Printer to Match my Screen

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This reserved article originally appeared in CHROMiX ColorNews Issue 24 on Oct 15, 2006.

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October 2006 This Month's Feature Article:

Contents

How Do I Get My Printer To Match My Screen?

by Pat Herold, CHROMiX's Tech Guru


I get to hear first hand what many of you are struggling with when you call for help, so I thought I'd answer a question we often hear: getting your monitor to match your printer.

(Wait a minute. Wasn't there a ColorNews article on this topic a long time ago?) Well, yes. Issue #2 of CHROMiX ColorNews from April of 2001 was on the topic of "Screen to Print Matching." However, in our daily business of answering customers' questions here, a shift has occurred in the past 5 years. You may not have noticed, but a lot has changed in the digital world in the past 5 years.)

In the past, a fair number of the people interested in color management were involved in the press industry, digital photofinishing, and maybe on the cutting edge of digital camera development. These days we've seen a great increase in the number of digital photographers out there. There is a steady stream of photographers who migrate over to digital, only to find themselves scratching their heads over how to achieve these stunning results (in color control) they keep hearing about.

A lot of times, a newbie will have picked up a few pieces of the puzzle, but won't have the whole picture put together.

"I just bought a new $1000 monitor; why doesn't my screen match my prints?"

or

"I just bought a new printer; why doesn't my screen match my prints?"

So I have in mind the private photographer who is working in Adobe Photoshop to get his on-screen image to match his inkjet printer. You veterans of color management may find this article to be something of a review, but I'd bet you know someone who needs to understand this topic, and you could hand this on to them. Plus, I'd like to put a special emphasis on soft-proofing, a sometimes forgotten and often-times misunderstood aspect of this process.


Among the items needed to match a digital image from a computer screen to an inkjet printer are:


THE MONITOR

Usually the best place to start in getting a color-managed workflow is with the monitor. In the old days a CRT monitor would come from the factory with its RGB color guns blasting at full force. This would result in a white point of somewhere around 9300 degrees Kelvin which looked very blue. Out of the box, modern LCD monitors make at least a reasonable attempt to have their back-lights put out something close to daylight color. On my desk I have a nice LaCie 321 with a very respectable white point of about 6100, and next to it, a bargain-basement LCD with a native white point of almost 7000 - rather blue. We don't often notice when a monitor is off-color because our eyes have a way of automatically adjusting to whatever color shift they see. But we want the monitor to be more dependably white. What the sun gives us in normal daylight is around 5000 Kelvin, which is what is normally assumed in a printer profile. 6500 Kelvin is a happy medium that is usually recommended for computer monitors to simulate normal white. Some people end up choosing a point between 6500 - 6000 or less to get a white that works in their workflow, but the recommended starting point is 6500 Kelvin.

How to Calibrate the Monitor

Adobe Photoshop comes with a small utility called Adobe Gamma that can be used to adjust your monitor "by eye" in order to get close to the correct color and brightness/contrast. On Mac systems you also have the Display Calibrator Assistant. Of course, these methods are "by eye" and, as I said already, our eyes have a way of "white-balancing" themselves to whatever colored light is prevalent. So our eyes can be fooled, and it is best to depend on something that will give you a dependable, consistent correction of your monitor's peculiarities: a colorimeter.

Variously referred to as a "puck," a "spider", a "thing that hangs on the screen" - these colorimeters have come up in quality and down in price enough so that they are attainable for the serious photographer. A colorimeter is a hardware device that will allow you to calibrate and profile your monitor so that the white point and every color point along the spectrum is consistently and dependably adjusted to be where it should be. These can be purchased from a number of reputable vendors, including CHROMiX.

The procedure is similar with most modern colorimeters:

  1. Install the software & plug the colorimeter into a USB port on your computer
  2. Launch the software and run through the procedures given.
  3. Place the colorimeter on the surface of the monitor.
  4. The software presents colored patches for the colorimeter to read. It compares the colors given to the measurements received at the colorimeter.
  5. The video card in the computer is changed to produce the desired colors on the monitor.
  6. An ICC profile is created which the computer operating system and image manipulating applications (like Photoshop) can use to properly represent color to the viewer.

Now you have your monitor all adjusted and giving you an accurate presentation of what your digital image "really looks like" - at least as far as your monitor is capable of producing it.

THE PRINTER

Your inkjet printer will print colors differently than will your neighbor's printer - just as your toaster will toast bread differently than your neighbor's toaster. An ICC color printer profile will characterize how a printer handles color, and makes it possible for color input from all different situations to be handled intelligently when it gets printed.

"Canned" profiles

Each printer driver comes with ICC color profiles that are specifically designed for the papers that the printer manufacturer sells. For example: An Epson printer will come with profiles like "Epson Premium Luster". These are designed to correctly print color onto this same kind of paper in your printer. If you are printing with Epson Premium Luster paper, then you would choose this profile when you print.

If you are printing on other brands of paper, you will find there are few profiles supplied for alternate media and, since they are "generic", you may not get the perfect color you are looking for. Also, there can be minor differences in consistency between different printers even if they are of the same model. So, even with manufacturer-supplied profiles with manufacturer paper, a precise color match might not be achievable.

Custom Profiles

Custom profiles are made specifically for one printer, with one ink set, with one paper type (and one lighting condition). These present the highest level of accuracy that can be achieved with printer profiles.

Software and hardware packages are available whereby users can print up their own profiling targets, measure them, and create these custom profiles themselves. These packages usually include software that generates ICC profiles, and a spectrophotometer that is capable of reading reflective measurements. The cost of these packages runs from $600 to several thousand dollars depending on quality and extent of features.

As an alternative to "doing it yourself" there are service providers who supply custom printer profiles over the web. There is a cost advantage to using a service provider, especially if you only need a small number of profiles. In addition, many people find that allowing a service provider to do their profiling makes life simpler for them. Finally, it is possible to get a better profile from a competent profiling service than one can make oneself - without investing in several thousand dollar's worth of equipment.

The usual procedure is:

  1. Download instructions and a profiling target image.
  2. Print the profiling target image on your printer, following very specific instructions.
  3. Mail the target print into the profiling service.
  4. The service provider measures the target using their spectrophotometric equipment
  5. The service provider uses the target measurement to create the profile, and emails the profile back to the customer.

RGB or CMYK

It is useful to know whether your printer will be considered an RGB device or a CMYK device. This cannot be determined merely by reading the color names of the print cartridges, or by counting the cartridges. Most inkjet printers will use at least four standard inks: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black - yet most inkjet printers will need to be profiled as RGB devices. Generally, if a driver is used to submit images directly to the printer, then it should be profiled as an RGB device. If you are printing through a RIP, then you might be looking at a true CMYK process. CHROMiX provides a test image which you can print and use to determine which arrangement you have.

ColorValet Client

CHROMiX has just created a new service which makes this process even easier. Our ColorValet service now features a "Client" application that you can download onto your computer. The Client walks you through target printing and shipping, and even the profile installation process once we've finished the measurement! It's easy and fun and almost impossible to make a mistake! (Steve keeps a proper reserve when writing ColorNews articles and holds back on promoting CHROMiX services, but I HAVE NO SUCH COMPUNCTION!)

Target Requirements

Here are important points to watch for when printing your profiling target:

Before you send it, inspect your target for any type of imperfection. A quick review and, if necessary, reprint at this point in the process could save lots of time and effort, and get your color matching issues resolved that much more quickly.

Editor's note:

As of Photoshop CS5, there is no long an option for "No Color Management" in the Photoshop print dialog window. There are a few ways to handle this. The easiest solution is to download the Adobe Print Utility and use it to print a target without color management. http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/834/cpsid_83497.html


OK. I have a custom ICC printer profile. Now what?

WHERE TO PUT THE PROFILE

Windows

C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\SPOOL\DRIVERS\COLOR

Macintosh

Your ICC printer profile can be placed in several locations:

If you want system-wide access to the profile (i.e. all users), it belongs in

HD>Library>ColorSync>Profiles

If you would prefer to make your profiles available only to one user,

User>Library>ColorSync>Profiles

HOW TO PRINT WITH YOUR PROFILE

When you are ready to print your image in Photoshop, you will:

  1. Open it in Photoshop
  2. Go to File, Print with Preview
  3. Under "Color Handling", choose "Let Photoshop determine colors"
  4. Choose your new printer profile
  5. Choose your rendering intent (usually relative colorimetric or perceptual)
  6. Click print
  7. Ensure that any color management is still off in the printer driver

You want the conversion to the printer profile to happen in only one place. And Photoshop is the most dependable place around.


(Editor's note: The following are updated instructions for printing through Photoshop CS4 & CS5:)

When you are ready to print your image in Photoshop, you will:

  1. Open it in Photoshop CS4
  2. Go to File, Print
  3. Under "Color Handling", choose "Photoshop Manages Colors"
  4. Choose your new printer profile in the drop-down list
  5. Choose your rendering intent (usually relative colorimetric or perceptual)
  6. Click print
  7. Ensure that any color management is still off in the printer driver

SOFT PROOFING

You've got a monitor profile for your recently-calibrated monitor. You also now have a well-made printer profile that you are printing through. Your profiled monitor is presenting to you your image as accurately as it can, given the limitations of the color gamut of the monitor. Your printer profile is printing your image in an intelligent way so that it looks as good as it can, given your intents, and given the limitations of the printer. Anybody see what's missing? Monitors are capable of showing colors that printers cannot print (like saturated reds, blues and greens.) And printers can produce colors that are out-of-gamut for most monitors (like some cyans.) Soft-Proofing allows you to look at your image in Photoshop THROUGH the printer profile, so you can see what your image will look like when it gets printed through the profile.

  1. Open the image in Photoshop
  2. Choose "View: Proof Setup->Custom"
  3. Profile: Select your new, custom profile
  4. Intent: Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric (whichever you used to make the print)
  5. Use Black Point Compensation: checked
  6. Simulate: Paper White (unchecked), Ink Black (checked)
  7. Leave "Preserve Color Numbers" UNchecked (in most cases - see below)
  8. Click OK

The monitor now shows what the image will look like when it gets printed, with all the limitations and color adjustments that the printer and its profile will accomplish. This "soft-proof" should match fairly closely to what gets printed through the same profile.

You can also save this whole setup as a "proof setup file" with a name you choose, so you can quickly view an image through this soft-proof any time you want to see what your image will look like when printed.

Preserve RGB-CMYK Numbers

No ColorNews article is ever complete without a little bit of Geek Talk, so let's talk about the "Preserve RGB/CMYK Numbers" check box. (In pre-CS2 versions of Photoshop this is just the "Preserve Color Numbers" box.)

Some of you will want a printer profile to print through when you are printing. I'm thinking of a professional photographer who has an inkjet printer connected to your computer directly. You are doing this soft-proofing so you can see what your image will look like after you go to the Print with Preview window and print your photo using the custom profile. When you are at this proof setup stage, you will want to leave the Preserve numbers box UNchecked. You don't want Photoshop to keep the numbers that make up your colors the same. You want them to change; you expect the color numbers to change because you are sending the image through a profile, and that's what a profile does - it changes the color numbers to something else.

Some of you will want to use a printer profile to merely view what a printing system is going to do when you hand off your image to it. I'm thinking of a press operator who is going to send something through your press, or a minilab operator who has made a profile of their Fuji Frontier, or just a photographer who is going to send his image to a lab to be printed. In this case, you have a printer profile (perhaps supplied to you by the out lab, or a custom profile made by someone like CHROMiX for your Frontier) and you are going to hand over your image to this printing system, and no profile conversion is going to happen downstream from where you are. In this case, you would CHECK the Preserve RGB/CMYK Numbers checkbox, and Photoshop will display what that printing system will do to your image when you hand it straight over (without converting to that profile.) With this box checked, you ARE going to keep the device numbers that make up your color the same, and then hand it over to the downstream printing process, and that printing process is going to do whatever it will to your image. The profile you are using has captured that effect, and you are bringing that profile to bear to display what that downstream effect is going to have on your image. Have I said this enough times? I try to say the same things in different ways in the hopes that one of them will make sense!

____

Still doesn't match? Here are some finer points to consider:

LIGHTING

This is not really a minor point, but it is one that many overlook easily. An image displayed on a monitor that is balanced to a daylight white point cannot be expected to match a print viewed under normal household lighting conditions. You can't hold your print under your 65 watt GE table lamp and expect it to look like your calibrated monitor. And you can't trust your eyes to tell you what light sources are "white". (Yipes! Who can you trust?!) Many colorimeters have software that will allow you to take ambient light measurements. Look into getting some form of daylight-balanced lighting.

Issue #5 of the ColorNews newsletter deals with metamerism and lighting in great detail. <http://www.colorwiki.com/wiki/Metamerism_Article> <http://www.colorwiki.com/wiki/Color_Management_Myths_16-20>

The White Paper Test

Open a blank image in Photoshop (with a white background) and hold up a sheet of your printing paper. If the white of the screen does not match the white of the paper, you will not have success getting the actual monitor image to match the print. You can change your lighting to match the monitor, or you can adjust your monitor to match your lighting. It is easier to do the latter, but it is more proper to do the former.

EYES AND A BRAIN (perception)

I'm actually not trying to be insulting. I just want us to keep in mind that color is not a THING, but the result of a PROCESS of perception - and a rather complicated process at that. Light from the sun shines on an object. The light that is NOT absorbed by the object bounces off of it and enters the eye, and the eye INTERPRETS that visual signal in the brain as a certain color.

If you have waded through all the above and something is still not matching, then (how do I say this diplomatically) you might want to consider whether you are falling victim to one of many common optical illusions. Maybe your brain is playing tricks on you.

We underestimate how easily our eyes can be fooled. Our eyes adjust to the available illuminant, so you can think you are looking at something of neutral color that actually is not. Our eyes are very good at noticing the subtlest change in color when two samples are viewed side by side, but we don't have a very good memory for color. We can't really remember what particular shade of color was on a flower we shot yesterday, and then successfully compare it to the picture we're looking at today.

Even the colors in our environment (the color of the walls, etc.) will affect how we perceive what we're looking at. People who are serious about accurate color perception go to the point of painting the walls gray, and wearing gray lab coats over regular clothing, when making decisions about images. (They probably are not much fun at office parties, but I'm sure their mothers love them.)

Also, when we are used to looking at a favorite picture and seeing it a certain color, we notice any change and tend to think that the change is "wrong". Consider the possibility that what you have gotten used to is wrong, and now what you are looking at is right for the first time. This is a tough thing for a lot of people to believe. "Seeing is believing," right?

Optical Illusions

At CHROMiX we like to collect examples of optical illusions. Here is a link to a website that features many interesting optical illusions concerning our color perception.

http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/

Hopefully this shake your confidence in believing everything you see.

If you are still thinking that YOUR eyes aren't susceptible to these kinds of illusions, here is an excellent example of an optical illusion from our ColorWiki:

http://www.colorwiki.com/wiki/Image:Pink_green_dots.gif

If your eyes follow the movement of the rotating pink dot, the dots will remain only one color, pink. However if you stare at the black "+" in the center, the moving dot turns to green. Now, concentrate on the black "+" in the center of the picture. After a short period, all the pink dots will slowly disappear, and you will only see only a single green dot rotating. It's amazing how our brain works. There really is no green dot, and the pink ones really don't disappear.


Test image

Use a neutral test image. And by neutral I mean an image with known neutral colors (this can be verified using the eye dropper in Photoshop and reading 128, 128,128, for example). We like to use the Fuji Test image because it has a wide variety of saturations & image scenes - and the background behind the pitchers in the Fuji Test image is truly neutral. You can find other test images on the home page of the ColorWiki.

<http://www.colorwiki.com/wiki/Test_Images>


STILL DOESN'T MATCH??? (Well, I hope you figure it out soon.... this newsletter's getting too long!)


Rendering intent mis-match

Are you printing with the same rendering intent that you are using to soft-proof?

Is the color within your device's ability to reproduce?

Due to gamut differences between your image, monitor and printer, colors on the monitor may not be printable (e.g., saturated blues, greens and reds), and colors not visible on the monitor may appear on the print (often cyans).

Profiling workflow vs. production workflow

When monitors and printers are not matching, the cause is frequently traced to some change between how the profiling target was printed, and how the regular production work is now being printed with the profile. Ideally, these two paths should be identical - except, of course, for the fact that while printing the target NO color management is used, and during production color management IS used in one (and only one) place to convert the image using the profile as it goes to the printer. The profile captures the characteristics of a printing process at a certain place in time. If something has changed, then your color might have changed. Sometimes, all you can do at the end of the day is make a new profile.


Thanks for reading,

-Patrick Herold

CHROMiX

(Editor's note: If you have a Mac computer, there may be additional issues affecting your printer's output. See the article Tech Support Grab Bag for more information.)
(Also see a companion article My Printer Is Too Dark for more information specifically related to brightness or luminance issues.)

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