Practical use of ISO-standards in print – A case study from China

While most printers are aware of some of the ISO-standards for print production, few understand fully how to properly implement them, or know which standards are used for all the different sub-process. The following case study show how a printing company can combine education and training with assessment through certification to achieve Total Quality Management for their printing company.


We are the standards promoting duo

I am Yao lei (to the left in the photo below). I majored in printing and packaging in university. After graduation, I took a job that was directly related to my major. I entered a famous Hong Kong invested printing company named QP in Dongguan, responsible for material testing and technology development. After that, I worked in Schawk Image responsible for printing samples approving and artwork review for a couple of years.

Yao and Zhao
Yao lei (left) and Zhao Guang (right) help customers to Fujifilm China implement ISO-standard in their print production processes.

I am Zhao Guang (to the right in the photo below). My major in university was not printing or related subject. After graduation, I entered a Hong Kong funded professional prepress company with over 200 staff members. The main operation of the company was color separation and plate making, its customers were from overseas. I obtained printing knowledge on the job, or learning-by-doing. After a period of time, I moved to work with a Kodak agent, responsible for CTP training until my next job.

We are currently working with the Fujifilm China, providing a consultancy service related to print standardization. We started our professional careers in the prepress sector and got to know about ISO standards both at work and in our studies.

Around 2008, in Mainland China, the G7 method began to be used, while at the same time Process Standard Offset (PSO), developed by FOGRA also set up some demonstration models in some Hong Kong funded enterprises, such as Leefung and Leo. Based on the need to provide more value-added services for customers, we began to study ISO 12647 in more details. After that we not only became involved in G7 and UGRA/Fogra PSO certification processes, but also expanded our understanding of other relevant ISO standards, such as ISO 2846 (printing inks), ISO 3664 (viewing conditions), ISO 15930 (PDF/X-files) and ISO 13655 (Spectral measurements).

Step by step, we have built up our expertise by undertaking a lot of print standardization projects and taking training courses. Eventually, we have grown into certified experts in print standardization.

Our efforts to promote ISO standards

RR Donnelley
RR Donnelley in China has put priority to PSO training and certification based on ISO standards.

We work together with the front-line teams of our customers, providing services for the implementation of ISO standards, for example, to meet the requirements of ISO 12647-2 (offset lithographic processes) or ISO/PAS 15339 (Printing from digital data across multiple technologies)for print production, or to meet the requirements of ISO 12647-7 (digital proofing). At the same time, we also cooperate with associations or institutions to organize training courses and open courses for those who want to learn about printing standards. As certified experts, we engage in assisting printing companies or printers in Mainland China to obtain certificate in G7, PSO and others. We are proud to say that, under our technical guidance, more than 50 factories have established a standard printing workflow from prepress to press based on ISO standards, and therefore basically fulfilled the requirements of their domestic and overseas customers.

In addition to the offline service, we have operated an online WeChat public account on “colour  standardization”since 2015, systematically introducing the ISO standards and information about colour management. At present, the number of subscribers is nearly 5000, and the posted articles have been read more than 200,000 times. Our WeChat public account has become the most popular in the industry. On top of that, we also regularly contribute to paper media magazines such as Printing TechnologyChina PrintPrint Today and write articles for some famous monthly publications in Mainland China and Hong Kong.

Our column in the monthly magazine of Graphic Arts Association of Hong Kong.
Continous training and education is important to stabling and maintain a colour managed workflow. Taking part in seminars and conferences on this topic is key. Here are some speakers at the Print China Color Management Forum in 2019, including some delegates from TC 130, the technical committee for printing standards.

The most widely used ISO standard

If we are asked to name one single ISO standard that we think has been of real value to the graphic arts industry, we would say ISO 12647-2, which is very widely used in the industry. It provides the primary parameters that constitute a general printing condition for offset lithographic printing, including the substrate description, the colorant description, the screening description, the tone value increase and the ink sequence. It also to a great extent specifies the colour to be printed. This standard is thus regarded as universally applicable, not only for print production, but also for brand design and pre-media documents. With the ISO 12647 series standards in place, the production process in conventional printing is no longer an unpredictable "black box".

G7 Certification
After our on-site training, Promotech obtained G7 Certification based on the ISO standards, which helped the company win the POP business for H&M.
On-site training
On-site training and ISO standards promotion in terms of printing technology and colour management at different print facilities.

Our experience gained in practice

In the process of implementing ISO standards, we think that the best way is to focus on practice, and any certification should not be only on paper. Most of the time, we will go to the grass-roots level of the factory to conduct on-site training for operators, explaining how to check inks according to ISO 2846, how to assess digital proofing according to ISO 12647-7, how to check the standard lightbooth according to ISO 3664, how to define the measurement method according to ISO 13655 and how to control the dot gain of spot colour according to ISO 20654 etc. We have also designed some posters to help trainees with their understanding.

In one interesting case, the boss was so eager to hammer into his employees the CIELab colour system that he ordered everyone, including himself, to change their cellphone wallpaper into the CIELab colour space chart for one month. There was no doubt that it worked. A down-to-earth approach is the key to implementing ISO standards.

From our point of view, ISO standards can be best disseminated through standardization certification, application by brand owners and designers, vocational skills competitions, public training courses and standards sharing forums, together with an information platform for easy access to knowledge of ISO standards.

Issues with conformity

Based on our long-term experience in the first-line standard implementation process, we feel that there are some problems where standards are misused or even abused. For example, some printers, based on their own understanding, have tried to match the image printed on coated paper to FOGRA 39L or the ICC target of GRACoL 2006 even after surface finishing, such as lamination or varnishing. They paid no attention to the fact that surface finishing can cause big changes in the printing colors.

1010 Printing
1010 Printing, a subsidiary of Lion Rock Group in HongKong, successfully obtained Fogra PSO certification based on ISO 12647-2.

The main reason for such practice is acceptance of the criteria set up by brand owners or print buyers, who believe they are following ISO standards, but unfortunately they have ignored certain conditions for correct use of the standards. However, as they are the customers of printing companies, what they request has to be observed by printers without any reservations.

Areas in Need of New ISO standards

It is expected that with the development of the graphic arts industry, more and more areas are emerging that will need new standards. They include:

  • Digital printing, especially digital inkjet printing using water-based and UV inks
  • Wide-colour- gamut and high-fidelity printing
  • Spot-colour printing
  • Environment-friendly washless plates
  • Gold and silver card UV printing
  • Smart printing

For existing ISO standards, following revisions are expected:

  • For ISO 12647-2, adding C1S, CCNB paper category, and criteria for printed colour after surface finishing 
  • For ISO 12647-8, updating colour formulae to dE2000, and providing quantitative metrics, as far as possible, for visual evaluation of printed sheets and their matching to proofs.

The technical committee TC 130 has begun work already on some of the areas listed above, and welcome anyone to join this important work – locally and internationally.

Back to TC130 home page