Colour management in Japan: progress for the sake of survival

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The standardisation of the graphic chain is inevitable. Whilst some countries, such as Japan, have their own interpretations and adopt traditional methods, some players are working towards improving and standardising colour management practices. This is certainly true of Yukiko Inoue, who became General Manager of Altavia Japan in 2016.

 

What was your background prior to joining Altavia Japan?

My career began in Japan, where I worked in design development for the American and European markets at Hello Kitty. This gave me the opportunity to discover the world of graphic art and familiarise myself with the way in which the Japanese people work. I then went on to spend 15 years in France, where I got to know more about European design and layout methods.

 

 

And it turns out that the Japanese and European methods are really quite different…

Absolutely! Just a few years ago, before I met Hervé Lyaudet, who was Workflow and Colour Manager at Altavia Paris, I didn’t think there was anything to rival the Japanese way of working. After all, they are renowned for their reliability and discipline. But I wasn’t yet familiar with the secrets of colour management!

 

The method they tend to use in Japan, namely the press-proof method (whereby the proof is made directly on the production machine, the offset press) is hardly ever used in Europe any more. The advantage of the press-proof as often used in Japan is that the printing process doesn’t have to be particularly well fine-tuned since it is the data that is modified to achieve the correct outcome. Imagine asking a musician to play a piece of music on an instrument that’s out of tune and him deciding to change the notes on the score to make it sound right rather than simply tuning up his instrument! That’s a good representation of the problems we encounter.

 

In Europe, we prefer to adjust the presses in accordance with ISO recommendations rather than modify the data, essentially tuning our instruments rather than changing the score. We also have a clear advantage in the form of the FOGRA, of which the Altavia group is a member.

 

 

How would you illustrate the difference between the methods, for example?

In Europe, printers are adjusted in accordance with an ISO standard and process (PSO), the aim being to standardise printing machines against the same target. This makes it possible to simulate what the combination of offset presses will produce by means of digital proofing, among other things. This being the case, it is possible to achieve a good-quality print using the same file, regardless of the target country. The end result is a lot more unpredictable in Japan, despite the existence of the Japan Color certification system. It is virtually impossible to correctly print an image that has come from Europe without it requiring a great deal of manual intervention, which presents major problems in terms of cost and production time. We in Europe have ultimately switched from a subjective colour control system (the human eye) to an objective system (colour measurement device) – something that is very rarely used in Japan.

 

 

What weaknesses do you see in the Japanese method?

Firstly, the quality that it produces is questionable. Images for international clients are shot and approved in the home country and the aim is, of course, to reproduce the selected colour, but owing to the methods used in Japan (which involve little or no colour management) this requires a great deal of time (effectively altering the score rather than the instrument). Furthermore, images are always viewed under very low-quality, non-ISO lighting, which distorts perception. For us as Europeans, these methods are not considered viable. What’s more, they have a significant environmental impact, not to mention the fact that they are time-consuming and expensive.

 

 

To what do you attribute this lag?

The Japanese are very hard workers and love to learn, but the language barrier is a real hindrance, which explains why Japan finds it difficult to import new technologies. The strength of the Altavia group lies in the fact that it shares its expertise and boasts valuable experts such as Hervé Lyaudet within its teams.

 

The printing sector has made the transition from ‘expertise’ alone to advanced technical standards, which requires certain skills when it comes to colourimetry and colour management, as well as familiarity with ISO standards.

 

 

And your meeting with Hervé was, in fact, what led to the creation of a colour reproduction service.

Hervé started working in Japan a little over a year ago. He installed the whole digital proofing system, trained the operators and set up the studio, but there is still a long way to go and work to be done if our team is to become independent and, in turn, highly skilled in what it does.

 

 

Do you feel optimistic?

I do! Particularly as this all reflects a profound change in Japanese society. We are witnessing the emergence of a new kind of sensitivity with regards to things like ecology and personal development in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympic Games, to be held here in 2020. Changing people’s relationships with work, for example, is a major issue in current Japanese politics, as demonstrated by the Hatarakikata Kaikaku reform. A lot of Japanese citizens are starting to realise that it is in their interest to change, and that’s ultimately true of colour management, too: an increasing number of players realise how important it is that they evolve and adopt current methods if they want to survive in the long term.

 

Altavia Japan has successfully obtained a number of certifications with a view to promoting its expertise.

These include PDFx-ready Creator, which guarantees the quality of the exchange files that we create (PDFx), and PDFx-ready Expert, which attests to our knowledge of the PDFx exchange file format. Altavia Japan has also been a FOGRA Partner PSO (ISO 12647), attesting to our familiarity with ISO standards and offset printing, since the start of the year. Being a FOGRA Partner allows us to provide on-site support to companies looking to obtain their PSO (Process Standard Offset) certification, which is currently held by only two companies in Japan – Heidelberg and Altavia Japan.