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Color Management Printing Changes in Photoshop CS3

Adobe seems to tweak things for printing and color management in every release of Photoshop and CS3 is no exception. I covered the majority of the printing workflow changes last week, so now its time to turn our attention to color management. The big change here is a setting called "Match Print Colors" and the basic explanation of what it does is simple. The full story though will take a bit more explaining.

Let's start with the simple version: "Match Print Colors" makes the preview image in the Photoshop CS3 Print dialog match the colors of your image using the profile you have set up for soft proofing.

But, you might ask "didn't it always do this?" No, not exactly. Which leads us to the "bit more explaining" part of this article.

In previous versions of Photoshop, the colors in the preview image in the Print with Preview dialog were based on the document's color space rather than whatever profile you selected for soft proofing. In most cases, this is an irrelevant distinction since you generally adjust your soft proof image to look correct before printing. By doing so, you eliminate or at least minimize to the extent possible any difference in appearance caused by soft proofing. Suppose you open an image, duplicate it and turn on soft proofing for the copy. The colors in the copy might shift slightly due to differences in gamut between your working space and that of your selected printer profile. The difference is generally minimal, but before printing you are likely to tweak the soft-proofed version to negate any difference to get the best print you can.

As such, you likely never noticed that Print dialog preview image was based on the image itself, not the soft proof. This distinction wouldn't really jump out at you after all, seeing as how the two would intentionally be as close to each other in appearance as possible. But that's the way it has worked up till now.

Things are different in CS3 though, and Adobe has given us a choice via the "Match Print Colors" checkbox. With this option unchecked, things are as they've always been, but with it checked, we now have one more aspect of how Photoshop works fully color managed.

Now to make this "bit more explaining" part even more interesting.

Knowledgeable readers may have noticed that the printing workflow I've been recommending doesn't match exactly with what many other authors recommend. If you look at all the various settings in the Print dialog, it's clear they can be filled out in a number of different ways. When you first go into the Print dialog, "Document" is selected for what to print by default rather than "Proof" at the top of the Color Management settings. If you leave it this way, you can then pick "Photoshop Manages Color" for Color Handling and select the proper printer profile and rendering intent for your printer. But in order to get the results you expect, these profile and intent settings must match exactly the ones you used when setting up soft proofing via View >> Proof Setup.

This has always struck me as a weak link in how Photoshop handles printing so it would be all too easy to pick the profile for one paper in Proof Setup but a different but similar one when actually printing. Or perhaps pick Perceptual when setting up soft proofing and pick Relative Colorimetric in the Print dialog. To get around this, I have always selected "Proof" rather than "Document" for what to print. This automatically gets the profile and intent correct since with a single click I can simply refer back to the Proof Setup settings. Just click the "Proof" radio button and I can't get it wrong. When you do this, the profile will have already been applied via soft proofing so can select "No Color Management" under Color Handling. The Proof Setup drop down at the bottom will be set to "Current Custom Setup" by default and everything else will be grayed out. This makes it very easy to set the Print options and keeps mistakes to a minimum, so long as you also turn off color management in the printer driver of course.

Unfortunately, along with the settings that truly don't matter, this new "Match Print Colors" checkbox also gets grayed out when you set Color Handling to "No Color Management." It would be nice if Adobe realized that if you are printing based on your Proof settings you are still using a color managed workflow, even when you select "No Color Management" under Color Handling. I'd love it if Adobe renamed this to "No Additional Color Management" in fact. But this quibble about poor wording pales in comparison to now not letting me select "Match Print Colors" when printing "Proof" rather than "Document" with "No (Additional) Color Management." That's a real bummer.

For me, the benefits of continuing with my Proof based printing workflow outweigh not being able to use "Match Print Colors," but you'll need to make your own choice. So long as I adjust an image to look correct with soft proofing enabled, it will print correct since I always get the same profile and rendering intent in the Print dialog that I did in the Proof Setup dialog. And the preview image will still look quite close since the proofed image looks quite close to what it did without soft proofing turned.

If you want to have the added benefit of "Match Print Colors" though, you'll need to change to printing your "Document" rather than your "Proof" and be sure to select the same profile and intent. Not a major burden of course, but it does give you one more thing you can get wrong.

For the curious, what Adobe thinks the "Proof" option is for in the Print dialog is to create a Match Print or Hard Proof to emulate one printer such as a press using the inkjet printer you have at home. But it can also simplify soft proofing for your own printer. Now if only Adobe would realize that.

Date posted: February 17, 2008


Copyright © 2008 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Previous tip: Printing Changes in Photoshop CS3 Return to archives menu Next tip: Smart Filters: Photoshop Gets a Bit Smarter

Related articles:
Color Management: Printing Without Pain, Part 1
Color Management: Printing Without Pain, Part 2
Color Management Changes in Photoshop CS2
Printing Changes in Photoshop CS3
Color Management Changes in Photoshop CS4

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