ITL Image GraderTM Product Description

The ITL Image Grader provides an easy-to-understand appraisal of press and print quality that can be used by businesses of all sizes. It assesses the acceptability of print system image quality by analyzing pages printed under normal press conditions; extracting and grading image attributes; and combining the grades into color, solids, and line/text attributes and then into an overall grade.

The customer prints from a PDF file provided by ITL using existing press settings, paper, and ink/toner. After analyzing the printing, ITL delivers a set of reports that assigns a letter grade to various aspects of image quality and also shows the customer how his or her press compares with others in terms of print quality and lets them know where they stand.

In general, the ITL Image Grader evaluates results of the entire print workflow, not individual process parameters—the "what" of image quality, not the "how." The scores are independent of the printing process and the size and/or speed of the press and have been exercised all the way from desktop printers to large offset presses and wide-format printing units.

The ITL Image Grader can grade any equipment that can print a PDF. The reports are authoritative, extremely easy to understand, and do not require technical knowledge—they are as easy to read as a school report card.

Special ITL Image Grader applications can also be used to compare performance before and after service or when equipment is moved to look at press history over time or under different settings or to compare several presses at the time of a planned business transaction.

Innovations within Image Test Labs ITL-Image GraderTM

The ITL Image Grader combats the technical complexity of grading printed imagery with innovation.

Innovation 1 – Simplifying a complex process. Eliminating complexity enables people to easily understand and communicate about printed image quality faster and more accurately. Adapting school grading to a printed work allows immediate understanding and use of the grade.

Innovation 2 – Universal access to printed image measurement. The ITL Image Grader works with ALL sizes of business, with ALL printing materials and processes and is accessible to all printing firms worldwide using regular postal mail.

Innovation 3 – Speed/Efficiency. Image Grader has only two paragraphs of instructions, drops and plays on any workflow, uses existing press settings, materials and processes and does not disrupt an active production facility. The test print can be completed in about 10 minutes. Easy for multilingual operations.

Innovation 4 – Comprehensive. Image Grader provides current, complete and accurate collection and reporting of printed imagery from all segments and processes. ITL’s unique reporting not only compares a printed image with output from similar presses and processes but also compares the image with all other imaging systems. For the first time, a census of production imagery can be produced. Each graded press contributes to a uniform and growing knowledge base. Importantly, ITL provides relevant performance positioning of a given press, showing the customer where the press stands on given image criteria.

Innovation 5 – Immediate focus on problems. Like a medical diagnostic report, the ITL Image Grader provides a diagnostic report for print quality. The ITL report identifies areas for attention, recommends corrections and lists the strengths and weaknesses. ITL provides innovative “Helpful Hints” recommendations for improving the grade.

Innovation 6 – The ITL Image Grader is a predictor of customer acceptance/approval as opposed to accuracy. We really are an ACCEPTANCE score or predictor for the printer's output. This changes the game and is an entirely new approach to printed image measurement and the basis of our preset patent pending technology and it works!

Innovation 7 – Our business model. A. All people can take the test without economic barriers or any form of discrimination of size, type or process of image. B. All grades are kept confidential. All graded parties can see how they stand as discussed in Innovation 4. C. ITL does not perform consulting services or accept consulting fees, in order to assure grading is independent, evenhanded and authoritative.

Technical Description of the ITL Image GraderTM

The ITL Image Grader assesses the acceptability of print system image quality by printing a set of PDF pages under normal press conditions, extracting and grading about two dozen image attributes and combining the grades into color, solids and line/text attributes and then into an overall grade.

In general, the ITL Image Grader evaluates results of the entire print workflow, not individual process parameters – the “what” of image quality, not the “how” – from PDF to paper to observer. The scores are independent of the printing process, the size and or speed of the press and have been exercised all the way from desktop printers to large offset presses and wide format printing units.

The image quality acceptability of a print depends on the print system, the image content and the personal preferences of the observer. Acceptability also depends on how the observer balances the conflicting assessments of different parts of the image and aspects of the rendering. To obtain an objective assessment of the print system alone, the ITL Image Grader first dissects image quality acceptability into “attributes”: two dozen pseudo-independent measures of contributors to quality, independently assessed from features in the image set. Then these scores are hierarchically combined into major attributes. Finally, the ITL Image Grader assigns category and overall grades based on the importance of the attribute, using a patent-pending process that mimics customer perception giving greater import to a low score than to higher scores in related attributes.

The grades measure the acceptability of the image quality; they are not process metrics (such as microns, delta E, etc.) that are more suitable for process controls. The grades are even-handed, comparing presses using different print technologies. The ITL Image Grader can be said to measure the success of process controls and how well the press system delivers its potential in the prints.

Image GraderTM Results

The Image Grader results are presented to the customer as a three sheet PDF. The first is an academic-style report card. The remaining sheets offer analysis and insight, positioning major grades against histograms of the grades awarded to similar presses and against all ITL scores. Attributes of particular strength or weakness are also identified.

Special reports are also available that present before/after or head-to-head comparisons in sharper detail, looking at press history over time or under different settings or comparing several presses.

Grading Principles and Technique

Color is defined technically by three scientific components – the Color (Hue), the Saturation (Chroma) and the Lightness, all of which can be measured by instruments.

Unfortunately, the human eye sees color in quite a different way. The eye can tolerate different levels of color mismatch, depending on the color viewed. For example, the eye is very sensitive to slight changes in blue but can tolerate much larger changes in yellow. The ITL Image Grader grades color in the same way as the customer, namely, by primarily using our eyes, complemented with instrument readings.

As with its color grading, ITL grades a press based on the acceptability of its prints to customers using a methodology combining instrument measurement with visual assessment. This not a simple "how much do you like this print?" - A, B or C. There are so many variables and so much subjectivity in a single point assessment that such scoring would not be repeatable and, more importantly, would not point to corrective actions for the print system.

After grading, the attribute scores are rolled up into three category scores: Color, Solids and Lines & Text. The Category scores are rolled up into an overall grade for the press. In some categories, the print builds up points by doing good things, but in more cases, the print accumulates demerits because the customer expects no streaks, smooth solids, real blue skies and neutral neutrals. Thus, some "roll ups" are weighted averages of the attribute grades while others use an adaptive algorithm which penalizes low scores more than it rewards high scores, mimicking our own perceptions of print image quality.

ITL grading is independent of the printing process. Ink jet, electrophotographic, offset and other print technologies exhibit very different micro-structures and must conquer different technical challenges, but a customer's eye steps back and looks at the big picture, not the micro-structure or how the technical challenges were contained. The attribute grading mimics the human eye, and in most cases is a real human eye, in how it looks at images.

ITL attributes and grading avoid specific preferences like gloss, texture and gamut, which are application specific and under the printer's control with ink and paper selection and post treatment.

Technical Significance

The ITL Image Grader distinguishes itself in scope, breadth and simplicity from extant products which grade aspects of the printing process. The ITL Image Grader:

  1. Looks at the complete system. — It assesses the overall system the same way the printer processes jobs, from PDF to printed image, rather than assessing how individual elements perform. For image assessment, the whole is more than the sum of its parts and more than a list of subsystem metrics. In harmonious systems, prepress, RIP, press and often press electronics compensate for each other’s weakness and highlight individual strengths to produce the best image. In general, ITL scores the end to end appearance of the print, not the localized hows of a given element.
  2. Is process independent. — Common metrics (screen frequency, resolution, etc.) are not the same for the growing list of press technologies, each of which has its own artifacts and image peculiarities. The ITL Image Grader is process independent, using a unique set of grades that equitably assess the various versions of ink jet, electrophotographic, offset, proofing and other press technologies.
  3. Is easy to understand. — The ITL Image Grader produces an overall grade of recognizable image attributes rather than a series of technical numbers that are, to many, arcane and open to interpretation. The ITL Image Grader compares the grades to those of other relevant presses and identifies strengths and weaknesses.

Technical Breakthroughs

Here are the technical breakthroughs that enabled the ITL Image Grader:

  1. The attribute model and the specific attributes (eleven attributes shown on the report card plus about a dozen sub-attributes).
  2. Methods to score each attribute without bias to any particular print technology
  3. A method of combining attribute scores that gives appropriate weight to and mirrors the way a customer builds an overall assessment from disparate image features.
  4. A simple, understandable way to communicate the fifteen grades from an image and the overall simplicity of running our process

Return on Investment (ROI) for the ITL Image GraderTM

The ITL Image Grader ROI is presented here with a mathematical breakeven calculation as well as examples of returns obtained by customers.

First we present a demonstration of how the ITL Image Grader delivers in a small entity cost scenario. The following simple calculation shows how even the smallest printing operation can attain a near instantaneous breakeven from the ITL Image Grader.

Image Grader Product Breakeven Calculation

To represent the small business affordability environment, we chose a Xerox C75 entry-level color digital press without bells and whistles delivering 75, 8.5 x 11 white uncoated sheet single-sided printed color pages a minute. The price for this printer is $40,000. The cost of the paper is 1.9 cents per sheet. According to Xerox, the cost for a monthly print volume of 40,000 full-color, single-sided sheets, including materials and service, is 4 cents per page. Running for 12 months the calculated basic press cost is $36,800.00 a year. Based on the cost of an ITL Image Grader test pack 4 pricing, a one time grading for a single press is $243.50.

The breakeven cost for a single grading run at press purchase as part of press acceptance testing is ($243.50/$36,800) x 100 = 0.662 percent of press purchase and running cost for a single year.

Attached to the procurement paperwork of the press, the ITL Image Grader report would be used for 5 years as a press reference for a typical 5-year service contract. In this case, the ITL Image Grader cost to press investment is 0.1324 percent of this smallest of press setups.

The benefit is to minimize the risk of the press investment for a cost of less than 1 percent of that investment. In addition, the customer can use the initial report as a print quality benchmark at any time during the life of the press as well use the report as a guide for servicing the press. The cost of use for the ITL Image Grader on large digital and offset presses is astonishingly lower in cost and high in return.

Investing $243.50* – What is Your Return?

Please weigh the ROIs in the following discussion with the low percent breakeven cost we just discussed.

Following are typical ROI results based on uses reported by some of our customers.

  1. Buying/Selling a press. See the above breakeven description.
  2. Demonstrate capability. Printers use the ITL Image Grader to demonstrate that they can print at the image quality a customer requires. If selling printing to online customers unfamiliar with the printing firm, sharing the press grade assists sales. The return is at least one additional sale that otherwise might have been lost.
  3. Optimize printing. The ITL Image Grader tests and reports results for a given press with varying settings and different materials. The ITL Image Grader helps confirm settings. In addition, the customer receives a review and “helpful hints” for optimizing image quality. The return to the customer is optimal performance from his or her investment.
  4. Enhance communications with service technicians. The ITL Image Grader shows service technicians how the press performs and compares to similar equipment. This helps the technician zero in on getting a press running right and delivering for the money invested. The return is a faster repair, reduced down time.
  5. Deliver a proven benchmark. Because the ITL Image Grader report shows how the tested print equipment compares with comparable presses, the customer has an objective measure of where his or her print quality stands as against the competition and the industry as a whole. This information helps verify that the printer’s investment is at par or better with the industry.
  6. Moving a Press or Imaging Equipment. When a press is to be moved, the ITL Image Grader “Before and After” reporting helps assure that the move has not affected the print quality of the press or imaging equipment.

*$243.50 based on price of single test run from ITL Test Pack 4

How ITL Image GraderTM Changes the Industry

  1. The ITL Image Grader provides an affordable, industry-wide and independent grade that compares the actual image quality of different printing devices. This serves as a mirror for the industry and a new way to improve print management.
  2. The ITL Image Grader benefits commerce because it brings the users of printing equipment a new way to communicate with vendors. It brings printing operations a new way to communicate with customers.
  3. ITL Image Grader is an economical and proactive tool that helps predict how customers will accept a printed image. The ITL Image Grader provides management with something new: a clear definition of what is expected as measured by an independent third party.

If you have any more questions, feel free to contact us.