Design and photography studios usually
have a workhorse color printer
in heavy use. Mostly used for comp
layouts or quick proofs, these printers
are seldom thought of as capable
or accurate proofing devices. Until recently, no one
expected to see a close match between a printout
and artwork on screen because of differences in the
devices and technologies.
Creative professionals are always surprised to
learn that, with careful profiling and quality inks
and paper, a relatively inexpensive color printer
can get them further along in the proofing process
than they imagined. The fact is, once you have all
of your applications working in sync, you can save
time and money by utilizing your color-managed
studio printer as a proofer that rivals more expensive
SWOP-certified devices. In this article I show
you how to set up your applications and printer to
What kind of printer should I use?
Color inkjets with four or more inks and color laser
printers are some of the typical printers you see
in just about every professional studio. In general,
inkjet printers present more stable printing conditions
with better quality inks and media, while color
laser printers are the workhorses that handle heavy
print loads with cheaper consumables. But both
kinds of printers can be successfully incorporated
into a color-managed workflow (see sidebar below).
Furthermore, if you work in a photo lab or copy
shop, your large-format photographic printer can
also be used to proof CMYK printing.
What’s in it for me?
Here are two things your studio printer can do to
enhance your productivity:
1. Make output colors from your studio
printer match the colors you see on screen. This
means less time and money spent on round after
round of prints and wasted media. You can confidently make changes to the colors on screen and see
2. Simulate CMYK press output on your
studio printer. This process will make your studio
printer reproduce the compressed tonal scale and
reduced color saturation you would expect to see in
offset printing. While your inkjet printer or color
laser might not be able to simulate all the printed
characteristics of press output—particularly without
additional software like a dedicated RIP—you will be
able to show your client a closer simulation of final
color, rather than a bright and saturated color print
that will bear little resemblance to final output.
What am I going to need?
Here’s a checklist for successful matching:
- Color-savvy applications. Only applications that
support ICC color management will give you the
results you want. Such applications include those
in Adobe’s Creative Suite and Quark XPress.
- Printer profiles. Obtain the highest quality printer
profiles you can find. The better the profile
describes your printer, the more accurate and reliable
your proofing will be. For more on this subject,
go to www.dynamicgraphics.com/webextras
for exclusive online content, “Acquiring Custom
Profiles for Your Printer.”
- Monitor profiles. Invest in a professional monitorprofiling package that will calibrate and profile
your monitor accurately. See “Recommended
- Adequate lighting and viewing conditions. Low
ambient light works best when comparing prints
to the onscreen preview. Our perception of color is
influenced by the viewing environment, so it’s best
to work with controlled lighting, ideally matching
the D50 color temperature standard used in the
industry. An invaluable asset for evaluating prints
is a D50 viewing booth. These are available in
freestanding and desktop models, and I particularly
recommend models with dimming control,
which can give you a better match to the overall
brightness of your monitor screen. Again, see
Where do I start?
Before you begin, be sure to:
Calibrate your monitor correctly. The applications
you’ll be working in convert colors from the
printer’s profile to the monitor’s profile for onscreen
display, so the monitor profile is an important component
in this process. I recommend that you calibrate
your monitor to a color temperature of 6500K
and a target gamma of 2.2. This will ensure a clean
appearance of whites and a tonal response curve that
is easily matched by most studio printers. Plan to
reprofile your LCD monitor monthly (older CRT
monitors should be profiled every other week). This
compensates for shifts in tones and colors. Name
your profiles so you can easily distinguish one from
another (see tip 1, below).
Correctly tag (embed) every piece of artwork with
a profile. This tells the application how colors in
the artwork are supposed to appear. It could be an
input profile, such as a camera or scanner profile,
or a device-independent color space profile like
sRGB, Adobe RGB, or ColorMatch RGB. If your
file is untagged, choose Edit > Assign Profile and
choose an RGB color space such as Adobe RGB or
Am I ready to proof yet?
In this process, proofing consists of soft proofing
and hard proofing. Soft proofing allows you to
accurately preview your printed artwork on your
monitor. Done correctly, this technique is so accurate
that you can predict the effect of the inks on
the specific paper you will use in your printer. All
Adobe applications enable soft proofing in a similar
fashion; we’ll use Photoshop CS2 to demonstrate.
Within soft proofing, there are actually two steps:
A. Choose View > Proof Setup > Custom (see figure 1 above). Select a paper profile for your printer.
Check Black Point Compensation to stretch the
dynamic range of the image and generate crisp
shadows. Check Simulate Paper Color to show how
the colors will print on the paper stock. Check
Preview and choose either Perceptual or Relative
Colorimetric as the Rendering Intent. (The Intent
specifies how bright, saturated colors that exceed
the printer’s gamut will be handled.) Choose the
option that makes the image look its best, or choose
Perceptual as a general choice for raster images.
B. The colors in your artwork may appear less saturated
than before, due to the fact that you’re previewing
the image in a special mode. The title bar of
the document will indicate the name of the profile
you’re viewing; you can toggle the preview on and
off by typing Command+Y (for Mac) or Control+Y
(for PC). The best part is that you can perform any
color corrections to the image while in this preview
mode. See tips 2 and 3.
Now for the second step, hard (or print) proofing:
This is when you print the image using the print
settings shown in figures 2a (Photoshop CS2) and 2b (Photoshop CS) above. Choose File > Print
with Preview. Click More Options and choose Color
Management in the pop-up menu. In the Print section,
choose Document, which will show you the
source profile. In the Options section, choose Let
Photoshop Determine Colors in the Color Handling
menu and the printer profile you’re soft proofing.
Choose the same Rendering Intent as in step A and
check Black Point Compensation. Then click Print.
When you print, it’s essential to turn off color
management in the print driver, which ensures that
you don’t apply color management twice (figure below).
You will usually find an option to do this in the
Color Management/Handling section of the print
driver software. Finally, be sure to choose the correct
paper setting, such as Matte, Glossy, etc., before
printing the document.
At last it’s time to evaluate your print and compare
it to the onscreen preview. Inkjet prints need
time for the colors to stabilize—about 20 minutes
or so. Colors in laser prints set almost immediately.
It’s helpful to dim the ambient light or at least keep
harsh overhead lighting from washing over the monitor
screen and viewing area. Compare the print to
the image on screen while soft proofing the same
printer profile and settings that were used to print
the file. Be sure you’ve checked Simulate Paper Color
to preview the color of your chosen stock on screen.
If you’ve followed all the preceding steps carefully—
and factor in the basic differences in devices
and technology—you’ll end up with a print that
closely matches the image on screen.
So, how do I preview press color on my
Here comes the second form of proofing you can
do with your studio printer. Sometimes referred
to as cross-rendering or cross-simulation, it can be
thought of as a mathematical equation that maps
colors anticipated in the final output onto the gamut
of your studio printer.
But … for it to work, the gamut of your studio
printer must exceed the gamut of the final output
press. Luckily, most inkjets and color lasers work well
for this purpose. To get the closest match, consider
using paper that matches the color and texture of the
stock you’ll be using on press. Some paper manufacturers
make inkjet papers for proofing, although you
will need to use a custom profile for this paper in
A. For this proof, you set up soft proofing a bit
differently than before (see figure 5 right). Choose View
> Proof Setup > Custom. Choose a profile for the
final output, such as a press or proofer profile, or a
reference profile such as U.S. Web Coated (SWOP).
Select a rendering intent and check Black Point
Compensation. If you choose an option other than
the Working CMYK profile, click Save and name
your custom proof setup. Then click OK.
B. Choose File > Print with Preview. In the Print
section, choose Proof and verify that it displays
the profile you just chose. In the Options section,
choose Let Photoshop Determine Colors and select
your printer’s profile. In the Proof Setup Preset menu,
choose the profile for the final output you just
selected or the custom proof setup you saved. Check
Simulate Paper Color and click Print (figure 5 right).
This technique performs multiple color conversions,
where colors in the image are first converted to
the press profile, then to the profile of your studio
printer. The colors converted by the press profile are
also converted to your monitor profile for previewing
onscreen. The resulting proof is best evaluated
under controlled lighting in the manner described
earlier. You should end up with a carefully crafted
proof that mimics the colors and tonal range of the
final output on press.
Thanks to Erica Aitken and Son Do of Rods and
Cones, Inc., for field advice.
Coming up: In the next issue, I’ll share professional
techniques for performing a crucial step in any
color-managed workflow: color correction.
• Real World Color
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