Custom printer profiling - fix your colour management issues with a profile from Pure Profiles

So what are the advantages of a custom printer profile?

  • Exact colour match between printer and a calibrated monitor.

    The colours that are printed are the same as the colours in the actual image. If you have a colour calibrated monitor (please see the monitor calibration section), then your monitor will also display the exact colours in the image. Your print will now match your monitor as best it can (the colours will match, apart from the more saturated colours which your monitor can show, but your printer\paper combination cannot print - please see the following section on colour gamut for more details on what colours can be viewed or printed). Prints will also match when using different papers, providing each paper has been profiled - although there will also be some subtle differences based on the qualities of the paper (some papers can display deeper blacks and more saturated colours depending on their attributes. Generally gloss papers can display a broader range of colours compared to matte papers, and whiter papers will be able to show the more brighter, saturated colours compared to a creamier paper.

    Maximises the colour gamut of your printer and paper. The colour gamut is basically all the colours that a device can use - so the gamut of a monitor is all the colours it can display, whereas the gamut for a printer is all the colours that it can print (although for a printer, the colour gamut is also limited by what paper is used too).

    The difference between Adobe RGB and sRGB colour gamuts When you create or capture an image, you usually set a colour profile to your image - this is different to the printer profile. It defines what colours can be used within the image i.e. the colour gamut of the image. Typically this is sRGB or Adobe RGB.

    The sRGB colour space

    sRGB is the most standard, and is best used when you want to show images on the web or to send images to a printing lab (unless the lab specifially states that they will accept Adobe RGB). Web browsers understand what sRGB is, and can display the image correctly.

    The Adobe RGB colour space

    Adobe RGB is more advanced - it has a larger colour gamut, and so can display more colours. The advantage of this means that with more colours you can get more detail, smoother colour gradients and so forth. The drawback of this is that your image editor must recognise Adobe RGB (and almost all do now). If you post an Adobe RGB tagged image to the web, you will notice it will often be displayed darker than usual - this is because most web browsers cannot process and display all the colours. It just treats it as a standard sRGB image, and the colour mapping becomes confused. For your own editing and printing, it makes sense to use Adobe RGB (especially now that many advanced digital cameras allow you to capture images with an sRGB or Adobe RGB colour space - they used to only be sRGB).

    The Monitor colour gamut

    So your image now has a colour gamut - a range of colours it can display defined by the set colour space. Guess what - your monitor has a colour gamut too! It can only display certain colours. It's not much of a problem though. Most modern monitors can display the colours of the sRGB colour space, and some can display all of the colours of the Adobe RGB colour space for it to be a non-issue. As long as your monitor is properly calibrated, preferably with a monitor calibrator - so that the colours that it displays are accurate - then you don't need to worry too much about the gamut of the monitor. Do note though that as monitors age, they can wear out. Particularly with CRT monitors, the amount of colours that it can display gets reduced. It might be that the monitor can no longer display the differences in the darker shades. You've then got a reduced gamut, and for accurate editing it would be beneficial to replace your monitor.

    The Printer colour gamut

    The final colour gamut is the gamut of your printer. This can be where the problem is when you're trying to get an exact colour match. Most colours are fine until you get into the very saturated colours. The stronger reds, greens and blues are the colours which cannot always be printed.

    An example of the colour gamut of the Epson Heavyweight Matte paper compared to the sRGB colour space As printer technology advances, more and more of these colours can be printed as more inks are introduced. Some printers now have red, green and blue inks as well as the more standard cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks, because they can then print more of the brighter colours - the extra inks extend the gamut of the printer which means more colours can be printed.

    The dark colours of the printer can also be a problem - you might notice that your printer with a standard printer profile does not print all the detail in the shadows of an image compared to what you can see on the monitor. Quite often this detail gets "blocked" up, and really needs a custom printer profile to open up the shadow detail by accurately mapping what dark colours the printer is capable of printing.

    The colour gamut of your printer is also affectedAn example of the colour gamut of the Epson Premium Glossy paper compared to the sRGB colour space by the paper that you use. If you use very white paper, then brighter colours can be printed as the whiteness of the paper shows through the ink. It the paper is more creamy coloured, then the colours printed will be slightly duller - you certainly will not be able to get a pure white. The paper finish will also have an effect - gloss papers tend to have a larger colour gamut than matte papers.

    So how does the printer profile help with the colour gamut? Basically a printer profile will try to maximise the gamut of colours that your printer can print. Your printer and paper combinations only have a certain gamut, but your standard printer driver will almost certainly not be using the full gamut - the driver will be on the safe side. With a custom printer profile, you should find the gamut gets extended. It might not be by a huge amount, but there will be at the very least a subtle change. There'll probably be more shadow detail, brighter colours, and a better distinction between shades of colours.

  • Neutral black and white photo printing.

    Very few printers can print a neutral monochrome print - more often than not there are colour tints to the shades of grey, and some shades will show one colour of tint, whilst other shades will show a different colour. This makes it very difficult to correct. However, with a printer profile your black and white prints should become neutral as the tint is removed individually from each shade of grey.

    Please note though that a few inks do display a condition called metamerism - this is where colours change under different lighting conditions. Metamerism is most noticeable if your printer uses pigment inks (such as with the Epson 2000, 2100 and 2200 printers), rather than the more popular dye inks. Technology is always changing though, and there are usually new advances on this with every new inkset release so don't let that put you off pigment ink printers - pigment inks have their own advantages in durability and archive life.

    The result of metamerism means that a neutral print might show a green or a magenta tint when viewed under different lighting. The cause of the metamerism is due to some of the colours that are contained in the mix of colours that are used to create the shades of grey. This cannot be solved using a printer profile, but can be fixed by using a different printer driver program called a RIP. This controls what ink colours are used to make up the grey patterns, and eliminates the colours that cause metamerism. Unfortunately the RIP software can cost as much as the printer. The other alternative is using a monochrome set of inks that will only print black and white images. Without coloured ink, there is no chance of getting metamerism, and you will definitely get the most neutral prints.

  • Soft proofing with a custom printer profile.

    Some software such as Photoshop allows you to soft proof an image. You can see how the printer profile affects the image and how the printed image will look. This takes into account the colour gamut of the printer, and also the rendering intent of your printing software (this is discussed in the section on using printer profiles). You can then see how the out of gamut colours on the printer will be affected, and which rendering intent will be best to use.