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Color Management: Printing Without Pain, Part 2

You need a printer profile for each combination of paper and ink you use on your printer. Even though you will most often use the same ink set all the time, you will still need a profile for each type of paper you use. So, where do you get them?

Most printers now come with at least a limited set of ICC profiles. Although it would be nice if all did, they don't. Before you assume that yours didn't though, double check in some of the miscellaneous folders on the CD that came with it. In at least some cases, they are there but not installed by default. If you still can't find them, look on the manufacturer's website and you may be able to download them. Even if yours did come with profiles, you may find updated ones there anyway so it's a good idea to take a look. For my Epson 2200, it came with some profiles but there were far better ones on Epson's site as part of the P.I.M. (Print Image Matching) plug-in download. I didn't bother with installing the plug-in but merely unzipped the download and copied the profiles onto my system. If you are using third-party papers instead of those made by your printer manufacturer, you might want to check on their website. Many now provide downloadable profiles for popular printers.

If you still can't find profiles for the paper you will be using, you might look at either Inkjet Mall or Dry Creek Photo, both of which can custom make a profile for a reasonable fee for whatever you are using. Monaco Systems, ColorVision and others also sell software/hardware solutions for making your own profiles at home. You are likely to get better results from one of the previous options though since both utilize quite expensive photospectrometer-based systems to make extremely high quality profiles. It is unlikely that you could match the technology they are able to throw at the problem.

Where they go on your system depends on the operating system you are running:

 Operating System   Color Profile Folder 
Windows 98 & ME C:\WINDOWS\System\Color
Windows NT & 2000 C:\WINNT\System32\Spool\Drivers\Color
Windows XP C:\WINDOWS\System32\Spool\Drivers\Color
Mac OS 9 System Folder/Colorsync Profiles
Mac OS X /Library/Colorsync/Profiles (System wide)
~/Library/Colorsync/Profiles (User folder)

When you print, your objective is to convert the data in your image using the appropriate profile once and only once. If you merely enter the profile name in every blank you can find related to printing though you will end up correcting for the color response of your printer several times over. Not good — unless you like horrible colors that is. If using a profile once when printing is a good thing, using it more than once does not make it better.

You could let your operating system do it by selecting the profile in your printer driver. Even if your driver does offer a preview window, it would be too late to change anything if you didn't like what you saw.

You could do it in the Print with Preview dialog in Photoshop. Although the preview window here is much more accurate than what most printer drivers provide, there's still little you can do if you don't like the look of things other than to hit Cancel and make any needed adjustments.

The last several versions of Photoshop have offered a much better solution in the form of Soft Proofing. What this does is perform all the needed calculations to convert from your document color space to your printer space, and from there to your monitor space, all on the fly. The document is never actually modified yet you get to see it the way it would look converted to your printer profile. You can continue to work on your image just as normal, but you are now doing so on a fairly good rendition of the final result. Neat trick.

Photoshop CS Proof Setup DialogAfter doing your normal editing in Photoshop, save your document at full resolution for future use. Then resize to the final print dimensions and resolution and apply any needed sharpening. Then go into View >> Proof Setup >> Custom... and select the profile for your printer, ink and paper combination. Remember that for this profile to be correct, it needs to be this specific since all these variables affect how it renders color.

It is here that you can also select your Rendering Intent. As mentioned earlier, you will almost always want to use either Relative Colorimetric or Perceptual. If you are starting from Adobe RGB 1998 as your document profile there won't be too much difference between the two since the source gamut is larger than the printer's. Rendering Intent really only enters the picture (sorry for the pun) in a noticeable way if things don't fit in the target color space. Checking Black Point Compensation is recommended as this will make sure that black in your image stays black in the printed result. Checking Paper White tells Photoshop to try to match the color of the paper as the brightest white in your image. This doesn't always work and some profiles don't support it at all, but it can often be helpful. Try it both ways with your printer and paper and see which comes closest to matching the printed result. Leave Preserve Color Numbers blank as this would basically defeat the purpose of Soft Proofing. You can save these settings with a name for later use. A little known secret is that if you set this up when no images are open in Photoshop you can make these settings your default for Custom.

If you find that you need to make any changes after enabling soft proofing to restore the image to how it should look (you usually shouldn't if you start from a wide gamut space like Adobe RGB as outlined here), you may find it convenient to duplicate your image first (Image >> Duplicate) so you can compare the before and after views.

Then when you go to print, you need to select Proof Setup for your Source space and Same as Source for your Print space so that proofed document will be passed through without any further color correction. For the same reason, you need to be sure that your printer driver is set to "No Conversion Adjustment" as we discussed last week.

If all goes as planned, you should then get a print that matches quite closely what you see on your monitor.

More next week.

Date posted: March 28, 2004


Copyright © 2004 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
Permanent link for this article

Previous tip: Color Management: Printing Without Pain, Part 1 Return to archives menu Next tip: Color Management: Converting versus Assigning

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: Converting versus Assigning
Color Management: Troubleshooting Common Problems
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
Why Does the Epson Print Preview Image Look so Bad?
Color Management Changes in Photoshop CS4
Soft Proofing Isn't Hard

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