Good color management is simple to implement—with a little attention to detail.
This three part step-by-step series shows you how to set up your color workflow to get the best results quickly.
After each fundamental step, extra tips will show you how to refine your color workflow even further.
These 3 articles are incredibly thorough. We have been getting many requests to put together the 3 parts of the series into an e-book that folks can print.
Part 2 – Preparing to Print Great Color
In Part 1, Kevin O’Connor described how to prepare your work area in order to print great color. In part 2, he shows how to set up a perfect print workflow, configuring your computer and printer to print great color. Part 3 will show how to capture the best and most color with your digital camera or scanner, so you have as much color as possible to print.
Your printer’s in tiptop shape, no? You’ve already done a printer check to make sure no nozzles are clogged, run cleaning cycles if needed, done any head alignment recommended at setup, and all those other details your printer needs to be fully ready to print. If you haven’t done all these, or had them done, please consult your printer’s manual for setup instructions to be sure you’ve done everything you need.
The best print always starts with the best paper choice foor the specific image. Making these paper choices is an art form. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to figure out the perfect paper to use for displaying your images to best advantage. Here are some tips and techniques for choosing.
1. Choose the best paper to match your artistic vision
Artists printing their work today have an unprecedented range of paper choices for their images today. Trade shows let us check out sample prints and see what paper will display a particular image to best advantage, and pro camera stores and art stores offer swatchbooks and sample prints.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, Breathing Color also offers sample rolls of its papers, so you can buy a short roll to test more thoroughly before committing to a full length roll. This opportunity is rarely offered by paper vendors, and it’s a great way to be sure you get exactly the paper you want to display your work to best advantage before committing to full-sized rolls.
Papers are offered in multiple categories, each with various options. How to decide? Prioritize what’s important. Here are questions each artist needs to answer and prioritize when choosing a paper.
A. What color of white do I want for the background?
White comes in multiple colors, e.g. bright white, warm white, cold white, etc., as shown in the photo above. Not all whites are available in all papers; as with each question in this list, you will have to choose which characteristics are most important to you when a conflict arises.
B. What texture do I want?
Smooth, felt, and canvas are different surface textures which display your image differently.
C. How much surface reflectance do I want?
Glossy, matte, and luster are the three primary reflectance types. Each has a different aesthetic appearance, more effective for some types of images than others. The metallic surfaces offer an interesting option to differentiate your work from others’ prints.
D. How long do I want it to last?
Papers fall into two groups, archival and non-archival.
A print on a non-archival paper will look fine, cost less to print, and look very good. Over time, it may slightly change appearance. This is due to chemicals in the paper used to make the white of the paper look brighter, and these may grow slightly less bright over time.
A print on archival paper, properly stored, will last as long as we currently know how to make, so your grandchildren will be able to see your work. If the longest time possible is important to you, choose archival. If you are not printing for the ages, consider and test the non-archival papers. Note that the fine art market usually requires archival paper.
E. How big a color gamut is needed for a particular set of images?
In general, glossier papers can display a wider color gamut than matte papers. The two papers shown in the image at right have different gamuts. The outline of the glossy gamut is the bigger outline, the smaller one inside is matte finish. Note that some priorities may conflict; for example, an archival canvas is not offered, so if you’re printing for the fine art market, canvas may not be the best choice.
The best way to proceed? Narrow the choices, and print some samples on different papers showing the types of images you’ll be printing.
2. Prepare to print with a new paper
When printing with a new paper, certain settings are critical for success. These settings are done in your print dialogs, and in your editing applications. Here’s the fastest way to be ready to print.
To make these custom settings, be sure you’ve installed color profiles for each paper you want to preview. Fortunately, most popular printers have been profiled by the paper manufacturers, and you can download a color profile for almost all combinations of of paper, ink and printer. Profiles for Breathing Color papers are available to easily download.
Once downloaded, you’ll need to install the profiles in your operating system. The instructions for installing profiles for each operating system are at the same link.
Once you’ve installed these profiles, photo applications can easily be set to use them both for previewing on your calibrated display and for printing.
If you use a printer that allows for two different blacks, such as the Epson x900 series, and you plan to print on the same paper using both blacks, you’ll need to install profiles for each black ink. Note that many papers are only recommended for use with one black ink or the other, not both.
If you don’t feel that you’ll be making enough profiles to justify this investment, various consultants and companies will make a custom profile for you for a fee.
The process is simple; they send you a file to print, with notes on appropriate settings for your printer and application(s). You make the print, and mail it back to them. They read the chart, generate the profile and e-mail it back to you. You install your new profile, test it, and print beautiful images with a very precise profile customized for your specific workflow.
3. Use custom previewing functions to judge color on the screen before printing.
Once you have installed your profiles, both Photoshop and Lightroom can be configured to use these new profiles to show you on-screen how your images will print. Please note that both Photoshop and Lightroom assume you have calibrated and profiled your display in order to trust the display color. This step is essential for trustworthy results, as discussed in Part 1 of this guide to great color.
How-To: Previewing Color in Lightroom
In the Develop module, by default Lightroom displays previews using the ProPhoto RGB color space. ProPhoto RGB contains all of the colors that digital cameras can capture. This includes colors that can’t be printed, as well as colors that can be printed but can not be displayed on a particular monitor. Because of this, it’s essential to use the Soft Proofing panel to preview how color looks under various color-managed printing conditions, including your particular combination of printer, paper and inks.
A. Install the profiles for each paper you wish to preview, if not already done. Then, edit your image in the Develop Module.
B. Next, check the Soft Proofing checkbox at the bottom left of your image. (It’s highlighted in red in the screen shot). When you check this box, the Soft Proofing Panel appears at top right.
C. Select the color profile which matches your paper and printer. Lightroom will display your original file, and convert it to show on-screen the way it will print. View the preview on your high-quality, calibrated and profiled display.
D. Compare the two rendering intents shown in the Soft Proofing panel by clicking between Perceptual and Relative Colorimetric. You can also preview the color of the paper and how it will change your image’s appearance by toggling the check box at the bottom of the Soft Proofing panel.
When you export photos from Lightroom to send elsewhere for output, you can choose a destination color profile to optimize how the colors you see in Lightroom will appear on the device you’re sending the photo to. For example, you can export using sRGB if you’re going to share photos online, or send to most photo labs. If you’re printing your own work elsewhere, you should use the best color profile for your device and paper. If you’re sending files to a print house, check with them about their requirements to be sure you give them exactly what they need to print the best color possible for you.
How-To: Previewing Color in Photoshop
A. Install the profiles for each paper you wish to preview, if not already done.
B. Open a test image in Photoshop.
C. Under the View menu, select the first option, Proof Setup, and roll over to Custom, as shown in this screen capture.
D. In the window that appears, click on the pulldown menu next to Device to Simulate, and select the profile you want to use. In the screen capture, I’ve selected the Breathing Color Vibrance Baryta profile.
E. Photoshop’s default setting for the Rendering Intent selection is Relative Colorimetric. (For a deeper explanation of Rendering Intents, see the end of this article.)
F. Be sure the Preview check box is checked, and compare the difference between Relative Colorimetric and Perceptual rendering intents, flipping between the two and watching various parts of your image carefully.
G. You can click on the Save button to make a one click preset to use this preview in the future. When you save it, the Rendering Intent selected is part of the preset, so I usually make two presets for each profile, one with each of the two intents, with the intent as part of the name.
H. The next time you want to preview, the presets will be at the bottom of the View/Proof Setup window, as shown below. You can add as many presets as you’d like for ease of use.
When you invoke a preview, the name of your file shown in the title bar at the top of the window will change. Photoshop adds a slash, followed by the name of the preview preset you created. You can toggle the preview on and off by typing Cmd-Y or Ctrl-Y. If you invoke this preview and haven’t selected a specific preset, Photoshop will preview your image using its default settings for the RGB or CMYK file you’re previewing.
4. Test the Profiles
After a new profile is installed, testing it with a reference image print before a big deadline is always a good idea. You can build your own test image, or use one available elsewhere. A good test image has a wide range of types of images composited on one page, such as this image, free from Datacolor:
Notice that this test image includes all the elements in the following list, each important to check for good color:
-Neutral Gray Tones
You can also use your own images to test color, making sure neutrals are neutral, and colors that are particularly critical for your work are spot on. It’s best to test with a composite image of some sort to get color right at the beginning, so you don’t have to do test prints for each image’s colors.
5. Fine Tune Your Profiles
Most profiles work well, and deliver great color. However, what if they don’t?
Sometimes profiles are very close, but not exact, and adjustments must be made in how they render color. When that happens, you may need a custom profile, or it may be possible simply to fine tune your print workflow to accommodate small corrections.
If the adjustments are very slight, you can adjust each image by hand, which is tedious, or, when possible, creating a printer preset that applies the correction automatically. For example, if each image you print is slightly too magenta, you can create an offset in many printer drivers. This will not be possible with all corrections, and will vary with the tools available in your particular printer’s driver or RIP software.
Sharpen Just Before Printing
A word about sharpening—any sharpening you’re going to do should be done for a specific size print to be displayed at a specified viewing distance. In an optimal print workflow, the artist creates a master print that stays unsharpened. This locked file is sharpened just before printing, for the specific paper, viewing distance, and other factors.
The Sharpener Pro plug-in from the Google Nik Collection has presets for different types of prints at different viewing distances. Many people find it helpful for finding optimal sharpening.
Finally! It’s time to make a print. Making sure you understand how various software settings affect print quality will guarantee best results, whether printing from Lightroom or Photoshop.
How-To: Printing from Lightroom
When you switch to the Print Module to send a print, careful settings must be made in the Print Job panel, shown at right, at the bottom right of the Print Module screen. Before configuring this panel, go to the bottom left of the Print Module and set up your page size and your printer. It’s not possible to show setup for each printer, so I’ll list the things that are common to all drivers, and use a printer I have as an example of what must be set.
A. Select the printer you wish to use at the printer pulldown menu.
B. If you’ve already created a preset for your specific printer, paper and other settings, select it now. If not, don’t worry about the Presets pulldown. You’ll create a new preset after we make some new settings for your printer.
C. Moving to the third pulldown menu, leave the Layout at default settings for 1 image per page, and scroll down to Print Settings. Choose the media type that most closely matches your paper. In this case, Epson drivers use Epson papers for settings, and my Breathing Color Baryta is closest to Epson’s Premium Photo Paper Glossy. Ignore the Advanced button; it’s disabled to prevent a conflict between managing color in the printer and managing color from Lightroom.
D. Fine tune this window for your choices for Print Quality and the check boxes below. Then, save a preset, if you’d like, so you can easily get back to this combination of settings. In the next screen shot, I’ve saved my settings for this paper and workflow. That way, I can get back to this setting with one click.
Once this is done, look at the Print Job panel, shown below.
- If you check Draft Mode Printing, you get a quick print, but neither sharpening nor color management controls are available. Don’t use this for critical color judging.
- You can set your print resolution to match your printer, checking the manual for optimal settings. 240ppi is the default because it matches certain Epson printers, as does 360 or 720. Other printer brands may use 300 or 600. Consult your printer’s manual for the best setting. If you deselect this checkbox, Lightroom uses the native resolution of your file. Depending on your printer, this may or may not be a best approach, and should be tested before a deadline.
- Many experts think you should turn Sharpening off, and do manual sharpening in Lightroom, in the Details panel of the Develop Module, or use a 3rd party plug-in, such as Google’s Nik Sharpener Pro. If you opt to use sharpening here in the Print Job dialog, test to be sure you are getting the results you want with the setting you chose, or adjust until you do.
- Checking 16 bit output is of value only if your printer and operating system support 16 bit output. Check to be sure. For most people, it won’t be possible to see much difference. Editing in 16 bit is much more important (and valuable) than printing in 16 bit. Choose either to manage color in Lightroom (which I prefer, and is strongly recommended by most experets) or in the printer (where you must configure your print driver to manage the color, and tell it which paper to use.) For tips on configuring the printer driver for your printer, see notes further in this article, under the section Printing from Lightroom.
- When you choose Manage Color in Lightroom, a dialog box will open showing all the printer profiles that work with your printer. Scroll through to find the one you want, and check the box at its left to select it. Then, choose between the two Rendering Intents, Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric.
- The first print you make should not be adjusted for Brightness nor Contrast; you can do this after making your first print or test strip, or make a permanent correction in the Develop Module.
How-To: Printing from Photoshop
Print settings must be configured both in Photoshop and in the print driver, part of the computer’s operating system. A key choice to be made is whether Photoshop will manage the color conversions or the printer will choose the conversions. Either way, the first step is to set up the print driver.
In the screen capture shown, the yellow triangle reminds to set up the printer’s color management; it will go away once you finish configuring your print set up.
A. Choose your printer at the top right.
B. Choose the correct print settings, clicking the button directly below the printer menu. Once you do this, a print driver window will open, with options specific for your particular printer.
It’s important to set the driver correctly for the type of paper you’ll be printing. This is because the printer needs to know how to put down enough ink, but not too much. You should also set resolutions, speed of printing and other variables which affect print quality. If you use these settings frequently, operating systems let you save a preset with a custom name to provide ease of reuse.
In the example shown, I’m printing to an Epson printer. I started by selecting the type of paper, which must be matched to Epson’s own brand of papers. So, for the Breathing Color Baryta, I’ll select print settings from the pulldown menu. Then, I’ll select Premium Photo Paper Glossy for my paper setting, as shown in the second screen capture, as this most closely matches the characteristics of Breathing Color’s Baryta paper.
Once I’ve selected the paper, I’ll set other details, some of which are paper-specific. I usually edit in 16 bit color in ProPhoto RGB color space, so I’ll check the 16 bit box. Then, I’ll deselect the High Speed printing option, as I’m not in a hurry, and prefer slower and better quality. Finally, I’ll save the current settings as a preset, so that I can select all these choices with one button to save time the next time I change from another paper to this one.
C. Choose whether Photoshop or your printer will manage color.
In the next part of the Print dialog box the user sets the critical choice of whether Photoshop makes the color conversions or the operating system, working with the printer, does the conversion. If you are printing directly from Photoshop and plan to use on-screen previews, I strongly recommend you have Photoshop manage the colors, so you can trust the on-screen previews. If you are not previewing, have tested your printer’s color ,and you like it, set to Printer Manages Color. (I’m too much of a control freak not to preview each time, so I’ll never use this option unless configuring a RIP. More on RIPs later).
When you set Photoshop to manage color, color management supplied by the operating system and/ or the printer will be automatically disabled in most high end printers, as shown here:
Next, set the profile for the combination of printer and paper you’ll be using. Here’s a screen shot of the BC Baryta paper for the Epson printer. Leave the setting for Normal printing; the other is for using your printer to make a printed proof of how another printer/press will print. Finally, you can change your rendering intent here, if desired. A small preview is available at left; toggle the Match Print Colors check box on and off to see how your image will print. Once on, you can also preview whether any colors are unprintable, and see the white of the destination paper using the checkboxes below Match Print Colors.
Sounds like a lot of work, no? Actually, once you understand the concepts and make some presets, managing great color from Photoshop is pretty easy, and very consistent.
6. Make a Test Print
Whether printing from Lightroom or Photoshop, it’s important to make your test print exactly the same way each time, changing only one variable at a time if you don’t like what you get. Otherwise, you can’t figure out what controls you changed to get the final result, and will have a hard time repeating it.
In order to save time, many people will only print a critical section of an image, or even several images. If you are only printing one test strip, select it from your Photoshop image, copy it, create a new document and paste your copy into the new document. Set up your print to only print the strip by creating a custom print size in your printer driver setup to print only a small strip; this is particularly useful with paper in rolls, assuming your printer supports custom sizes. You can also build a composite in Photoshop, or use a test strip function in a RIP if you’re using one.
What Happens After You Make the Print?
Prints made with inkjet printers require a period of drying time to stabilize color. Color can be judged immediately, but may make subtle shifts up to 24 hours after a print is made. Waiting for an image follows in the honorable tradition of “drydown”; though we’re all impatient for final judging, we shouldn’t give into temptation to use a hair dryer, or, as Ansel Adams is said to have done, a microwave! External heat sources can change the appearance of a test print enough that the image can’t show the actual final look of a print allowed to air dry.
Judge your prints in good light
Understanding how lighting affects print viewing is critical to good color. Just as it was important to use your display in light that enhances your work, it’s important to understand how different kinds of light change how your final prints will be seen.
Light emitted by your screen to your eyes directly will always look different from light that hits your print and then is reflected to your eyes. Color geeks call this the difference between emissive vs. reflective light. Once we acknowledge this difference, we can compensate for it so we can trust our display to show us how a print will look.
Our eyes are designed to see with sunlight. So, it would seem to make sense simply to take the print outside and view it there. Not so fast! Time of day and clouds can change the color of sunlight; for best consistency, view from 10:30-2:30 in unfiltered sunlight. For many of us, this is impractical, so we must light a viewing area with good quality, consistent artificial light.
The first step to good print judging is managing the light used to judge the prints. The best approach to lighting a print for critical viewing is to match international standards for viewing on both display and your viewing area, and then to make sure the display and the print viewing area match. In the photo shown, the display and the print match precisely, allowing the user to trust that an on-screen preview correctly predicts the final color. Some contemporary viewing stations can automatically synchronize themselves with the display, making matching quicker and easier.
For lighting standard print viewing, here are some excellent choices:
- GTI Graphic Technology
- Just Normlicht Visual Color Matching Systems
- X-Rite Judge II
- Data Color Light Booths
Note that some of these viewing tools can also simulate other kinds of light, such as tungsten, and flourescent, so prints can be judged under lighting from multiple environments. In addition to table-top tools, several of these companies offer larger tools for judging wall-size prints.
Brightness standards vs. reality of your workflow
A new display often comes out of the box set at its brightest setting. This should be corrected when the display is calibrated and profiled, because viewing environments are rarely as bright as these new displays at full brightness. When you calibrate and profile your display, you can see choices offered for brightness as you calibrate, and recommendations, as shown in the screen capture at right. These recommended values are based in standards developed by international committees, and should always be used as a starting point with a new display.
However, if they don’t match your needs, change them to better match your viewing environment, or boost the light on your prints to match the display’s brightness (preferred). Either way, the match will make your work much easier.
Often, the final destination of the print you’re making will be displayed with a different light intensity than the viewing area you use to judge your test prints. When this happens, a print that looked fine in your work area may not look good at all. What to do?
If possible, find out where the print will be viewed, and test the print under the final viewing lighting. If not, adhere to international standards for viewing, as this is firm ground on which to stand.
Other Factors that Affect Viewing
A. The changing color of light, most often caused by viewing a print near an open window. As the day passes and weather changes, the color of light entering the room or striking the print changes, making viewing untrustworthy.
B. Uneven light can be caused by different colors of bulbs, esp. fluorescent, or mixes of different types of lighting, such as is frequently seen in convention centers and other public spaces.
C. Tired eyes see color differently from well-rested eyes. Eyes affected by caffeine, alcohol, and a host of other factors, including your emotional state of mind will see color differently. ’Nuff said.
D. Color-deficient eyes (what we used to call color blindness) can’t see some parts of the spectrum the way everyone else sees them.
Consider the final display location
It’s frequently not possible to control the lighting where your print will be displayed. This said, it’s always a good idea to know what kind of lighting will be used to display your work, and make sure the print is done so that it looks good under that lighting. When critically needed, specialized software and hardware can be used to build a color profile for a specific environment. Fortunately this is rarely necessary. However…
Sometimes, some colors in a print viewed under one light source will change when viewed under a different light source, change color in a non-uniform way, particularly under some fluorescent tubes. Examples include skin tones suddenly appearing very different (Caucasian skin suddenly looking sunburnt, for example), or neutral gray shadows suddenly looking bright, mossy green. If you see this type of change, you’re experiencing metamerism. Solving this problem can require changing the light, changing the printer and paper combination, and/or changing inks. Fortunately, this problem is much less common with contemporary printing than it is with older inkjet printers.
7. Rendering Intents
A rendering intent selection tells Photoshop how to convert unprintable original color to best printable color. When converting from one color profile to another, such as from a camera profile to a printer with a specific paper, colors that can be printed are a smaller total range than colors captured in the original image. Rendering intents are used to tell programs which ways to make compromises in printing, when all the original color can’t be reproduced exactly.
The screen captures show how color from a source color space (Adobe RGB) is converted to color in a destination color space (Breathing Color’s Vibrance Baryta).
Photoshop supports four standard intents, with two of the four usually preferred.
Relative Colorimetric Rendering Intent
In Relative Colorimetric conversions, the priority is weighted toward color matches that are measurably as close as possible to each color value. This means that colors that are out of the printable gamut are moved to the closest match, and colors that are already printable are moved very little if at all. The advantage of this method is that each shade of each color is printed with as accurate a match as possible for a particular printer and paper combination, when measured with a color instrument.
The disadvantage is that sometimes, the colors are not perceptually pleasing, especially at the edges of the printable gamut, as some gradations may not convert
acceptably. The best approach is to test this rendering intent and then the Perceptual intent on each image, seeing which one is better, using a calibrated and profiled display and preview settings in Photoshop. The Relative Colorimetric setting is the default in Photoshop.
Perceptual Rendering Intent
Priority is given to converting all colors so that the image continues to look good. Colors that are outside the printable gamut are moved to a printable color, and colors that are already printable are moved as well, kept in relationship to the overall image. This keeps the image perceptually pleasing, sometimes at the expense of accurate matches to specific shades of colors. This rendering intent used to be called “photographic”, and is still used frequently by photographers after comparing to relative colorimetric intent.
Absolute Colorimetric Rendering Intent
This is a variation used for proofing a final image on an intermediate proofer., for example, using a large gamut inkjet printer to proof how a final image will print on a smaller gamut press. It is almost never used to print directly. It can also be previewed in Photoshop onscreen.
Saturation Rendering Intent
This rendering intent is almost always reserved for pumping up bright colors in graphic items, such as pie charts and bar graphs. Using this intent to print photographs often distorts colors so that a viewer would say the color is too saturated. Proceed with caution! It should always be proofed onscreen before printing, but some colors will print even more saturated than will preview onscreen.
This concludes Part 2 of our three part series on best color practices. In Part 3, Kevin O’Connor will demonstrate how to get the most and best color out of input devices, both cameras and scanners.
Don’t forget to download the free images mentioned in the post.
Kevin O’Connor helps design and test software, is a graphic designer and photographer for multiple clients and companies, and fixes people’s (and companies’) color.
He has consulted to multiple companies, including Apple, Sony, Fujifilm USA, and X-Rite. He loves teaching good color practices to enthusiastic learners.
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