Apple's New Technology Could Revolutionize Professional Printing

Last Updated Apr 19, 2010 6:03 AM EDT

Ask any publishing or graphics professional the challenges they face trying to reproduce colors in print as they appear on a screen and you'll see eyes roll. It's a difficult trick, and one that costs businesses in many industries more money and time for commercial printing, because inherent technical problems make it time-consuming to precisely match color on a monitor and on a page. But a patent application filed last September suggests that Apple (AAPL) may have a new approach that would make the process more easier and more accurate, saving publishers, retailers, advertisers, and marketers of all stripes plenty of time, money, and aggravation.

The issue in question is color management. Most graphics production -- whether catalog, Sunday circular, book, magazine, brochure, or reproduction of photograph or art work -- happens on a computer. When the design is finished, a file goes to a printer for transfer to paper. Unfortunately, monitors and printers don't work with color the same way. Monitors use additive color, in which red, green, and blue lights (RGB) combine in varying degrees to create all the colors on the screen. Printers, on the other hand, use subtractive color. Light reflects off paper and through transparent inks that filter out color. By correctly overlaying cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) inks, the page shows the final colors.

The color collections that additive and subtractive models create don't match up, and each creates colors that the other cannot reproduce. Consumers don't care about the mismatch of monitor and printer because exactness in color isn't as important to them. But for many companies, accurate color for a product or corporate logo is a very big deal. Translating how to correctly adjust monitor color to better match a printer requires special software, calibration hardware, technical knowledge, and, even then, trial and error.

Apple's patent application 20100090930 details a smart solution: a monitor that uses adjustable filters to literally display subtractive CMYK color instead of additive RGB. That would eliminate virtually all the conversion companies otherwise need to do.

Bonus for Steve Jobs: To do this, you'd need a computer and software that could work with such a display -- which means more Mac sales for Apple as well. The concept could reestablish the company's preeminent position in print production and, by extension, all other publishing and graphics work that uses print as a component. It may all sound like graphics geek talk, but the upshot is in their marketing and communications in print, companies could get work done faster, better, and cheaper. That's the kind of competitive advantage Apple always needs to exploit.

Monitor image, Apple. Printer image, Epson.

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.