Streaks and Banding: Measuring Macro Uniformity in the Context of Optimization Processes for Inkjet Printing

Dr. Danny Hall, Global Graphics

Directional printing artifacts like streaks and banding are commonly encountered problems in digital printing systems. For example, inkjet systems may produce characteristic density variations due to inconsistencies between printheads or intra-printhead variations between nozzles. When these variations have a high spatial frequency they can be characterized as causing ‘streaking’ in the direction of print, where the variations have a low spatial frequency this can cause the appearance of ‘banding’ in the direction of print.

Other causes of directional streaking and banding effects may be due, for example, to variations in the speed of printhead or substrate velocities resulting in density variations across the direction of printing. The ‘wow’ and ‘flutter’ of the digital printing age.

In the décor market there is a visual perceptual test sometimes referred to as a ‘porthole test’. In this test a human subject is presented with a print (e.g. wallpaper or floor covering) rotating slowly behind a round window under controlled viewing conditions. If they can determine the direction of printing then it test is a ‘fail’. One aspect of the porthole test is that it allows for the perceptual response differences between different printed images, for example the same press and conditions may be able to print one job containing a lot of graphical detail, but still fail on another job requiring flat tints.

There are currently emerging standards designed to objectively characterize this type of directional print variation.  For example, the proposed ISO TS 18621-21 standard defines a measurement method for the evaluation of distortions in the macroscopic uniformity of printed areas that are oriented in the horizontal and/or vertical direction, like streaks and bands.

Such recognized standards could be very useful for the development and maintenance of printing systems; as well as potentially allowing for the quantitative comparison of directional quality between different printing systems.

Having an objective ISO measurement of directional uniformity would therefore be a very useful step forward and something we at Global Graphics would like to encourage.

As a first step the current ISO TS 18621-21 proposal looks good and useable and provides for a robust and simple metric that can be calculated using standard equipment.

However, in exploring the potential use of this standard we also note a few limitations which may constrain the widest possible utility for a general directional measure in printing. For example, the frequency response of the proposed measurement technique may limit the response of the measure to higher frequency ‘streaking’ artifacts, this may be inevitable with the measurement devices available but this potential spatial frequency bias needs to be clearly understood and accepted.

Another challenge in standardizing such a metric across different printing platforms is the difficulty in selecting some kind of objective color tint to measure. The ‘goodness’ of the proposed ISO TS 18621-21 metric will depend on the color tint chosen for measurement; therefore making such measurements standard between systems with different color gamuts is a difficult and perhaps impossible task. Nonetheless we would like to propose a color tint selection strategy which at least a priori could have the potential to provide a selection of standardized color tints that could be used meaningfully with ISO TS 18621-21 across a range of different printers.

Frequency response

The frequency response is discussed in the ISO proposal.  There is a potential bias in the measuring methodology towards lower frequencies due to the suggested 6mm sampling cut-off. For example, in our experience the main frequency elements of ‘streakiness’ may not be captured by this methodology potentially resulting in a bias towards lower-frequency ‘banding’ effects. That’s not necessarily a problem, it just needs to be understood that this metric may be biased towards ‘banding’ over ‘streakiness’ determination.

Where any streakiness is random and un-correlated with lower frequency banding: changes in high frequency streakiness can be expected to show up statistically as variations at lower frequencies (white noise). However, there are currently printing compensation systems available (such as PrintFlat ™) which can correct for directional variations so that high and low frequency variations are no longer correlated in a gaussian way. In such a case the proposed metric could in the worst case be blind to any underlying changes in high frequency streakiness variation above the band-pass of the sampling system.

Color selection

The proposed standard does not specify the printed color to use, which may make objective comparisons between systems based on this metric difficult and the metric itself is correlated with the underlying contrast of the tint selected. For example, one can expect an apparently better metric to result from printing a 5% tint compared to a 70% tint of the same ink. Therefore, an objective method for selecting color tints could be helpful and this is something we would like to explore.

After completing a Phd in parallel image processing at the University of Cambridge Dr Danny Hall began his career at Harlequin Ltd (now Global Graphics Software) working on stochastic screening algorithms. In 1994 Dr Hall developed and patented the original Harlequin Distributed Screens (HDS) that have been adopted extensively by the printing industry.

In 1995 Dr Hall left Harlequin to co-found Advanced Rendering Technology Ltd, developing floating point ray-tracing graphics processors. Then in 2002 Dr Hall returned to working directly with inkjet technology as Projects Director for Xennia Technologies and later set up Inkski Ltd an innovative printing technology company focused on high-speed digital and DNA-array printing.

Maintaining his passion for screening technology and press compensation Dr Hall co-founded Cambridge Grey Bit (CGB) Ltd in 2014. CGB Ltd was acquired by Global Graphics in 2017; allowing a new generation of advanced screening and press compensation technologies to reach a global marketplace.