In my last post I discussed some of the choices we photographers now have in choosing paper surfaces for printing. Someone raised a question that I responded to about how to get the colours accurate but I think this subject deserves a more in depth answer; so here is a little more on the subject.
The secret to getting prints to look the way you want them to is all wrapped up in Colour Management. This can be a very simple process but it can quickly become a wide discussion with lots to confuse. I will try to keep this simple and discuss two areas of colour management that are essential to achieving accurate colour (and for that matter black and white) prints. These are:
- Screen calibration
- Printer calibration
It’s necessary to have an accurately calibrated screen so that you have confidence the colour you see on screen is the colour of the image. This is really vital because you could make your image look great on screen only to find you have compensated for all kinds of colour shifts and contrast problems with your monitor.
There are software solutions that allow you to calibrate your screen visually but these will never be as accurate as a hardware solution that measures the colours on screen, creating a specific profile for your monitor. There are a number of solutions available that will quickly allow you to generate a bespoke profile for your monitor and I suggest you invest in one of these. Its money well spent. Which model you invest in will depend on your budget and the approach you intend to adopt for printing.
When printing, it’s necessary to have your printer calibrated to the specific ink and paper. This allows you to ensure colours and tones are accurately reproduced for a given paper. There are three options here:
- Download and install the ICC colour profile for your printer and the paper you will be using. This is good but not as good as having a custom profile created for your printer.
- Have a custom profile created using a profiling service. This involves printing out a target image which is then measured to generate a profile. You can then install and use the profile for printing. There are a number of such services advertised in the back of photography magazines. Alternatively if you purchase Permajet or Fotospeed papers, they offer this service for free.
- Invest in a hardware solution that allows you to generate your own profile. This is good if you have a lot of profiles you want to create or switch papers often. This is the option I have chosen and have purchased a ColorMunki Photo tool. This allows me to calibrate both my screen and printer. So far the results have been exceptional.
Even if you intend to send your prints away to a printer, it’s still necessary to calibrate your monitor.
When it comes to printing, the printer and paper combination you have selected may not be able to represent accurately the range of colours and tones you see in your image. To compensate for this the printer will adjust the colours so that they fit within the Gamut that the printer can handle. This can affect how some colours appear as well as the contrast level in the image.
The solution to this problem is to use soft proofing for your images. Photoshop, Lightroom 4 and other packages will support soft proofing. This involves selecting the profile you are going to use to print your image and then the software tries to represent the image on the screen as it will ultimately appear on paper. There are lots of solutions here so your best option is to look up how to perform soft proofing for your chosen package. I would even recommend you soft proof your image when sending them off to a third party printer.
So, in summary:
- Profile your monitor and set it to use the customer ICC profile (most calibration units do this step automatically for you).
- Print using a profile generated specifically for your printer and paper combination. You should then use this profile when printing so you will need to print from an ICC aware application such as Photoshop or Lightroom. I use a package called QImage for reasons I won’t go into here other than to say it makes the job easy.
- Check your image using soft proofing before you printing to see if you want to make any further adjustments before you print.
Follow these steps and you will end up with accurate colours and tones in your prints.