Color Management – Printer Calibration

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Yesterday I wrote about calibrating your monitor. It turned out to be somewhat long and I still could’ve written much more. Hopefully, today’s article on printer calibration will not be as long.

If your monitor isn’t calibrated when you’re working on an image and you think that image is too red, then you may increase the cyan to get the color you want. If you then send it to someone whose monitor is calibrated (a professional color lab for example), they will likely see the image not the way you want it, but with too much cyan. The same holds true with a printer. If your monitor is calibrated and your printer isn’t, working to get the color and brightness just right on your monitor still won’t get the desired results when you print the image. Solution, calibrate the printer.

“Oh joy, more equipment to buy,” you say. Actually, some of the tools mentioned yesterday, like the ColorMunki Photo – Monitor, Printer & Projector Profiler, will do both. Calibrating a printer is a little more involved, but can be well worth the effort.

Before I go further, I’ll cover a couple of basics. The first fact, the second opinion. First, monitors use additive RGB (red, green, blue) color. Printers use subtractive colors CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). You can check out this Wikipedia article on CMYK for more information. Second, if you’re using a low end consumer model printer, you’re probably not going to be overly excited about your results even after spending an afternoon calibrating it.

Please keep in mind that if all you’re trying to do is shot in jpeg and create what you would basically call snapshots, then the $100 printer will probably give you what you want without calibrating it. Or, if you’re not overly finicky about perfect color matching, you can always have the prints produced at someplace like Rite-Aid or CVS. On the other hand, if you’re trying to produce fine art photography or producing prints for clients, then correct color is critical to your success.

If you have a high end printer that is manufactured for the express purpose of printing photographs, like the Epson 3880 I have, and you use inks and paper made for the printer, then you should have all the color profiles for each kind of paper you use. By the way, that doesn’t mean you can’t run a calibration sample from time to time just to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be, it’s just that you can have a reasonable level of expectation that you will be getting good results with the manufacturer’s color profiles. If you use ink from independent producers, or papers that aren’t included in your printer’s installed profiles, you may have to calibrate to get the desired results. If that different paper is Ilford or other mainstream brands, you should be able to down load color profiles from the company’s website.

I have a neighbor that produces some absolutely beautiful prints on his Canon printers and never uses the profiles that came with the printers he owns. He creates all his own custom profiles to have complete control over everything he produces.

Here is an article on that discusses how to calibrate your printer. This article is easy to read and understand. I found it interesting that this article provides a link to Norman Koren as I did in my article yesterday.

Does “close enough” work for you? Then unless you’re not even getting to “close enough” I wouldn’t worry about calibrating your printer. If you’re usually disappointed with how your images produce on paper, then the first steps to getting what you want is monitor and printer calibration.

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  • seepea

    Love this article and the last!  This is exactly the kind of info I was looking for.  I am becoming convinced that investing some money to calibrate my monitor is a good move.  I am less inclined to spend money or time calibrating my printer–I pretty much use it to only print quick snapshots to share with family.  However, I’ve had much better luck with Shutterfly since learning how to turn off their automatic color correction–it’s called VividPics.  My prints from Shutterfly are now much closer to what I’m seeing, even on my non-color calibrated screen.  For now, that works for me, but as my photography progresses it’s nice to know the options for taking things to the next step.  Thanks!!