Lightroom 4 Finally Gets Soft Proofing!
Adobe Labs posted a public beta of the forthcoming Lightroom 4 on their website a few days ago. Among the many new features is one I have been asking for since Lightroom was first released back in 2007. I know the title of this article has already given it away, but yes, Adobe has finally added soft proofing to Lightroom. Here's how it works.
For those not familiar with soft proofing, the basic idea is to describe the colors in an image in a standardized way as well as the capabilities for displaying color your monitor and printer are capable of. With all this information, the color management system built into your computer's operating system (and in products like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom) can translate and adjust colors on the fly to get them to come out the way they were intended to. Since the science of ink on paper is so dependent on the specific ink, paper and printer involved, color management can save a great deal of trial and error when printing images. Your computer now does more or less automatically and far more accurately what you would otherwise have had to attempt yourself by experimentation, wasting time, paper and ink. Adobe Photoshop has supported color management since way back in version 5 in 1998. But for some reason Lightroom never has, until now.
To access soft proofing in the Lightroom 4 beta you'll need to be in the Develop module. Once you open an image in Develop, you must enable soft proofing before you can specify your printer profile or any other traditional soft proofing choices. To do so, use the new Soft Proofing checkbox option on the toolbar below the main image display area.
With Soft Proofing enabled, the Histogram panel gets replaced by a new Soft Proofing panel. Yes, the histogram itself is still there, but it's now accompanied by selections for profile, rendering intent, and so on. I like the implementation of these controls a lot. It's far more streamlined than the equivalent in Photoshop and focuses only on what you actually need. The choice of rendering intent is limited to just Perceptual and Relative (more fully referred to as Relative Colorimetric in Photoshop). When you hover your mouse over them, each shows a pop-up tip briefly describing why you might want to chose it. Perceptual says "preserves out-of-gamut detail but may change in-gamut colors." Relative displays "preserves color accuracy, but clips out-of-gamut detail." Short and to the point. Below these is a checkbox for "Simulate Paper & Ink" equivalent to the individual checkboxes for "Simulate Paper Color" and "Simulate Black Ink" in Photoshop.
To control which profiles show up in the selection list, choose the "Other..." option in the dropdown. The resulting full list will allow you to select from all the profiles Lightroom can find on your system. Profiles you place a check mark next to here will be present in the soft proofing control list. This lets you show the profiles you need while hiding those that may be installed but you use only occasionally if at all.
When you enable soft proofing, the normal dark image background will be replaced with a light background. If "Simulate Paper & Ink" is turned on, the background attempts to simulating paper white rather than pure white for a more accurate preview. The success of such an attempt depends on how well made the profile you are using is. Epson profiles for their professional printers seem to be pretty good but I have seen some third party profiles that aren't up to the task. If you right-click on the white background you can change this "Paper White" to any of the traditional neutral tones Lightroom backgrounds are famous for but I am unclear why you would want to since this would interfere with the usefulness of your soft proofing.
You can set all these options as desired in preparation for printing, but Lightroom lets you save your choices in a virtual copy of the image. To do so, click on the large button at the top of the proofing controls labeled "Create Proof Copy." Virtual copies created this way show up in the filmstrip control (and Library module) with the selected profile name as part of the copy name. With a Proof Copy created the real power of soft proofing starts. You can now use all the standard Lightroom Develop controls to tweak your image until you like the results with the changes saved as part of your virtual copy.
The familiar controls for shadow and highlight clipping located in the upper left and right of the histogram get replaced in the Soft Proofing histogram with controls for "Show (or Hide) Monitor Gamut Warning" and "Show (or Hide) Destination Gamut Warning." Exactly which wording gets used depends on whether the option is currently turned off or on. On the image display, colors that Lightroom had to cheat on to show on your monitor will be overlaid in bright blue. Colors that would be out of gamut on your printer (the "destination") will show as bright red. A color that won't fit in either gamut will be bright purple, a combination of blue and red.
You can use the normal Before/After display to show your image compared with the soft proofing display of that image. Easily being able to see what your image is supposed to look like side by side with the proof version is a nice touch. Photoshop forces you to duplicate your image to make similar comparisons.
If you collapse the Soft Proofing panel the panel name gets replace with just the profile name. Unfortunately on my system at least, the value shown is sometimes the full path to the ICC profile, not simply the name the profile. When this happens, all I see is a truncated "C:\Windows\System32\spool\drivers\color\." No part of the file name itself that lives within this folder shows since the panel column isn't wide enough. I can't reliably reproduce this bug, but I do hope Adobe fixes it before the new version actually ships. THis is a beta version after all.
There are also Soft Proofing options on the Lightroom View menu although I have so far found no need for them since they duplicate what I have already described.
Printing with profiles remains as in Lightroom 3.6. At least in the beta of Lightroom 4, the Print module still defaults to colors "Managed by Printer" when it should know to default to the profile selected for soft proofing, but this is a minor issue that will hopefully be resolved before version 4 actually ships.
The Print module does now have two new sliders for adjusting the image Brightness and Contrast at the last minute if you want. My recommendation though is not to use them since you would be better served by going back to the Develop module and making needed adjustments there so they get saved with your Proof virtual copy.
Even as I use Lightroom for more image optimization tasks, I have still had to rely on Photoshop to handle the printing of those images. But I like the way Adobe has finally implemented soft proofing in Lightroom. This may just give me one less reason for needing to open Photoshop.