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One of the biggest obstacles to the widespread use of Apple's ColorSync color-management software has been the expense and difficulty of building output profiles. Typically, you need costly profiling software, as well as a measurement device, such as a colorimeter or spectrophotometer, that can set you back thousands of dollars. Monaco Systems' $299 MonacoEZcolor offers an innovative and inexpensive approach to color management by using a profiled scanner to measure printer output. Monaco Systems isn't the first company to try this technique, but it's the first to make it work.
MonacoEZcolor creates profiles for monitors, scanners, and printers. To create a monitor profile, you follow a series of visual cues, similar to those in Apple's Default Calibrator utility. For more-demanding users, the company offers a $199 hardware device that provides much more reliable monitor calibration. To create a scanner profile, you scan a standard reflective IT8 target, included in the package. If you want to profile a scanner used for transparencies, you can buy a 35mm transparency target for $80 or a 4-by-5-inch target for $160.
These functions are useful, but it's the printer-profiling capability that sets the program apart. To create a printer profile, you simply print a target and then scan it on a profiled scanner. EZcolor does the rest of the work for you, building a ColorSync-compatible printer profile.
EZcolor actually lives up to its name. The application has a wizard-style interface that steps you through the process of creating profiles. The on-screen instructions are clear, concise, and complete, including warnings about unseen gotchas, such as automatic exposure correction on scanners and hidden printer color-management features. Unlike most profiling tools, MonacoEZcolor doesn't require any specialized knowledge.
The big question, of course, is "Does it work?" The answer is a qualified yes. EZcolor has two main limitations. First, it can generate only RGB profiles for printers. This makes it well suited to most ink-jet printers but not to printers that expect CMYK data. You could feed RGB to a CMYK PostScript printer and have the PostScript RIP perform the conversion, but this doesn't always work. If you're dealing with a CMYK workflow, EZcolor isn't for you.
Second, the quality of EZcolor profiles depends on your scanner. If your scanner doesn't allow you to turn off automatic corrections, you're stuck, because profiling requires that the scanner use consistent settings every time. If your scanner doesn't have enough dynamic range to capture your printer's black comfortably, the resulting profile will probably block up your shadows. Finally, scanners are designed to scan photos, and the software assumes you're using some kind of photo paper. If you're scanning from something else, the results will be less reliable.
We obtained good results for ink-jet printers using relatively inexpensive flatbeds, but don't even think about profiling a dye-sublimation printer using this technology.
MonacoEZcolor is ideally suited to profiling ink-jet printers, including the current generation of six-color photo printers. If the lack of good profiles has prevented you from trying some of the new third-party inks and papers, EZcolor offers a great solution at a reasonable price, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to make it work.
RATING: PROS: Easy to use; relatively inexpensive. CONS: Creates only RGB profiles; results depend on scanner quality. COMPANY: Monaco Systems (978/749-9944, http://www.monacosys.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $299.
September 1999 page: 49