Colour Management is perhaps one of the hottest topics for printing, which seems to be shrouded in secretive mystery. The truth is that colour management is very simple to get to grips with, especially with most photo quality printers. So here is an easy workflow.
- Ensure that you are displaying colours correctly on your monitor, this will involve calibrating and creating a profile of your display.
- Use the recommended inks and media (paper) for your printer
- Create or select the correct profile for the media in use
- Ensure you are not double profiling, by selecting Photoshop Manages Colours and turning off colour management in the printer’s preferences.
OK, perhaps a bit simplistic, but taking each stage in turn. Calibrating your monitor is a key step, if you are not seeing correct colours on screen then you are going to have difficulty printing them. Monitor calibration involves setting the correct brightness and contrast for your screen and then place a colorimeter on the screen to read the values of a series of colour patches. Next, follow the on-screen instruction and make adjustment as requested. The DataColor Spyder 4 Elite at £149 is a popular colorimeter choice, it’s easy to use and it also reads the ambient light in a room, other colorimeters are available from X-Rite. The readings taken from the colour patches and are compared to a reference file. The software then makes any adjustment necessary which is then saved as the monitor profile. This profile is sent to your graphics card Look Up Table (LUT) and the colour corrections are automatically applied.
Many photographers encounter problems by not being able to re-produce the colours they see on screen. Generally this is because there may be a mismatch between inks and media, or using the wrong printer profile. Manufacturers invest a lot of time on R&D to ensure you are going to produce the best quality prints. This involves creating inks and media that work flawlessly with your printer. Think of the ink and media as a key component for the printer. Using third party media may throw the balance out, and hence the colours may not be as accurate as could be.
When installing a printer driver a set of “canned” profiles are also installed, normally these profiles will include most of their own media. Generally these are first class, and will produce excellent quality prints, as long as you are using the correct inks and media. However, you may want to use a specialist media surface from a third party supplier. You should visit the paper manufactures web site and download a profile that matches your printer, or create your own. To create a print profile you will need a Spectrophotometer, this is a device for reading colour patches. The spectrophotometer includes software that prints out a target – (a series of colour patches), the target can contain between 288 to 700 patches or more. Once printed on the media that you are profiling, the print should be left to dry for at 1 to 2 hours. Next, use the spectrophotometer to read each patch in turn. This is not as laborious as it sounds as a holder and guide rail is provided for quickly swiping over each line. Once completed, the profile is created, this should only be used with the media that you have just profiled. A new profile has to be created for each new media type.
To use a profile when printing, you should select “Photoshop Manages Colours” and select the correct profile from the Printer Profile drop down list. In the Printers Properties you must ensure that the Colour Adjustment is turned Off, otherwise you will be applying a double profile.
On a final note, think of a profile in the same way that you may think of the fully automatic setting on a camera. Whilst it may produce good results 90% of the time, your skills as a photographer will tell you to over ride the settings when the result is not as expected. The same holds true for printer profiles, they are a good starting point and should produce great results most of the time. But there will be images that you may want to manually tweak. In this case you should consider using an Adjustment layer to fine tune the image before final output.