We’d love if every single print job you do comes out perfectly, but sometimes things just go wrong. When a print doesn’t look like you expect, where do you start?
Workflow pro Renée Besta is here to demonstrate the troubleshooting process with a case study on diagnosing a print with poor color results. Renée works through the hardware and software methodically to isolate which component in the complex printing process may be triggering inaccurate color.
- Third party paper, custom profile, poor color output – What’s to blame?
- Checking that correct media settings are in place
- Media type mismatch
- Decoding information ICC profiles provide in the file name
- How to tell which stock media type you must use with a given ICC profile (it matters!)
- When a print color issue isn’t actually an error, but the result of inexperienced expectations
- Much more!
Listen in to learn about troubleshooting print color issues
- Listeners featured in this episode include Christopher Kates from ThePaintedPixel.com.
- For more on printing on third party papers, read Renee’s article How to Configure Printer Settings for Third Party Papers.
- Download Renee’s additional information and resources from this episode including links to popular printer evaluation images by clicking here.
- Love the show? Have some feedback for us? Leave us a review on iTunes.
Prefer to read over listen? Want to save this conversation for reference later? We transcribe all of our shows for these reasons! Download this episode’s transcription below:
Or, to view a web version of the transcript:
Announcer 1: You are listening to the AskBC podcast – your printmaking questions, answered by the experts!
Justin: Hey guys, this is your host Justin, welcome to episode 29 of the AskBC podcast! Special guest Renee Besta joins us today to talk about trouble shooting color print issues, the on-board spectrophotometers of HP Z-Series printers, and more. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Renee’s website at renmarphoto.com. And you can also use the BC blog search bar to find other articles and podcasts by Renee. She’s got a ton of knowledge, so be sure to check those out if you haven’t already.
Without further adieu, let’s go ahead and jump into the show.
Announcer 2: This question comes from Christopher Kates…he’s from ThePaintedPixel.com. Christopher asks, “I’m following your instructions very closely…” I assume he’s talking about the instructions on our website. “…to print on Pura Smooth fine art paper with matte black.” He says he’s also using our custom profile from the website. He says, “The color just isn’t right. It’s too saturated and very warm. The reds are especially saturated and warm to the point of turning orange. He has tried some Epson canned profiles on the Pura Smooth, and they look even worse. I tried playing with the rendering intents. I sent both ProPhoto RGB and Adobe RGB files. At this point I can only use the Epson for media that uses photo black ink. I use my printers a lot for printing art reproductions that I’ve created for customers. If I go into changing color for these images, they won’t print as nicely when other businesses print for them.” So essentially he doesn’t want to modify on a file-by-file basis just to get it to come out good on the printer. He says, “All the test prints I’ve done so far were photographs from a DSLR, and I’m printing directly from Photoshop CS6 on a Mac.”
Justin: Jeez, I’ll have to take a breath after that one, it’s a pretty loaded question, I think. A lot of details.
Justin: What kind of thoughts do you have on that?
Renee: I have a lot of thoughts on that. First of all, good morning to you Justin and thank you so much for having me back, I appreciate it.
Justin: Morning, thank you.
Renee: This is just a great question, it’s a common problem I’ve seen a lot of printing students deal with, and I have many, many possibilities as to why Christopher is having printing issues, and I think in this case it’s more than likely due to either improper printer or media settings in the printing workflow. It’s not going to be due to the profile.
So, just bear with me, because some of these possible pitfalls may sound [unintelligible] – you think, “Oh, nobody’s going to do that.” but it does happen, and I’ve made those mistakes myself. Others are not so obvious.
So I’m just going to kind of go through these.
First of all, he did not say what printer he is using. I presume it’s Epson, as he’s discussing Epson canned profiles. And so if the printer is an Epson, is it an older model where he needs to physically swap out the photo black ink with matte black ink carts for printing on matte or cotton papers such as Pura Smooth? The reason I ask that, it’s important, and I will get to that.
I have myself used the Breathing Color profile and the Pura Smooth paper and I”ve gotten phenomenal results. And I also, before this podcast, I examined several different Pura Smooth profiles for different printers, both Epson and Canon, in my Mac’s ColorSync utility, which allows you to [unintelligible] lab plot of the profile, you can take a look at it. It looks excellent.
It’s large, it has great gamut. I’ve compared it to Epson’s profiles for a similar paper, which would be a hot press natural, and they’re very equivalent. So it’s not the profile that has got a problem, unless something went wrong in the installation when he downloaded and installed it. Maybe you want to re-do it. Something could have gotten corrupt that way.
But really with these types of severe problems – the saturation, the colors being off, it’s very warm…It’s got to be an issue, again, with the printer or media settings or something in the printing workflow, beginning with Photoshop.
So let me go through some possibilities that people may or may not consider:
First of all, you always have to ask – did you run a nozzle check on the printer to ensure all of the nozzles are firing properly and none of them are clogged?
Has he done a head alignment lately? I mean, there could be an issue with that. Sometimes with these nozzles, it’s very much image-dependent. On certain images, you might not notice that there’s a problem, with others it’s going to result in a disastrous print.
Then I would say it sounds like he’s doing more printing on photo-type papers, and not matte black. So the question therefore is, how old is your matte black ink? If you’re not using it that much, perhaps it’s expired? I mean, there is a shelf life to these, and I would definitely pull out that cartridge if you’ve not printed with the matte black ink in a while and check the expiration date.
Also, when something sits for a long time, the pigments will settle. They’re not soluble, more or less, they’re held in solution but they do start to settle. And I always do this before I do a lot of printing jobs. I take out every one of my cartridges and rock them back and forth and reinsert them, just because of that issue. It’s just something you should always do. So that could be an issue in printing on a matte type of paper.
And I have to say, because I’ve seen people do this, did you download the correct ICC profile for Pura Smooth for your printer make and model? And I don’t know, he may be extremely experienced. I’ve seen people, they’re going through this big, giant list, and they pick one or select one and it’s for an Epson 3880 when they’re printing on a 9800, which is a totally different printer, which obviously – I mean these are common mistakes, and I’m not saying he’s doing this, but I’ve made this mistake myself in a rush, and I would definitely try to reinstall it and be sure it’s the correct one for your printer.
I would also check, when he says he’s having these reds and oranges, you know, check your histogram – that is something a lot of people really gloss over whether it’s Photoshop or Lightroom, and it’s particularly easy to do in Photoshop because, depending on how you’ve got your palettes set up, you could have the default tab selected for the navigator, and not the histogram.
Whereas in Lightroom, the histogram is always showing – one of the many reasons I like Lightroom. You know, and click on the different channels. Are you seeing something really weird? Something clipping with the reds or the oranges in a particular image? Is this happening on all images, or is it just a particular image?
Look at your histogram. Is it balanced in terms of the tones, you know, from blacks to whites?
Make sure, of course, you’re letting Photoshop manage colors in the print dialogue box, and that you’re disabling printer color management so that you’re not doing double color management. Of course, because he says he’s on a Mac, that’s automatically done, whereas on Windows you have to actually go in and disable the printer color management, or you’re going to get double color management. And I only mention that for the benefit of other people.
And what I really think is going on here, is that he may well be not printing on the correct recommended media type. And if you’re not doing that, the printer may well be using photo black ink to print on a cotton paper instead, which is going to give you – i’ve seen these types of results using photo instead of matte black ink.
Well how can that happen? Well, pretty easily. A lot of people, they make printer instructions, and I’ve printed them out before and mentioned them in articles and podcasts, there’s a section that asks a question – what media type do I use?
And there’s a hyperlink under the media type, which takes you out to another page, which has a chart with abbreviations, and I’ve referenced that, again, in many podcasts. And at the top, and I wish you would fix this – please fix this, Justin – it says, as an example, with Pura Smooth, it’ll say “BC” first, manufacturer, it’ll then have your printer model (this is in the name of the ICC profile) which is 9900, and it will give you the paper type and then it will say whether it’s MK or PK – matte or photo black. For Pura Smooth, you have that abbreviation listed as PK.
Renee: And I’ve pointed it out before on an article and a podcast – that should be, obviously, MK, because it’s a 100% cotton paper. So it uses matte black ink.
And then after that, there is an abbreviation for a media type. Now of course, if you’re using an Epson or Canon printer, you’re not gonna find…you can’t select Pura Smooth. There’s no media type for that, because they want you to buy their papers. So the paper manufacturer will always tell you, “This is the suggested media type.” In other words, they make a decision when making the profile what is going to be the closest match to the third party paper compared to the OEM paper, and the only way to find out that information is to actually, physically look at the file name for the ICC profile. And at the very end of the filename you will see some cryptic abbreviations, which is why Breathing Color has the chart listing all those abbreviations for Canon and Epson printers.
So an Epson printer on Pura Smooth, you want to select “Water color paper radiant white” as the media type. And you have to do that. If you’re not doing that, you’re going to have problems with the print, and this is what I think may be going on. I don’t know, but it is an extremely common mistake is people don’t stop to think, “Oh, I’m putting Pura Smooth paper in” but they’re just letting it default whatever paper, it could be any time of Epson Enhanced Matte or whatever. But if you don’t select “Water color paper radiant white” with the Epson (on the Canon it’s “Extra heavy weight art paper” abbreviated EHWAP) — so you can see what I’m getting at, it’s confusing. You’re not going to get good results.
If you select an Epson paper instead, and it’s really critical – people forget it’s a very important step when you’re doing third party paper printing. And again, the only way to know is to look at the name of the profile. So after you install it, you’re going to have to navigate — now I don’t know where this lives in Windows, but on the Mac, you go to your Mac’s main library, then go into the folder “ColorSync,” and then there’s another folder called “Profiles,” and that’s where they all live.
You just scroll down and look for that profile, and make sure it correlates to the right printer you’re using, and look at the very end where it’s got that abbreviation. Compare it to the chart, and, again, for this Pura Smooth, you want “Water color paper radiant white.”
And again, I would say, read my article on how to print on third party papers, because it uses this as an example, and walks you through all the steps.
The other issue, and I know this sounds extremely bizarre, but it’s happened to me. Sounds obvious…be sure you’re printing on the correct side of the paper. Most of the time, that’s very, very obvious – especially with a photo paper, that’s really obvious, which side is printable.
When you get into the cotton papers that don’t have optical brightening agents, in other words they’re called “natural,” it’s a smooth, it’s not textured. You have Pura Smooth, Pura Velvet, and Elegance Velvet…the color will look the same front to back. So if you happen to pull that out, normally when you buy papers the printable side is facing up. What I always do is to dust my papers off with a drafting brush. Some people use compressed air, and that’s to get rid of all of those little, you know, loose cotton particles that are there left from the manufacturing process which can clog up the printer.
And actually, if those particles are on there you can have little white spots on your print. So say I pull that out and I brush off the front, brush off the back, set the paper down, go to configure something on the paper, I walk over and say “Gee, which side, I don’t remember, is the print side down?” and I look at it under the proper light, and you can flip it back and forth, and sometimes it can be, with certain papers – usually it’s obvious – but in this case it can be hard to see which side’s coated. If you’re not printing on the coated side, you’re gonna have…that’s exactly what it looks like. Orangish red, the saturation is off. It’s just not coated.
So that’s an issue with that – if that makes sense. And I don’t know if you’ve ever done that.
Justin: Yeah, it’s happened to all of us, you know.
Renee: I certainly have.
Then the other thing you’re going to need to do, because these are third party papers – Epson’s not going to have everything programmed in to the, you know, printer driver software. You’re going to need, for Pura Smooth, to manually widen the platen gap on an Epson printer. Why? Because you’re saying choose watercolor paper radiant white as the media type, so if the paper expects to be fed that, that is a much wider paper and it’s much thinner than Pura Smooth. So you manually have to compensate for that by widening the platen gap on the Canon, as you know that’s the head height, and again, I discussed all that and went through it on my article on third party printer settings.
So if you don’t, that’s going to cause problems whether it’s too wide – ink can dry on the way down, you’ll get poor dmax. If it’s too narrow you can end up with head strikes, there’s just all kind of issues you can have with that. And also then, with the Epson, there’s a way to manually configure the thickness settings in millimeters. And I put in a whole conversion table in my article and explained how to do that, so you’re going to have to calculate what that should be and make sure that’s set.
And so the other thing I would do, since he’s not printing very much on matte papers. My question is: is he having this problem on an Epson type of matte paper, using Epson’s profiles? Or is this just for Pura Smooth. Run a test, try Epson’s enhanced matte, something cheap, using Epson’s profile – does that come out okay? That gives you a lot of valuable information.
Justin: Yeah, that’s a good point. And I think Pura Smooth has kind of a warm tone anyways.
Renee: Yes, it does – it has no OBAs, you know? A natural paper.
When he said he tried a handful of Epson canned profile and they looked the worst of all, my question was – are you talking about using Epson profiles on Epson papers, or are you trying Epson profiles on the Pura Smooth, because you can’t use an Epson profile on a non-Epson paper.
Every profile that’s made is specific for a printer, ink, and paper combination. So that begs the question: are you having, also, problems with Epson profiles on Epson matte papers? Run a test.
The other thing to do, which I always recommend, in order to evaluate profiles and papers – download one of the many professional test evaluation images that are out there on the web.
I gave links to them on articles and shownotes. I always use the one by the late Uwe Steinmueller – that’s sort of a hybrid between Uwe’s work and Bill Atkinson’s test evaluation image. And those are awesome, they’re very, very challenging, and that’s really a good way to evaluate your workflow and your settings and how good the profile is.
Does that come out fine?
So I don’t know if this is specific to just a couple images or if it’s happening on everything. If it happens on Epson matte papers, I also gave links to Keith Cooper’s Northlight Images website – the page where there are scores of these evaluation images, and they are very, very useful.
And if those come out correct, and usually there are instructions on what to look for. They have ramps going from white to very dark where everything in between you should be able to see the difference. Color swatches, challenging areas where they have weird colors – weird reds and oranges and greens. They’re just awesome for that. So that’s always good, if you can get that to work.
But it’s not going to be the profile. So again, trying to change the rendering intent or converting to a different color space when you’ve got these types of problems, it doesn’t surprise me, but that’s not helping.
Anyways, I probably listed about 20 reasons, but they’re all valid, and they’re mistakes I have made, I’ve seen students making the mistakes. But the number one thing is not realizing with the third party paper, you have to pick an OEM media type in the printer driver. If you’re not picking the correct one, because that’s what you use to make the profile.
Justin: Yeah, I see a lot of people that just print, they just assign the profile what it should be, and they’re like, “Why is my print not coming out right?”
There’s another important piece.
Renee: And like I said, it might not even be – you know, what I hate also about the Epson driver, no matter what you do, even if you’ve got matte black ink is the one that’s running, and you open up the printer driver, it defaults automatically to Luster paper. And it’s like, why are you doing that because you know that’s the one that’s dumb, and at that point it’s not a photo black, so why does it come up? Why doesn’t it come up on an art paper, or the enhanced matte? It drives me to distraction. I have to go in every time and change it, or obviously I try to set up pre-sets so I’m not doing that, but it depends what I’m testing out.
So it could be, again, photo black ink is being applied to this paper, which will cause this problem. So I don’t know, there you have. Lot’s of reasons.
Justin: It’s a good list of things to check for, yeah. That’s a good place to start – check all those things and, I don’t know, maybe write a comment back. Just put a bit more info – is it happening on different papers, what’s the deal?
Cool. I was just kind of looking at this guy’s question, and it seems like he supplied a little bit more details. So I wanted to read the rest of this as well. He actually mentions just having invested in a 9900, and he also has, I guess, what he’s been using is an HP Z-series for a few years, so he’s going on to explain, and again, this is still Christopher Kates from this last question, he’s going on to explain that the 9900 prints done with photo black on photo paper look very accurate to what he sees on his display.
He says he uses Epson photo paper with their supplied, canned profiles. He says, “They also match the prints that I make from an HP using the same Epson paper.” I guess the glossy photo paper from Epson. He says he uses canned profiles from HP as well – I guess HP provides canned profiles for Epson glossy paper? I’m not sure about that.
Renee: I don’t think so.
Justin: Yeah, I don’t think so either, so there’s some confusion on that. But he says, he also mentions that the profiles that the Z3100 makes with its built-in spectrophotometer are pretty much useless. So it’s kind of interesting, I guess he is printing on an Epson 9900 and the Pura Smooth. And he seems to get good results with photo paper, but not Pura Smooth, and we’re not sure if he’s getting good results on other matte papers or not.
So that’s kind of a strange quandary, isn’t it? I mean maybe it has something to do with the display also.
Renee: Yeah, it certainly could be.
Justin: Because photo prints on display might look good and match, but matte – it’s a whole different ball game, right? I mean, you’ve talked about looking at images on a glossy screen, that would certainly – it would be much easier to match that to a photo print rather than a matte print.
Especially if he’s unfamiliar with printing on matte paper, which it seems like that is the case. So, I don’t know, if you have any more thoughts on that or not.
Renee: Yeah, well they will look very dull, and one of the issues people have – in fact, I’m working on an article on “Why are my prints too dark?” and that happens whether it’s a digital c-print or inkjet print, and there’s so many reasons for that. I don’t know what monitor he’s using, if it’s calibrated and profiled, again if you don’t have a quality monitor, it’s really difficult. But when, a lot of the times, the prints aren’t really dark – that’s what you find nine times out of ten. For instance, someone can hold the print up in a dim room against this bright monitor and of course it’s going to look dark, you’re not viewing it under proper lighting. And once you go out into another room or take it outside or view it under – maybe you don’t have one of these, you know, expensive viewing booths, but there are a number of other solutions that I’ll mention in the article.
I’m wondering, to me, if the point of those latter comments concerns a sort of disappointment in the results obtained from custom profiles made on the 3100 vs. canned ones, which actually seem to be working better except for Pura Smooth. It’s kind of surprising, because custom made profiles always get results that are going to better, usually, or at least equal to generic ones – they’re gonna be specific to your hardware and software.
And I’m wondering if Chris is printing with a RIP, and if so I would ask him has the printer, since it’s 8 years old, has that HP printer been linearized lately? Has the spectrophotometer been checked to be sure there’s no hardware issues? And also, you know, with this printer, it uses consumable printheads. Now Canon and HP are different in that regard vs. Epson, which is an expensive service call and you, you know, to have someone come out and put it in, it’s very, very expensive, but these printheads – they’re meant to be periodically replaced, and there’s information in the manual on that. I wonder if he’s done that.
They’re very cost efficient. If not, you can get poor results making custom profiles. You may have nozzle clogs. Again, this may sound bizarre, but nozzle clogs, if you’re not checking for them, depending on your image, they may not be readily apparent, you know, unless you’re running a check and you can see there’s missing lines and whatnot.
But, when you make a custom profile, that is going to be very apparent because you’re printing out hundreds or thousands of different color swatches for measurement, so it’s going to cover the whole color range, whereas in a certain image or type of image, maybe more muted, you might not notice that there is a clog. So again, you need to check that.
But regarding the HP printer, I think it came out in 2008 or 9 or so, but it got really great reviews when it was released, I mean it’s a great printer with 12 pigment inks, and that feature of having a built-in spectrophotometer – the one used is the Gretagmacbeth Eye One, of course Gretagmacbeth was purchased by X-Rite. It’s a terrific spectrophotometer, so that device resides in the printer’s head assembly and allows the user to print easily on the fly and make ICC profiles for just about any paper you can ever hope to print on, and you can do it quickly almost with the press of a button. Takes about half an hour, excluding your paper drawing time.
I mean, HP says, “Oh, you only need to let it sit for 5 minutes.” And I have read that in the instructions and I would, you know, take issue with that because papers – the colors tend to darken as they dry and you have outgassing and other issues. I always let stuff dry overnight. So maybe he’s not doing that.
Justin: Yeah, that’s a good point. And also, maybe the media type setting. That’s kind of the biggest thing I hear about with profiles not coming out right, you know? It’s lacking the right paper type.
Renee: Yeah exactly, exactly. And again, if he’s trying the Pura Smooth – but I don’t know, he’s getting results with photo black ink on photo papers, but that’s a whole different ball game than the matte papers.
So again, you know, as I said before, make sure you are using the watercolor paper radiant white then for the Epson. Because again it seems more like a comment in the second part that he’s kind of frustrated with the custom profiles, but it could be any of these issues. That he’s not replaced those printheads after eight years. I mean you’re supposed to replace them, I think, after – I can’t remember how many cycles, but they’re only like $70 or something a piece. It’s less than buying one ink cartridge. So that could be doing it. But that’s awesome, and he could making his own custom profile for Pura Smooth and resolve things that way.
Justin: Yeah he doesn’t really mention, I’m not sure if he’s tried Pura Smooth on the Z-Series printer or not, he doesn’t specifically mention if it looks good or bad. That’d be kind of interesting, if he was not pleased with the prints done from that printer on Pura Smooth, I think that most certainly points to some type of external issue, you know, whether it’s expectations of matte media or a display problem or something like that.
I feel, my gut feeling is that it’s something along that line – like a display problem, or viewing conditions of the print, or something like that. I don’t’ know. I’d be curious for him to reply back to us and let us know, what other kinds of Epson papers have you tried to print on the Epson, and then what display are you using? Things like that.
Renee: Right, and again, it’s not clear to me when he says, “Okay on the 9900 the prints done with photo black on photo paper are accurate.” Which photo paper – is it Epson’s photo paper? Is it Luster, glossy? Then he says, “They also match the prints i make on the HP using the same paper.” By same paper does he mean Epson’s paper – that exact same, specific paper, or is he talking a similar type like luster to luster, buying HP’s luster. You can’t use an Epson paper with a – I wouldn’t think you’d get good results using a Canon profile for the HP on an Epson paper. Unless, I know a lot of things come from the same paper mill, and sometimes they are re-branded and you may have luster to luster with different brands.
And that’s certainly true, people just slap on a different brand name and they’re not doing, “I want these specifications for how this is to be coated” like Breathing Color does, which sets you apart from the pack.
I don’t know, but some clarity on that – does he mean the exact same paper, or a similar HP paper?
You know, profiles are not cross-compatible, so write back and give us some more details and we’re happy to leave some more comments.
Justin: Yeah, definitely. Extend the conversation a little bit more. Awesome, well that’s actually the last question I have for this episode as well.
Renee: Great, well I hope it’s helpful, I hope it’s not, you know, especially on the first questions he had with the problems with the Pura Smooth, all those sort of bullet points i went through, those are very, very common for people doing – and I’ve made those mistakes myself. But I’m really thinking, maybe he’s not selecting the correct media type, because that profile, again, it looks great opening it up and examining it, and I’ve had great luck printing on that paper with my Epsons, so I don’t think it’s a profile issue, I think it’s a settings issue.
Make sure the platen gap is widened – the thickness setting is changed manually. Read, I’m not trying to promote my article, you guys have a lot of articles, it’s just that information has been completely detailed in that article on third party printer settings.
Justin: Yeah that’s a great article.
Renee: The printer doesn’t know, you have to pick an Epson OEM. There’s no setting for Pura Smooth, so there’s a big area of confusion, and you unfortunately have to find where your profiles are on your PC or Mac and look at the file name to get that cryptic abbreviation and compare it to the reference chart, that’s just how it is.
Justin: Yeah, a lot of times you can just see that right in Photoshop or Lightroom.
Renee: Yeah, that would be nice but once you start doing it you can just do a pre-set and not have to worry about it, and that just becomes second nature. But I think that may be well what’s going on, or, again, he could be printing on the wrong side of the paper.
Justin: Yeah, good places to start for sure.
Well I appreciate you stopping by, I always love having you on the show.
Renee: I love being on it, you’re very welcome, my pleasure.
Justin: We will catch you next time, thanks Renee.
Alright guys, that’s it for today’s episode. Thank you so much for listening and for being a part of the show. For teh show notes for this episod,e you can visit ask-bc.com/episode29.
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