As photographers, we’re always concerned about how our images are reproduced, either on screen or in print. Sure, we learn about color management and how important it is to calibrate our displays and to use the correct printer profiles for output. But, how many of you have actually checked the accuracy of that output? Are you positive that your printer is giving you the best possible print in any given situation?
Most printers come with quality profiles for the paper that is sold by that company. HP is one of the few that I’ve seen that also offers profiles for popular third party papers as well. For the rest of your output needs, you’ll either need to find profiles, hopefully from the paper maker, or from a user group (Yahoo has groups devoted to almost every brand of printer). Or, if you’re the owner of an HP Designjet Z series printer, you can use the built-in spectrophotometer to make your own. The final option is to spend another $500 to $5,000 to buy the hardware and software needed to create your own profiles.
So, you’ve got the correct profile for your printer and paper, you’ve done your edits in Photoshop on your calibrated display. It’s as good as it’s going to get right? Maybe, maybe not.
Anytime I try a new paper, I go to the trouble of printing a test print to verify the quality of the profile for my needs. Many people will use one of their own images, sort of a benchmark, to do this. That’s fine and it gives you a good idea of how the printer does relative to other papers. But I find it useful to use a dedicated test file instead.
The advantage of using a test file is that it stresses all of the critical areas you need to be aware of when printing.
Test-file charts are available from a number of sources, but the two that I’ve found to be the most useful are from Uwe Steinmueller’s Outback Photo site and Scott Martin’s color and black & white charts. You can download these charts for your own use.
The advantage of using a standard chart is in having a known set of values. For example, you can evaluate how well your profile and printer produce gray ramps from white to black, color bars of different hue and intensity, as well as common subjects such as sky, skin tones. If you see problems, you can make adjustments prior to printing to get more accurate results.
Sure, it takes a little time, plus some ink and paper, but the overall time and cost savings can add up if the chart helps you find that your printer isn’t reproducing a particular range of colors as well as it could be.