C. David Tobie: Getting the Most from Recent Inkjet Printers With SpyderPRINT
Aug 2012 21

The Capabilities of Recent Inkjet Graphics Printers

Recent generations of inkjet printers, especially the graphics-grade printers sized 13” x 19” inches (SuperB) and larger, are capable of amazing prints. This includes gloss and luster output that rival chemical process prints in quality and longevity, and matte fine art and canvas prints that have no equivalent in chemical print processes. Prints can be produced in full color, as well as in numerous flavors of black & white and tinted black & white. Photographers, digital artists, and graphic designers can produce gallery quality prints of their work on these machines.

Here a Canon Super B size printer is printing a tinted black and white
image, using a custom printer profile from SpyderPRINT on matte paper

Why Color Management is Necessary

How can we control output to these printers? Simply editing your images on a computer, and sending the file to the printer does not produce the degree of color control and accuracy your prints deserve. The first step, everyone agrees, is to calibrate your display with a display calibration tool. This assures that what you see on screen actually represents the file you are working on. Then there is the question of getting that file to print as accurately, smoothly, and consistently as possible. This last issue brings us to the topic of custom printer profiles.

Custom Output Profiles

Trial and error prints are costly, especially on larger printers, so savings in materials and time quickly compensate for the cost of a hardware printer profiling solution. Being able to trust what you see on screen to represent, not just the image file, but how that file will print with a particular printer, inkset, and media, is key to optimizing your images for output to a specific device, and getting exactly the prints you want with minimal time and materials.

Here iterations of the same image are being compared to see what improvements adjustments have made. This is an expensive way to fine-tune your fine art prints, especially large ones.

Profile Target Options

Printer profiling involves printing color patches to represent the output of your printer, ink, and paper combination. This can be done with a minimal patch set of 50 to 100 patches, but such a sample set is insufficient to accurately characterize a printer. SpyderPRINT offers several target options, beginning with a basic target of 225 color patches. There is an advanced option of 729 color patches for less linear printers, such as color lasers. And there is an option to also add 238 near gray patches to the target. The eye is most more sensitive to near-gray tones, so additional values here can be very useful, especially if you plan to make black and white, or tinted black and white prints.

Here one of SpyderPRINT’s target options has been printed out, providing two pages of color patches, plus two pages of near-grays, to build a profile for both color and black and white work

Custom Profiles for Smoothness, Accuracy, Highlights, and Skintones

Custom color profiles offer increased color and gray accuracy, but they also affect print detail and smoothness. Without a custom profile, fabric in a photo might print as green. But with the profile, the extra precision in greens may render the same fabric as clearly being a knitted green, since the eye can now see more greens, providing more detail in the fabric. A broader range of near white tones can be possible with a custom profile as well, producing more detail in white-on-white images. Smoothness is particularly important in skintones. It is not uncommon to see posterization in skintones from some printers, including color lasers. Inkjets can have such posterization as well, though usually at a subtler level. Custom profiles with a higher patch number can improve the smoothness of such color or density transitions, improving the overall quality of the print.

The number of available shades of near-white in this image are critical to the detail in the fur

Saturated Colors and SpyderPRINT‘s Unique Saturation Intent

Color saturation is a particular issue when producing prints. Not all colors you can see on a wide gamut monitor can be reached by a printer, especially on fine art media such as matte watercolor paper and matte canvas. In such cases having an effective Saturation Intent option built into your profile is important. SpyderPRINT offers the ideal Saturation Intent, allowing colors to retain more color punch, even when they can’t actually be printed as shot. The latest version of SpyderPRINT now includes an option to allow this Saturation Intent to be used in Adobe Lightroom, where there is no built-in Saturation intent capability.

SpyderPRINT’s saturation intent has been used to produce bright floral
colors, while retaining normal saturation for the earthtones in the image

ICC-Capable Black and White Printing

Graphics printers offer a simple solution for black and white printing. But these in-printer black and white options have some serious limitations. They do not show a preview of the results before printing, they offer no method to softproof in Photoshop or Lightroom to tune an image for black and white output, and they do not allow cross-tinting, the most desirable type of tinted black and white print, with different color tints in the highlight, midtone, and shadow areas of a print. SpyderPRINT solves all of these issues. It allows you to use the same printer profile for your color and your black and white output. It allows you to use the same softproofing and tuning methods for both color and black and white. And it provides powerful tools for cross-tints, including excellent cross-tint presets, and the ability to tune these preset or create your own cross-tints from scratch.

This cross-tinted print was created in SpyderPRINT, and the same profile
was used to print an entire series of art prints to produce similar toning

Softproof Tuning in SpyderPRINT

Profile tuning, or editing, is important for a number of reasons. The first is to better reflect your particular printer, ink and paper combination, under your lighting conditions. SpyderPRINT offers unique controls to adjust the color of paper white, and the density of ink black in your softproof (on-screen preview of the print), so that you can tune your softproof to the closest possible match with your actual prints, to minimize trial and error print adjustments.

The closer the softproof on screen looks to the actual print, the less likely it is that trial and error prints will be required to get the desired print result

Custom Profile Tuning in SpyderPRINT

Profile tuning allows you to make important adjustments, such as opening of shadow tones in matte paper prints and controlling the ramp of neturals to the tone of paper white. It also allows you to apply your personal preferences to your print process as well, by making output higher key, higher contrast, or whatever effects you wish to apply to all the prints in the set.

Custom profile tuning has opened the shadows for prints on a fine art matte paper on the left

Output Profile Tuning through Photoshop Curves

It’s also possible to tune your custom profiles in Photoshop, through an RGB curve set. After adjusting and test printing through this custom curve until it meets your needs, the curve can be imported into SpyderPRINT, and incorporated into your profile, to create a curve-tuned profile that will produce the same results as applying the curve adjustment in Photoshop, without having to remember to apply the curve to each image in Photoshop before printing.

Custom adjustments have been made to each curve channel in Photoshop
before importing the curve set into SpyderPRINT and applying to the profile.

C. DAVID TOBIE has been involved in color management and digital imaging from their early development. David has worked to see affordable solutions put in place for graphic design, prepress, photography and digital imaging, and then taught users how best to utilize them. He has consulted internationally for a wide range of color-related companies, and is best known by photographers for his writing and technical editing of texts and periodicals for the photo industry such as Mastering Digital Printing, and Professional Photographer magazine, and his seminars on color and imaging at photographic workshop around the globe. David is currently Global Product Technology Manager at Datacolor, where he develops new products and features for their Spyder line of calibration tools. His work has received a long line of digital imaging product awards including the coveted TIPA award, and a nomination for the Spyder line of calibration tools. Much of David’s recent writing can be found at his photography blog: cdtobie.wordpress.com, and his samples of his photography can be seen at: cdtobie.com.