Pantone ColorDrive 1.5

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Comprehensive, palette-based colour matching based on the Pantone design  standard.

Pantone ColorDrive 1.5

Controlling colour is one of the major headaches for anyone preparing publications for print. Ensuring that the colours of the final print-run end up exactly as planned is by no means a straightforward task. Before the days of computers, the problem was largely solved by the use of the Pantone colour matching models. Even today almost all designers still depend on their Pantone guides which consist of reference colour swatches printed on coated and uncoated papers. Using these it is possible to choose a colour and, based simply on its Pantone number, the printer can then accurately replicate it using a fixed formula of inks.

You might think that implementing this system on the computer would be a simple task. Indeed all high-end publishing packages already claim to offer Pantone support - it virtually defines the boundary between amateur and professional package - so why should anyone need a program like ColorDrive? The problem is that there is a huge gap between selecting the right colour on screen and getting the right colour out on paper. Monitor and printer colours are built on two completely different systems - the RGB (red, green, blue) and the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) models - and there is no exact correlation between the two.

The major publishing applications have solved this problem as best they can, so that printing a Pantone colour on a four colour press will give as good a match as possible. Unfortunately, the fact that their Pantone palettes are tuned to high resolution, 150 line screen imagesetters, means that their output on a desktop printer is always too dark. As each desktop printer also has its own slightly different CMYK system, inaccuracies are again introduced.

What this means in practice is that the designer is put in the embarrassing situation of showing a client their mock-ups and saying that this is roughly what the end result will look like - hardly the point of a colour matching system. This is where ColorDrive comes in. It is designed to act as a central clearinghouse, setting up colour palettes for all major applications that will be output as consistently and accurately as possible on the user's printer.

The first step in this process is to choose a colour library. All the different Pantone systems are offered from basic spot colours to metals, pastels, plastics and textiles. Also offered is the new Hexachrome system which offers greater precision. In each case all colours are defined by their spectral representation which is derived from the light energy across the visible spectrum. This is the most accurate possible specification and means that the palettes can be reliably translated to any other colour model.

The next step is to set the matching options of the system you are using and, in particular, your output device. You need to have an International Color Consortium (ICC) profile for your printer which tells ColorDrive about its tonal response, absolute white and black points and so on. Most Windows 95 supported devices come ready with this information, otherwise it should be available from the manufacturer. ColorDrive will then calibrate the current palette, translating each colour to the potential of the printer.

Rather than exporting a whole library it is possible to create your own customised selections and swatches can be output to see how well your printer can match the screen representation. In fact this is not necessary as it is also possible to "soft proof" a library, which shows the screen colour next to a simulation of the printed output. This allows the user to stick to the colours that will print most accurately. Finally it is possible to cross reference between libraries, for example to quickly find the Hexachrome equivalent of a pastel shade.

This is the theory behind ColorDrive and, within the program, everything works well. In practice, however, the Pantone colours are only really useful when output from your applications and this leads to potential problems. In the first place, although information is provided about how palettes should be installed in each of the major packages such as XPress, PageMaker, Corel Draw, Illustrator and FreeHand, this is by no means a seamless process. Photoshop for example imported the colours, but did not bring in their names which makes selection very difficult. More importantly ColorDrive can't produce miracles and if your printer is not up to it, its weaknesses are only highlighted. Outputting calibrated palettes has convinced me that it's time to upgrade my printer.

Even with a program like ColorDrive, colour matching remains a complex and difficult art. If you didn't know what a Pantone was, be grateful and carry on with the rest of your life. If colour is important to you but your printer is beginning to show its age, spend the money on a better device - preferably one that is Pantone certified. However, if you are a graphics professional for whom Pantone colour matching is a necessity not an optional extra, ColorDrive is a must.

Features

5

Ease Of Use

4

Value For Money

4

Overall

4

ratings out of 6

ColorDrive
Software
Save $$!

System Requirements: 486 or higher, 8Mb of RAM, 10Mb of disk space, Windows 95

Tom Arah

August 1998


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