ColorBase, Under the Hood: The Data Model Upgrade Enabling a Smarter Printing Industry
July 17, 2023 by Kai Chaplin
Our industry’s most advanced database of material, printer, RIP and ICC profile data is undergoing a quiet transformation. While it’s true that code is never “done” - iterative progress is the rule, not the exception - ColorBase is undergoing an internal transformation that far exceeds the scope of routine day-to-day improvements. We’re on to something big.
Until now, we haven’t talked openly about it. Most of the details are frankly very technical, and typically, how our system works isn’t anywhere near as relevant as what it can actually do for our users and our partners. That said, our recent nomination for the 2023 Computable Awards in the Digital Transformation category (go vote right now!) has inspired us to “pop the hood” and show you what we’re working on, and the tools we’re using to do it.
The Origin Story
At the core of our transformation is an expansive upgrade to the ColorBase data model - the ‘digital rebar’ that gives the data structure. This structure in turns makes the ColorBase dataset searchable, sortable, and ready for complex analysis and AI training - in short, giving it the value upon which our customers and partners rely. But more on that later - here’s how it all began.
The ColorBase data model was first set up to enable the sharing of ICC profiles through our network of Profile Download Clients, which over the years have taken different forms. Some, like the Roland Profile Center, are branded and styled to look indistinguishable from the rest of our clients’ sites, while others, like the Drytac ColorBase Partner Page, or our ColorBase Profile Search tool, have varying levels of brandconnections - but all are powered by the same underlying ColorBase data set of ICC profiles.
Since the introduction of our PDCs though, the world has changed. We are on the cusp of radical new paradigms like Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things - every industry on the planet is scrambling to birth ‘digital twins’ of all their inputs, products, supply chains and relationships. Atom by atom, organizations and industries are ripping apart their products and services and storing them as bits and bytes. If done thoughtfully and thoroughly, these digital transformations enable every business activity to be represented by data, scaling existing activities at light speed and creating new ones altogether. This is the transformation that ColorBase is undertaking - its data model is expanding from an extensive profile library to a complete ‘digital twin’ of the printing industry, with a data model built to capture every aspect of every printer, material, RIP, and business relationship in the $900 billion dollar printing industry.
The Heavy Lifting
ColorBase Technical Lead Tony Liang has been at the epicenter of this effort since 2018. After literally countless late nights filled with pizza boxes, technical data sheets, and whiteboard sessions, the end is in sight. “It’s been like writing the dictionary,” he explains. “We have synthesized years of Color Concepts lab work into our new ontology, and from that, the new ColorBase model.” Through performing our proprietary programs like the HP Latex Certification and our Material Testing programs, we have collected a massive amount of data on the print materials that PSPs load into printers every day. We have boiled this hard earned knowledge into a sophisticated and holistic data model much more powerful than an ICC profile library - even the largest one in the world.
Confusingly, this new data model is already live, and powers our new generation of ColorBase apps like ColorBase Exchange and ColorBase Labs. However, the Profile Search tool and our PDCs still run on the old data model - running these two systems in parallel has generated its own set of challenges. Moving from one to the other requires a set of mappings that are “non-trivial”...to say the least. For example, the old data model contains a parameter for ‘ink types’, but our new one differentiates between 'ink series' and 'ink technologies’. Each ink type must be considered on a case-by-case basis as to which new parameter it fits into. Needless to say, Tony and his team have been busy.
But what does all of this mean for our customers? What can a “sophisticated and holistic” data model actually do?” Well, in short, it makes ColorBase incredibly straightforward to work with for data analysis. Finding relationships and correlation requires far less data manipulation than ever before, and is far easier for business analysts and data scientists alike to identify new opportunities and insights. You can see this work in realtime in ColorBase Labs, our new testing platform that is flexible enough to capture and digitize any organizations’ testing activities and visualize them in intuitive, interactive reports.
But this is just the beginning. As ColorBase becomes a ‘digital twin’ of our industry, not only will tools like ColorBase Exchange reimagine procurement processes, but we will generate data with sufficient structure to effectively train the next wave of generative AIs that are reframing the way we think about life and work. While potentially powerful, these AIs are only as good as their training data. ColorBase’s mapping of the print industry is the first step in unlocking the potential of these incredible new tools for enterprise purposes.
Helping us execute this ‘nomination-worthy’ digital transformation are our key partners, namely, Google Cloud and Vanenburg Software, and the collection of tools they provide.
Google Cloud and their powerful, eco-friendly data centers and cloud services power everything that ColorBase’s new tools are built on. We heavily rely on everything from Google Firestore, App Engine, Big Query and Looker to bring the ColorBase platform to life and to ensure it seamlessly scales to meet demand.
Vanenburg Software, our development partner, shares our commitment to building beautiful SaaS products. Rappit, their application development accelerator, is being used by both their developers and the ColorBase team alike. Not only does it increase the speed at which skilled programmers can work, but it enables our product managers to prototype new features and build simple functionality themselves without writing a line of code. This keeps us lean, agile, and responsive.
Thank you Vanenburg and Google Cloud - we hope to share the podium with you this October, when the votes are cast and the judges have decided which digital transformations are worthy of a Computable Award.
Help us get there, dear reader, by voting for us today on the Computable Award website in the Digital Transformation category! We hope you’ve enjoyed this look ‘under the hood’ into the ColorBase digital transformation activities. Thank you for your support!
ColorBase (formerly Color Concepts) is the digital foundation of the smart printing industry. Its proprietary database ‘ColorBase’ and suite of software tools are redefining the printing process by enabling unparalleled sharing of information between industry partners and significantly reducing wasted materials, inks, and other print inputs - creating value for both sellers and buyers of printed materials everywhere.
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