Dot gain, or tone value increase (TVI), is a normal part of the print reproduction process. Controlling tones using calibration means that you can manipulate the exact size of the dots on the printing plates so that tone saturation and gray balance are controlled on the press sheet.
Tonal calibration can account for:
• type of plate or film used
• type of paper stock used for printing
• type of dot shape used
• type of screening used—for example, FM/Stochastic or AM/XM conventional, and frequency (lines per inch (lpi))
(Note: Adjusting CtP laser exposure is not tonal calibration and will affect the run length and performance of the plate.)
You cannot use tonal calibration as a substitute for stable operating conditions. Operating conditions must be controlled as a separate process. In fact, without a stable operating environment, you cannot achieve accurate tonal calibration let alone reliable press output.
What Is Tonality?
Printers are used to being concerned with dot gain/TVI. Indeed dot gain values are often included in printing specifications. However, for the purposes of calibration - tonality or dot area, rather than dot gain, is the key metric. It does not matter what dot gain you have. What matters is whether you achieve the required final tone values or dot areas at each originally requested tone.
Tonality in printing is the progression of tints from blank paper to solid ink for each requested tone value in a printing job. It is measured with a densitometer, and reported as either dot gain/TVI or dot area:
The target print characteristic tone curve
Building dot gain compensation plate curves always begins with a target print characteristic, i.e. what you want to achieve on press. This is called the target curve - the current tone reproduction that you wish to achieve. It could be your current press work, a proof, or it could be an industry supplied set of tone values. You measure the target sample and enter the dot area (tonal value) for the tints achieved on the target curve graph. If the target is a press sheet, for example, your current 150 lpi AM/XM presswork, the graph will represent your current tone print characteristic:
If you change your screening, for example going to FM screening, higher solid ink densities, or higher lpi AM/XM screening, etc. then, if nothing else changes, the tonal response on press will change due to the difference in dot gain:
The goal of implementing dot gain compensation plate curves is to make the new press work mimic the original target press tone response. In the above example, the boy's face should appear the same as the original image despite the dot gain caused by changing the halftone screening.
Creating the dot gain compensation plate curve
Building a dot gain compensation plate curve starts with comparing the current target tone response with the tone response of the new presswork. In this case run to the same solid ink densities, on the same paper and press - only the screening has been changed:
The graphs are then examined by looking at the original requested Postscript tone and the target response (left chart) and comparing it with the new tone response (right chart):
Put another way, we are looking for what requested tone value in our new presswork delivered the same final tone value in the target presswork. In this example a 30% tone request in the new presswork delivered the same tone value as a 50% request in the old while a 50% request in the new gave the same tone as a 70% request in the old.
Here's another way to visualize it:
Remapping the tones is simply doing this:
The comparison between target curve and new current curve is made for each 10% change in tone.
The idea is then to map these values so that a tone request in the original file gets changed to a new value that produces the same final tone as the same tone request did in the old target presswork. The result is a lookup table for tone swapping.
In this example:
The requested 10% tone is remapped to request for a 4% tone
The requested 20% tone is remapped to request for a 10% tone
The requested 30% tone is remapped to request for a 18% tone
The requested 40% tone is remapped to request for a 24% tone
The requested 50% tone is remapped to request for a 30% tone
The requested 60% tone is remapped to request for a 40% tone
The requested 70% tone is remapped to request for a 50% tone
The requested 80% tone is remapped to request for a 65% tone
The requested 90% tone is remapped to request for a 80% tone
The lookup table creates the dot gain compensation plate curve.
The lookup table is applied in the workflow to remap the requested tones to the actual tones on plate that will deliver the desired final tones in the presswork. The result is tonal alignment of the presswork despite differences in dot gain.
Some points to keep in mind
1 - It does not matter if the plates are initially run "uncalibrated" or linear for the target presswork.
2 - A dot gain compensation plate curve is not usually applied to the tone range from 0%-5% and 95% to 100%.
3 - One dot gain compensation plate curve is usually applied to all process colors.
4 - There may be a need to apply a specific dot gain compensation plate curve to one of the process colors to maintain gray balance.
5 - Dot gain compensation plate curves cannot compensate for differences in gamut between FM/Stochastic screens and conventional AM/XM screens.