Use ICC profiles to take the guesswork out of printing
Printing is one of those areas of digital photography that lead to baldness. Seeing a photo on paper, and often expensive paper, that looks nothing like the image on screen will have you pulling your hair out—hence, the baldness problem. There are a few ways to keep your hair and ensure that you're getting the best possible print. All of them begin with a properly calibrated display—if you aren't confident in the fidelity of what your monitor is showing you, it's hard to tell if the problem is on screen or on paper. But you also need to be sure your software and printer are on the same page, so to speak.
If you're using only the paper supplied by the same company as your printer—for example, Epson Luster on an Epson printer—you can get good results by letting the printer manage color. To do this, select the proper paper type in the printer driver (Figure 1), and if your editing software supports it (Photoshop, Elements and Lightroom all have this option), set the Color Management option to Printer Manages Colors (Figure 2).
Beyond The Basics
What happens when you want to try any of the fine third-party papers that are available? You can use the same options and select the most similar paper type in the printer, but the results will be less than optimal. To take advantage of these papers, you need to take control over the color management and use the proper paper profile.
Most of the paper vendors have free profiles available for the most common printers. Canon, Epson and HP are all well represented by most paper companies. Profiles are created in a standard way by measuring color values after printing a chart on each paper-type-and-ink combination (Figure 3). These measurements are used to tell the computer how to translate screen colors to the closest possible match on paper. The files will have an .ICC or .ICM extension, and are interchangeable between Windows and Mac.
To use these profiles, download them to your computer. If you're on Windows, these profiles will need to be placed in the Windows/System32/Spool/Drivers/Color folder. If you're using a Mac, the profiles will need to be placed in the Library/ColorSync/Profiles folder. If Photoshop is already running, quit the program and restart to enable the profiles to be available in the Print dialog.
Now, with your image open, select File > Print in Photoshop. Under Color Management, select Photoshop Manages Colors (Figure 4). This will enable the list of printer profiles you have on your computer. From this list, choose the profile that matches the paper on which you'll be printing-in this example, Inkpress Pro Silky. For Rendering Intent, select Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric. Perceptual works fine unless the paper vendor recommends using the Relative Colorimetric option.
When you print, be sure the printer also isn't managing your color. This "double-profiling" leads to unpredictable—and seldom pleasant—problems with your prints. Turn off color management in the printer driver.
Each printer company uses different terminology for this option, and it even can vary from driver to driver. Epson (Figure 5) calls its Color setting "Off (No Color Adjustment)." Canon (Figure 6) uses "Matching: No Correction." HP uses "Application Managed Colors" (Figure 7). You'll still want to select the paper type that's recommended by the vendor, since this controls how much ink and what type of black ink (photo or matte) the printer uses.
That's all there is to it! Once you use your first profile, this all will sound a lot less complicated because you'll see how easy it is. The extra effort up front will pay you back over and over again with more accurate and pleasing prints.
|If you have a printer that isn't covered by the available profiles from vendors, all is not lost. There are a few options to consider. First, you can ask the vendor if they can provide a profile for you. Second, you can have a custom profile built for your specific printer and paper. Companies such as Cathy's Profiles (www.cathysprofiles.com) can create a profile from a chart that you print and send in. You can expect to pay $35 to $40 each for these profiles.|
Another good option is to purchase the hardware to create your own profiles. Datacolor Spyder3 Studio ($599; www.datacolor.com) and X-Rite ColorMunki ($499; www.colormunki.com) are products that allow you to calibrate your display and create printer profiles.