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Thursday, September 24, 2009

10 easy steps to get the right colors when printing...

...or better be prepared to be surprised...that's a line in a song I'm listening to as I'm writing. It's from the soundtrack of "Dan in real life" - great movie.

Anyway, what I actually wanted to say is: be prepared to be surprised when you send your images to a printing service the first time. And I mean one that assumes that you are somewhat serious. One that does not use some kind of color correction, but assumes that you took care of color management yourself. I was pretty surprised when I did this for the first time and got almost completely black prints back. That was a couple of years ago. Since then I became very careful when it comes to printing.

Now behind it is a whole science which I'm not familiar with. I cannot even direct you to a good website explaining all this, because I simply didn't read into it. But I can still share with you some practical tips that I picked up. So far this has been working for me. If you have also ideas how to do this, feel free to leave a comment.

Here are some hints what you might wanna do in order to not throw your money out of the window, and instead get the same colors on paper that you see on your screen:

1. Ask your print shop for test prints of a kind of standard test image.
What you need is a test print that has been done on the same printer and paper your work is going to be printed with. A serious print shop has many different version of this one image and will recommend you to take those from them for free.

2. You also need this particular test image as a file.

3. The third thing you will need is an ICC profile for this printer. The ICC profile is a file that you can load into your image processing software. It will help to emulate the color behavior of the printer.

Now when you have all these three things, you can calibrate your screen. You have to do the following:

4. Open the test image with your image software.

5. In the color management of your software, switch to the ICC profile of the printer. The picture might now appear very different from before in terms of color, brightness, and constrast.

6. Next you hold the printed test image next to the screen.

7. You now adjust the screen settings until the print and the digital version on the screen appear equal, with matching colors, brightness, etc.

If you did this right, any pictures you load from now on into your software will look equal to how it would look when you would send it to the print shop. Most likely it won't look good anymore, so read on.

Now comes the annoying part:

8.With the altered screen settings and the profile loaded, you need now to adjust each image that you want to print until it looks the way you want.
So make a backup copy of it and start adjusting.

9. This altered image is the one you wanna send for printing. It's a terrible overhead, but definitely worth it if you are eager to get in print what you see on the screen. You can store your screen settings for the next time, so you don't need to go through everything again next time you want to print.

Why I'm writing all this right now? I just went through this as I'm preparing the Halloween exhibition. Not that I have any time for this right now, but it has to be done.
Because there are so many images that need to be printed (about 30) I don't want to risk that they are all off. So I added another step to the workflow:

10. If you have a large order of expensive prints, it might be a good idea to order only one print first and use this to double check/double calibrate the screen - see picture below. There was still a difference between the image on the screen and the printed one, so I was glad I did this extra step.

A picture of my desk while trying to match the screen with the print (step 10).

I hope this was useful for someone. Cheers!


B. Moore said...

thanks for the tips. Maybe one day they can make this a whole lot easier!

Oliver said...

Conceptually, I think it would be very simple to make it easier. You have two output media. One is the printer/paper, and the other one is the screen.

The thing I don't understand is why we need to deal with profiles on the software level.
I think all one needs to do is build screens that can load ICC profiles and interpret them to simulate the printer/paper characteristics. This way one could also skip all this manual calibration stuff, which is only a coarse approximation anyway.

Simply load the ICC profile onto your screen to make sure that what you see is what you get and then start adjusting the images.

Why don't they do that? :)

Rodrigo Gómez said...

Hi Oliver,

I don't know if you have already tried converting your images to the ICC profile of your printer, when going to print them? I'm not sure where this is done on Photoshop, as I usually use just Lightroom, but I believe it's on the Edit menu.

I have my screens calibrated, and the only step I do is to convert the printing image to the output profile, and usually the results come very close to what I see on the screen.

Oliver said...

In Photoshop you can view an image according to an ICC profile when you select the profile in "view->proof setup". Is that what you mean? Thanks for your input.

Rodrigo Gómez said...

No, it's I believe Edit | Converto to Profile. There you select the destionation profile, the convert mode (I believe the default is ok). This will convert the image so it will look as close as you see it right now with the specified profile.

I don't know what will happen if you have your setup already with the destionation profile. I have my monitors with the profile generated by the hardware profiler, and Photoshop/Lightroom using ProPhoto RGB. You could try this way and see what happens.

Good luck! :-)

Oliver said...

Oh OK. It sounds like the conversion is a permanent change on the image file itself while the soft proofing doesn't alter it.

I tried it and it turns out that after the conversion is done, the image is resistant to the soft proofing.

No matter which way you choose, as soon as the profile kicks in and the appearance of your image changes, you got to do adjustments on it, if you want to have it look like before.

I also looked a bit into the screen calibration issue. From what what I've found, there are only a few (and expensive) screens that are branded as "color-accurate", and even those are not 100% identical to the AdobeRGB standard. Printing services still recommend hard proofing when dealing especially with regular screens in order to get the pictures on the screen really close to the prints. That's what we are doing in these 10 fabulous steps ;-)

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