There are many players in the blossoming world of Photobooks but only one stands out at the very apogee of quality and recognition - Sydney's Momento Pro. Winner of over fifty industry awards, many of them Gold, Momento's mission is to please the most demanding customers; the professional photographers who take the images themselves. How do they achieve such high colour standards in an RGB world? The answer will surprise many.
The divergent paths of photography and print graphic arts probably began with the invention of mass-appeal colour photography in the 1930s and 40s in the guise of Kodachrome. From that point on, photographers have primarily existed in an RGB world where colour gamuts are defined by the extremes to which they can be pushed outwards, like a big bang theory for the visible spectrum.
As cmyk printing progressed, an ironical necessity developed in that the colour ranges of photography, both diapositive and negative, had to be compressed to accommodate the technical realities of putting pigmented ink onto paper, rather than developing dyes that were already present in coated layers of photosensitive emulsions.
Even as photography went digital, the sensors were RGB and the colour standard became Adobe RGB (1998), with a gamut far beyond cmyk. This was the genesis of the mantra: " Colours I see in print are nowhere near as vibrant as those I see on a screen."
For professional photographers this was frustrating and so, in the late 1990s, a group of former IT and digital media boffins, led by Geoff Hunt, set about a method of producing digitally-printed photobooks that looked like 'proper' photographs. By 2004, this became Momento Pro. Today, Momento is in swish premises in Sydney's Chippendale, running an HP Indigo 7600 for printing plus Epson printers for covers and fine-art prints and employing over thirty-five people, including a deluxe bindery in-house.
Taming the Colour Beast
"We have customers with specific colour print requirements," says managing director Geoff Hunt; "they are creatively-minded and demand colour rendition that matches their vision."
This has inevitably led Momento on a course of investigation and experimentation in creating ICC profiles dedicated to specific customers, modifying profiles to get the best out in individual images and searching for a 'stake in the ground' from which to control and optimise colour reproduction.
"The HP Indigo technology is very good but we require more colour stability from our press than others do; we were calibrating many times a day," says Hunt. "We then read about Colour Graphic Services and its ability to ensure ISO quality consistency in the offset-to-digital world, so we began a process of discovery."
Another irony presents itself. MomentoPro does not need ISO 12647-2 at all! "We can do it now, thanks to Colour Graphic Services training; but our work goes beyond ISO 12647," says Hunt. So why call a Colour Doctor who specialises in it? David Crowther of Colour Graphic Services explains:
"The benefits of implementing ISO-standard processes in any colour production environment go beyond claiming ISO 12647 certification. That is only of importance to offset printers wanting to comply with the ISO demands of offset print buyers. The overriding benefit is that colour must be brought under control. Once under control, any standard, whether it be an internal preference or, in the case of Momento Pro, several client-specific preferences, becomes much easier to achieve and consistent so long as the processes are adhered to. The much wider gamut requirements of photographers becomes a de facto 'standard' instead of a problem."
Crowther adds: "The HP Indigo 7600 is a very capable machine, but most users are not realizing its full capabilities in terms of colour." Using Mellow Colour's PrintSpec and precise spectrophotometry, he claims to be able to drill down the press's colour capabilities to 'pure DNA' level and then build up from that. This knowledge was then passed on to Momento's operators who are now able to meet the most demanding client's photographic reproduction requirements faster and more consistently, with less waste.
"Working with Colour Graphic Services and PrintSpec has given us the numbers" says Hunt, channeling his IT background. The colour disciplines gained enable us to monitor and adjust any piece of equipment and prepare us for the future."
How does Geoff Hunt see the future for Photobooks? "Well, where once we were producing one or two books per customer, we are now regularly printing 100-150 and these are often sold for premium prices. We have developed our own software platform to make ordering simpler. Quality continues to improve as we approach or exceed photochemical reproduction with digital printing. I see the next step as higher volume production using inkjet presses that can surpass the quality of their digital offset counterparts."
Momento Pro's dedication to premium colour quality for professional photographers has reaped rewards both commercially and in peer recognition. At this year's 31st National Print Awards, Geoff Hunt was able to collect two Gold Awards; the Fuji Xerox Award for Most Effective Use of Digital Printing and also the Digital Printing - Inkjet category.
At the NZ Pride in Print Awards, they collected no fewer than seven Golds. In all, since 2010, Momento Pro has collected over 30 Gold awards in state, national and regional competitions plus a host of silvers and bronzes.
It's all about getting the segue from RGB to cmyk down to a fine art.