What Does ISO Mean in Printing?

By Tom Chmielewski

The Geneva, Switzerland-based International Organization for Standardization establishes standards for a wide range of businesses and industries, including computer printers and the commercial printing industry. Because its acronym would be different in each of the languages of the 162-member countries, the organization standardized its own acronym as ISO, derived from the Greek word “isos,” meaning equal. The acronym ISO, followed by a number, identifies a specific standard accepted by the organization.

Equal Results

In printing, applying ISO standards gives a dependable result for the rate of pages yielded by a desktop printer, color reproduction when a computer file is sent to a commercial printer for printing and even the quality of paper used for printing. In essence, the standards, when practiced, assure that you get what you expect.

Desktop Printer Yields

In 2006, the ISO set new standards to measure page yields for ink and color toner. Companies following those standards report the amount of pages a specific model of printer and cartridge will produce based on test pages approved by the ISO. One suite of test pages is used for testing "cartridge page yields" of documents with mixed color graphics and text, while a second set tests cartridge page yields of predominantly black text documents. The test results provide a means for comparing printers yielding the same pages under test conditions conducted by a third party. The results are published on printer packaging in the form “ISO 15 ppm” to mean 15 pages per minute using the ISO test pages. Everyday results, however, will vary depending on how much text and graphics are being printed on the pages.

Commercial Color Printing

The color you see on your screen may not match the color you see produced by your desktop printer, and may not match the color produced when the same file is outputted by a commercial printer, unless your design program uses standardized color profiles and the printer tests its press to conform to ISO standards. The ISO specifies the color and transparency to be produced by a process color ink set when printed commercially under set conditions. The commercial printer is able to adjust the press as needed to meet the ISO standards. It’s not just that red is red, but that the color produced by the the mixing of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks matches the wavelength of light specified in your design program. PDF/X, a setting found in design programs for preparing a PDF file for commercial printers, is an ISO standard for graphic content exchange that eliminates variables in font, color and trapping that lead to printing issues.

Paper Assurances

The ISO certifies paper mills to produce paper that meets special needs in printing. IOS 9706, for instance, is the international standard that guarantees a grade of paper for archiving. Paper accredited under this standard maintains its good condition for many years, making it ideal for printing financial, legal and other important documents. ISO 14001 identifies paper produced in mills certified to meet strict environmental guidelines.