Understanding substrate performance with material data collection
Color Concepts founder Marco Roos explains how his company’s work on ISO standards for materials and its growing ColorBase platform is revolutionising the print industry’s understanding of materials.
Marco Roos at Color Concepts is helping to produce an ISO international standard by which materials for print can be measured and classified.
“If you want to make a change – if you want to transform something that is rigid and old-fashioned – you need a standard. Standardising the way you communicate is the very first thing; you need to make sure that we all talk the same language. That is where our ISO standard (ISO/ IEC 22954) comes into relevance as a data model,” Marco says.
“We created a data model to describe materials – it’s like an ontology. We went to work with the ISO committee in Japan and joined together with a large group of bigger companies to standardise the way that we talk about materials. That is now in its final stage, and it will become an official ISO standard sometime soon.
“It means that a big part of the data standard that we developed internally will be public for any company that builds software or hardware that uses materials in this way. So, whether it’s ERP [enterprise resource planning] e-commerce, or RIP software, or printer firmware that needs to load material data or which needs to find new material information, if manufacturers develop their dataset according to the ISO standard, it will be one-to-one compatible with all the information we already have. This drastically speeds up all kinds of integrations and all kinds of collaborations.”
Marco has direct experience when it comes to understanding the practical value of material data collection and cross-brand collaboration. For almost 10 years, Color Concepts has been working with HP on its Media Certification Programme for Latex Inks.
“It’s a two-part process: 50% physical and 50% collection of information such as what the material is made of, where it sells, where it is available, what it is suitable for, what its application is. We examine the material at one of our two laboratories with a series of tests – scratch and rub resistance, water solubility, cracking, cracking under tension and folding. Every single test we do and certification we run goes into our ColorBase database and is saved as structured data.”
This digital pipeline runs all the way from R&D labs where they invent things to print buyers, such as interior architects, people looking for inspiration
ColorBase already maps the connections between print materials, inks, printers, and software, but a recent programme of new launches will see it take on a more enhanced role. In effect, ColorBase will act as the hub of a future where not just colour correction but all types of relevant material performance data is stored. For a man who believes in the idea of a reality matrix, Marco has conceptualised this new ColorBase as being a “digital pipeline”.
“This pipeline runs all the way from R&D labs, where they invent things, to print buyers, such as interior architects, people looking for inspiration. ColorBase allows third parties, such as manufacturers, to connect to our pipeline to post accurate material information from our database on their systems. They can connect through an API and pull that information. In some cases, we might ask them to send information back to enrich our data, but we always control the flow of data.”
To maintain that control and ensure the success of the ColorBase pipeline Marco and his team have identified three critically important areas where they seek to provide innovative solutions.
“The first one is called ColorBase Exchange: a digital procurement platform for resellers in the large format printing industry, which can buy from virtually any manufacturer connected to our platform,” he says. “All these manufacturers post what their anticipated production is, or what their capacity is in production, and or what they have in stock and any registered reseller on our platform can buy with one click. We take care of the rest: we take care of the financial transactions; we take care of the logistics if they want.
“Via our digital interface, resellers have access to structured information and structured data. From one click you have all the information for prices for webshops, ERP, anything. One connection to us and you’re connected to virtually anybody who makes materials. It cuts out a lot of work without cutting out any players in the market. Our goal is not to remove resellers – they are critical for this ecosystem and do so much more than just moving boxes – we just want to make life easier by effectively using data. ColorBase Exchange is free to use – you only pay us a commission when you sell something. It’s very transparent, very clear, very easy to understand.”
The second area of interest refers to third parties sending information back down the pipeline.
“It is absolutely critical that we ramp up the number of tests, the number of profiles and the amount of data that we create or collect with a material or a profile. That is why we have created ColorBase Labs,” Marco says.
“This is a cloud-based tool that helps printer manufacturers, material manufacturers and also larger printshops to structure their testing and even collaborate on testing programmes. Some print manufacturers produce inks that are not truly understood by material manufacturers. On the other hand, there are materials that are not truly understood by printer manufacturers. We’ve always been in the middle, but there is so much that we can do, we just don’t have enough capacity.
If a material manufacturer wants to work with a specific printer manufacturer, they can share each other’s programs and perform testing in their own R&D labs, in their own environment, with their own expertise to see if they meet each other’s standards
“ColorBase Labs is basically the logic and the services side of Color Concepts in a box. We have developed testing programmes that we will publish in ColorBase Labs, and then there might be testing programmes that the printer or material manufacturers wants to create that can also be put on the platform and shared. If a material manufacturer wants to work with a specific printer manufacturer, they can share each other’s programs and perform testing in their own R&D labs, in their own environment, with their own expertise to see if they meet each other’s standards.
“This will lead to a better mutual understanding of requirements. It will drastically speed up the amount of data that we generate, which we need for the digital pipeline to function.”
The third and final area of focus is what Marco calls “the exhaust”, where everything comes together, and the fumes leave the system: ColorBase.com. ColorBase.com features easy online access to the world’s largest database of print profiles.
“ColorBase.com is a platform focused on printshops, where you can download 1.1 million profiles involving 3,300 print materials, and search for any combination,” he says. “We are working really hard with a separate development team on that platform, and we are launching a whole scheme of tools, such as colour management tools, profiling tools, tools to match different printers in your workflow. For some manufacturers, we have already built conversion tools to go from an old ink to a new ink or one printer to another printer to get the same results.
“That platform will also allow material manufacturers to advertise their materials to target groups, because we know exactly what printers our registered users have and what inks they use, and what software and what materials they use most. So, as well as offering easy solutions for website visitors it also allows us to offer very effective targeted marketing and advertising. We have profiles in place, and profiles are a very effective magnet.”
You can download 1.1 million profiles involving 3,300 print materials, and search for any combination
While ColorBase’s overarching approach to colour correction, and machine, ink, software and material compatibility may be one of the most ambitious projects in the print industry, Marco believes it’s just the latest step in print innovation.
“Our industry has been incredibly innovative over the past 30 years. But the people who started that innovation are getting old. We need pioneers of the future, who are going to bring different thinking, new technologies.”
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