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Color Management: Troubleshooting Common Problems

So, you've got your monitor profiled, you have the right profiles for your printer and paper combination, and when you use them, everything always comes out perfect, right?

Unfortunately, as I said at the outset, color management can seem more complicated than it has any right to be. In spite of your best efforts you can still end up feeling a bit lost if things don't come out right. Let's look at a few common problems and what to do about them.

I just got a hardware/software solution for profiling my monitor (X-Rite/Monaco/Gretag-Macbeth, ColorVision, etc). Most things look fine, but when I open images in Photoshop, they look awful. What's wrong?

You probably still have Adobe Gamma loading when your system boots. Now that you have a real color management solution, you don't need it anymore. Running both means you are correcting colors on an already corrected monitor and have thus overshot your target, making colors now off the opposite way they were to begin with. On Windows, go into your Startup group and delete Adobe Gamma.

My colors look OK, but lack the "punch" I see other people getting from the same printer.

You probably still are using sRGB as your Working Space. sRGB has a gamut that is much smaller than most desktop inkjet printers and if you can't represent a color in your Working Space, there's no way you're going to get it on your print. Adobe RGB has a gamut much more closely matched to what printers are capable of and thus makes a much better Working Space.

When I turn on Soft Proofing, everything gets all washed out looking.

This sometimes happens with an overly saturated image when using Perceptual Rendering Intent as it works by compressing the colors in your image to fit within the gamut of your target color space (your printer). Try Relative Colorimetric Intent.

I'm getting banding in the sky when I use Relative Colorimetric Intent.

This is one time when Perceptual may give you better results. It doesn't happen often, but can be an unwanted side effect of mapping out-of-gamut colors to their nearest printable color with Relative Colorimetric Intent.

I'm printing on an Epson printer and everything comes out too dark and oddly green tinted.

This is most likely a result of having color management turned off not only in the printer driver itself, but also in Photoshop. The best way to solve this is to use the printer profile in Proof Setup, and then print with Proof Setup as your Source Space.

What about if things come out overly magenta and super saturated on my Epson printer?

More than likely, you have applied your printer profile more than once. Be sure you have "No Color Adjustment" selected in the printer driver itself. Color management is wonderful, but too much of a good thing is not even better.

Everything comes out OK but for some reason the print preview in the printer driver looks too magenta. The Photoshop Print with Preview and the final output all match the monitor and look fine though.

Oddly enough, this is normal. The Epson printer driver preview is not truly color managed and always assumes it needs to apply a default profile to make things look OK. Since Photoshop has already done this though, this makes the preview have it applied twice, making it come out magenta. It would be nice if Epson made this smart enough to know that you had "ICM/No Color Adjustment" selected in the driver, but it seems they haven't figured this out yet. The driver preview is useful to confirm page placement, but don't try judging color from it.

No matter what I do, nothing works. What now?

Different people explain things different ways, and sometimes the way one person describes something might not do it for you. No matter. Fortunately, the amount of information available on color management continues to increase, to the benefit of all of us who need to understand it. Try someone else's explanation, but I'd suggest you avoid the temptation to mix and match until you really understand what's going on. One of the fundamental tenets of printing is that you want to convert using your printer profile once and only once. As mentioned above, you can get into real trouble if you fail to do so at all or get "profile happy" and do so more than once.

One more thing I mentioned some weeks back that's worth repeating here: everyone who tries to understand color management sooner or later has an "aha!" moment when everything falls into place and starts making sense. My hope is that I've helped at least a few folks see the light in this series of articles. The satisfaction that comes from printing good prints of your own work is something worth working towards. If I wasn't able to do it for you, do keep at it. You'll be glad you did.

Update 12/23/2004 - The references to magenta/green casts above to help determine if you are using your printer profile more than once or not at all work for the "regular" epson printers that use cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks or some version thereof. The newer R800 that adds red and blue inks exhibits slightly different tell-tale colors. If your prints are coming out darker than optimal and with a strong yellow-brown cast, you probably have color management turned off in both the Epson driver and Photoshop. Lighter than normal prints with a strong blue cast generally indicates that you are using your printer profile in more than one place.

Update 02/02/2005 - Just wanted to add links to two new articles on color management: Color Management Answers for Photoshop Elements and Color Management: The Eyeglasses Analogy.

Date posted: April 11, 2004 (updated October 28, 2006)


Copyright © 2004, 2006 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Related articles:
Color Management: Feeling Lost?
Color Management: Color Models, Color Spaces and Color Profiles
Color Management: A Question of Intent
Color Management: Photoshop Color Settings
Color Management: Monitor Profiling
Color Management: Printing Without Pain, Part 1
Color Management: Printing Without Pain, Part 2
Color Management: Converting versus Assigning
Color Management Answers for Photoshop Elements
Color Management: The Eyeglasses Analogy
Color Management Changes in Photoshop CS2
Color Management in Nikon Capture NX
Color Management: Scanner and Digital Camera Profiling
Why Color Management is Like Setting Your Clocks
Help! All My Images Are The Wrong Color!

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