By John Walrath
Have you ever made a print that doesn’t have the same dynamic feel you saw on your display? It is a very common problem and the cause of much disappointment. Making a print with a full tonal range and detail in the shadows & highlights might be a simple fix.
The term “screen to print match” is often mentioned when discussing Color Management. It, of course, refers to the ability to faithfully produce a print from what you see on screen. When discussing screen to print match, it is important to consider that a backlit display is very different than an image printed on a piece of paper. It might sound obvious, but once you consider that a display and print are different, you can learn how to perfectly create a printer profile for any paper. This process begins with display calibration.
Color Management’s Role
An accurate view into your digital world is imperative. Photographers live in a world where small, subtle adjustments make all the difference. Subtleties can be the difference between an image that works and one that simply does not. Your display must be a trusted ally to provide you with a faithful representation of your work allowing you to craft the image that you intend without a bias from your display.
Display calibration uses a sensor and dedicated software to evaluate a display for color accuracy, tonal range, contrast and brightness. After evaluation, a correction is made through an ICC profile. This profile remaps your display so color and tonal values render correctly at a specified brightness that is determined during calibration. For photographic purposes, a luminance (brightness) between 100 and 120 cd/m2 in a dimly lit room works best.
As stated before, tonal range on your display is different than a print. It can do a much better job of reproducing your image file than paper. Part of making an effective print is understanding how the image seen on your display will “map” or translate to paper through your printer with all its physical limits. The goal is to linearize the color primaries to ensure perfect color balance and for properly adjusted color gradations to maximize the color range for the paper.
Regarding printer profiles, they do similar things that display calibration does. They describe the native characteristics of a paper and printer combination. It is used to interpret an image file to the printed page.
Profiles come in two varieties: generic profiles and custom profiles. Generic profiles are made for the public to work with a paper and a model of printer. These can be found in the print driver or from the manufacturer of the paper. Custom profiles are made by evaluating your specific printer and making a profile tailored your printer’s output on a paper. Custom profiles are higher quality than generic profiles since they were made specifically for an individual printer and paper combination.
SpyderPRINT is Datacolor’s solution for creating a custom profile. A profile is generated by printing out a series of test patterns with color management turned off and measuring the color patches with a measurement tool (spectrophotometer). Turning off color management will allow your printer to render the test patterns without any software influence and show the native characteristics. SpyderPRINT’s test patterns range from 225 patches to 729 unique patches plus and additional 238 patches near the gray axis. Using a range this large will yield an extensive amount of measurements, nearly 1000, to create a very detailed correction profile.
Characteristics of your printer and paper such as black and white points, color temperature of the paper and color accuracy are evaluated. A printer profile has an important job.
A higher quality profile will yield a better separated tonal range and more faithful color agreement with a calibrated display. Not every printer in the same model line prints the same and a printer’s color output will change over time. A custom profile can be made multiple times to account for these changes to yield the best possible results over time. Having a profile made for your specific printer will also ensure that it’s unique ability will always produce optimal results.
Prepare the Profile
A unique feature of SpyderPRINT is the ability to create a flexible profile that can be edited. One use case is if you needed to produce a series of prints with a particular look like a sepia tone. You can take a custom profile and apply the sepia tone look as a profile. There are preloaded looks in Adjustment Presets but any number of custom presets can be made from the adjustments in the Basic and Advanced tabs and saved for future use.
A more common way to use the profile editor is to change the tonal range within its physical limits. In the top right corner the Lab values of the white and black point of the paper. One of the jobs of a printer profile is to map the darkest and lightest values to the black and white points of the paper. Deciding what to do with the values that fall outside the printable area of the paper is the Rendering Intent.
Perceptual and Relative Colorimetric are the Intents we commonly use in inkjet printing. Perceptual shifts the darkest and lightest value of the image to the black and white point of the paper. All other values are shifted in the image as well. Often this is preferred if the paper has a deep black and white point. If the paper does not have a deep black and white point, it can alter the look of the image and you will see a shift in color. This is often preferable since deep and light tones are preserved. An important thing to remember is the relationships between tones will stay true. A print is not viewed next to a display and since the relationships remain unharmed, we perceive the print as true to our intent.
Relative intent will lock the tones in the printable area and move the dark and light tones that fall outside the printable range of the paper to the darkest and lightest printable tone. Depending on the paper, you may see some clipping in the deepest and lightest areas but tonal values within the gamut will be preserved.
As you can see, without an accurate black or white point, tonal values could be altered improperly.
This image of Radio City Music Hall was printed on my favorite matte paper. The top print’s profile shadow tones were boosted in the SpyderPRINT profile editor to my taste. Having the flexibility to edit the profile in this way helps me more efficiently make prints that match my creative vision for any paper.
Since the printer profile does the work of converting information between your image and print; the profile should not only be accurate but best serve the print. Often a boost in the shadow and reduction in highlight tones benefits the final result. This adjustment can be applied through the profile by adjusting the sliders for Shadow and Highlight Detail in the Advanced tab.
Perhaps the optimal way to edit the shadow and highlight tones is to import a custom curve. This is done through Photoshop in a Curves layer. The curve can be saved and imported into the SpyderPRINT profile editor. Instead of using sliders, a curve can more precisely edit the tonal range of a profile.
The effects of any edit can be viewed on the Soft Proof screen to determine the optimal amount. You can even print out the images used in the soft proof view to see the effects on paper.
Printing is an important part of photography. We have many ways to display an image digitally but the skill of making a print is still relevant today and an integral part of our heritage as photographers. I was fortunate to grow up with a black and white darkroom in our house so my photographic roots are in this process. Today, film and chemistry are not necessary parts of our craft. However, the process of creating a tangible representation of our creative thought is as satisfying and as important as ever. Being able to properly set up and fine tune your workflow will help you attain the best results more efficiently.
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