By Marc Aguilera
If you want to get prints that match what you see on your screen, an important first step is to calibrate your display. Then you can use output profiles and the soft-proofing tools in Photoshop to preview how your edited image will look on the type of paper you plan to print to. This method works whether you are printing images yourself or sending your files to a photo lab or print shop that uses ICC profiles.
I calibrate my displays and create ICC profiles for my papers because it’s the only way to accurately predict print results. When I preview on screen how my prints will actually look, I can make whatever image adjustments are needed to get the absolutely best possible quality from my printer.
Calibrating your monitor isn’t time-consuming or difficult. It simply involves tweaking some of the variables so that your display consistently conforms to some known conditions.
Some of the variables you need to control are the white point, luminance (brightness), and gamma. Each of these variables can affect how you perceive the colors in your image on your display.
Whenever you see colors on your computer screen that can’t be reproduced by the combination of inks and paper you use on your printer, you are bound to be surprised and/or disappointed by the results.
To calibrate your display, you need to use an instrument and software. I use the X-Rite i1 Pro Spectrophotometer and i1 Match Software in an all-inclusive profiling package called i1 Extreme.
However, there are many other solutions available with different price points and capabilities. Some packages, such as X-Rite ColorMunki, have easy-to-follow on-screen instructions that will guide you through every step of the process.
If you are calibrating and profiling your display with an instrument that gives you more advanced controls, here are some of the tips and settings that I find most helpful.
Edit your images in a room where the ambient light is minimal. Essentially, your display should be the predominant source of light in the room. What little amount of ambient light exists in the room should be daylight balanced in order to have a neutral affect on the environment.
Some color-management instruments enable you to measure the ambient light in your room. I keep the ambient light in my editing room to less than 32 lux.
Adjust the white point. The “white point” is the specific color of the maximum white R255 G255 B255 on your display. This white is what you see as “background white” on your display, and it affects the look of all of the other colors you see because this background white actually has color and luminance.
When you calibrate your display you effectively alter the white point and make it conform to a known white point measured in Kelvin. Typically white points range between 5000 Kelvin to 6500 Kelvin.
The white point you choose will depend on what you are trying to do. My best screen-to-print matches with my own personal equipment have come from calibrating to a white point closer to 6500 Kelvin than to 5000 Kelvin because I tend to print with satin and semi-gloss photo papers, which typically have a “bluish” white point. Setting my white point to 6500 Kelvin gives me a closer screen to print match because the “color” of a 6500 Kelvin is more blue than a 5000 K white.
If I were an editorial or advertising photographer who shot images for magazines, I would choose to calibrate to a 5000 Kelvin white point because a 5000 K white point is similar to the coated paper stock that runs through typical web presses used to print thousands of copies of magazines.
So the white point you choose depends partly on the type of photography work you do and how your images will be viewed and printed.
Adjust the luminance. Luminance is a photometric measure of light intensity within a given area and affects how bright your images will appear on screen. If luminance is too high on your display, then you will be seeing colors that are typically much brighter and more vibrant than your printer will be able to produce. Most new displays start out with really high luminance defaults, and display images on screen that are impossible to match what you can get in a print.
In my previous post I suggested a luminance level of 110 to 130 cd/m2 (candelas per meter squared). Lately I have been having better success with a 90 to 100 cd/m2 luminance - especially when I work in very low light conditions.
Adjust the gamma. Gamma is simply a relation of input value to output value and it generally curve based. When you work with curves in Photoshop you are working with gamma curves. The higher the gamma on a display, the more contrast you will see in an image. Most displays available today have a native gamma of 2.0 to 3.0. Previous norms were 1.8 for Mac displays and 2.2 for Windows based PC’s.
When you calibrate your monitor, it’s best to calibrate to the native gamma of the display. If you calibrate to a non-native gamma, you can introduce banding in gradients or other artifacts that affect the look of your image.Typically. 2.2 is the native gamma for most displays, even Apple Cinema Displays.
Soft proof in Photoshop. To avoid wasting ink and paper making multiple test prints, use the soft-proofing feature in Photoshop. This lets you preview on screen how your images will look when printed on the type of paper that you will be using with the type of printers you will be printing to. In order to soft proof, you will need an output profile that describes how the printer produces colors on different types of papers.
The Designjet Z3200 printer includes a built-in spectrophotometer that will create a profile of whatever type of printing material you would like to use as long as it is compatible with the ink system. If you use other models of printers, you can obtain profiles from the companies that provide professional inkjet papers. Or you can use tools such as the ColorMunkiPhoto or i1 Extreme to make your own profiles. Jon Canfield will be writing about these tools on another post.
If you are confused about monitor calibration, output profiles, and soft proofing, check out some of the documents and tutorials on X-Rite’s new website, .
The site was specifically designed to help photographers get the best possible color quality from the time you take the shot until the time you print or display your images.
Companies that reproduce fine-art or print publications must be totally confident that the colors in their prints will match the images they adjusted on their computer screens. So they not only calibrate their monitors and control the ambient light, but also use light booths to provide the daylight-balanced viewing conditions needed to evaluate how accurately the colors in the print match the colors on the screen. Shown here is the prepress department in Harvest Productions in Yorba Linda, CA.
This is my own personal setup. I work in low ambient light and use a portable viewing booth to compare how the image on the screen compares to print. The image is soft proofed to a custom profile I built for my Z3200. You can read more about setting up a digital darkroom in my previous post.