattern. Colour must be predictable because it’s just mathematics
“Ten years ago, nobody believed in data in the same way. Cloud technology as we know it today didn’t exist. Data wasn’t as big as it is now. So, this is all part of a bigger vision to create the matrix behind the graphic arts industry,” Marco says.
“We are now finalising the models for large format printing, and we are expanding very rapidly into printing for rigid materials, and labels packaging, and anything that puts ink, toner or anything onto a material to get a certain result. That is the mission we are on for the next five years – to capture all that and create a digital twin of what a material is, what the result of a material with a particular ink is, and then what that material is suitable for.
“People often say they don’t know how we do the things we do. But there is a big difference between somebody saying, ‘I have no clue how you do it, it’s unbelievable’ and somebody saying, ‘I don’t know how you do it… yet.’ Everything in nature and the world around us, including colour, is built according to a mathematical pattern. Colour must be predictable because it’s just mathematics. We just don’t fully understand how colour works… yet!”
To read about ColorBase’s recent expansion with ColorBase Exchange, ColorBase Labs and ColorBase.com, please click here.
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