The other day Keith was asked if calibrating and profiling a monitor would make someone's screen match their prints?
Some thoughts and potential solutions for this common problem.
This article was written several years ago and has (Apr 2015) been updated with some newer links and information. Keith does testing work with major printer manufacturers and is one of X-rite's Coloratti
Can my prints ever match my screen?
The short answer is no,
...but the reasons may be much more varied than you first thought, and with care you can get the two very close.
Hopefully this short guide (and the links to other more detailed information) will be of help?
The calibration process is very simple - just follow the default settings, unless you know why you might want other ones.
Does this now mean that your prints will look better?
Well maybe, but it really is only part of what you need to know...
Chillies at a Seattle market stall -- can you get a print to match what you see here?
Matching up what's on the screen to your prints covers a whole range of issues, some of which may not be so obvious at first.
If you send your images away to a company to be printed, then you may well get better prints just from sorting out your monitor (especially if it looks quite different after you've first calibrated it).
However, if you are doing your own printing, there's a bit more to do.
I never print most of my professional photographic work, it goes directly (digitally) to the clients.
That means that I'm relying on the accuracy of my own screen to know what I'm sending them.
I often get asked for suggestions about learning more about the nuts and bolts of Colour Management.
My usual suggestion is Bruce Fraser's Real World Colour Management. My own copy is well thumbed. It's my first port of call if I'm asked a question and I feel I don't quite understand an issue well enough to be absolutely sure of an answer.
Check latest price/availability from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
See some other books Keith has on the shelf, on our Books Page
Of course I have to trust that they actually know what to do with the images ... not always the case ... it's one of the reasons that part of my work involves testing new equipment, and I write these articles :-)
Where I do produce prints for commercial and decorative use, such as my commercial work, I've had a number of large printers at the Northlight offices.
I used to have the big Epson 9600 (44" print width) and a slightly smaller Epson 7880 (24" print width). Currently (2015) I use the 44" Canon iPF8300
I've lots more printer information in some of our printer reviews. These include additional details about getting high quality prints, as well as the more basic elements of any review.
What about ordinary desktop printers? Print quality and ease of use has improved a lot since I first wrote this article, but still I'm asked about print/screen matching...
It turns out that there an awful lot of factors that influence whether a print 'looks the same' as on a monitor.
I'll briefly mention some of the most important ones and provide some links to more detailed information that you can explore if interested.
How does your camera capture 'real life' colours?
The file produced by your camera has to fit the range of colours and brightnesses it 'sees' in the 'real world' into a more limited range in its image files.
The limited range is called a colour space, and is a subset of all possible colours that you could actually see.
In fact, since digital camera sensors can 'see' colours (such as infra red) that the eye cannot, there are additional problems that arise.
Fortunately the camera manufacturers are getting pretty good at this...
The more technical version of this would be - How do you map the the original image to your choice of working colour space (for example - how the real world is fitted into Adobe98 or sRGB by your camera)
I've some reviews of Digital camera profiling and Scanner profiling which cover more aspects of profile choice. Even if you don't want to go to the trouble of fully calibrating your camera (it's often not worth the effort) you can often improve things with a device like the ColorChecker Passport, which is a standard item in my camera bag - see this example from my architectural photo blog: A lighting survey
How does the image get displayed on your screen?
Your screen can only display a subset of the colours present in the file from the camera - the translation from what is in the file to what is on the screen is carried out using the monitor profile.
Different screens have different capabilities, so even matching images on two screens is not a trivial task.
The two images at the right show the difference in performance (size of black triangle) between my own laptop and Apple 23" screen
Gamut comparison (size of triangles) -- Apple 23" LCD vs. Apple PowerBook.
You don't need to know the exact details of the diagrams, just that working on a better screen shows more of the colour in your photos
The range of colours covered (the gamut) is greater with the Apple 23" LCD (the graphs are part of my Eye One Display 2 review)
The reviews of the i1Diplay Pro and Spyder4elite have quite a bit more on monitor calibration and what it actually means.
Just as your monitor only has a limited range of colours that it can display, your printer/ink/paper combination has a limited range of colours that can be printed.
The printer profile is part of what can be used to do the translation from what is wanted to what is possible.
Even if you print without using profiles, there is still the equivalent function going on inside of your printer driver -- although it's usually well hidden by the writers of the printer driver software.
The range of colours available depends on the type of ink and paper you are using, as well as how these are actually combined in the printer.
Suffice to say, there are wide variations between printer models and makes.
What's more there are usually:
Colours that can be represented in your image, displayed on your screen and printed
Colours that can be represented in your image, displayed on your screen but cannot be printed
Colours that can be represented in your image, not displayed on your screen but can be printed
Colours that can be represented in your image, not displayed on your screen and cannot be printed
The picture to the right shows a 3D representation of colours that can be displayed on my 23" LCD and printed on my old Epson 1290 (Epson PGP paper)
The shapes represent the range of colours (gamut) - the 3D representation reflects the combination of colour and brightness variations
Gamut comparison - Print vs. Screen
Notice how certain light yellows and dark cyans can be printed but not displayed on my monitor.
The differences are somewhat exaggerated in this view, but they do exist.
If you are wondering what happens to non printable colours when you try and print them, it all depends on what's called the rendering intent.
This is either built into printer drivers or you specify it when printing with profiles (it's a bit more complex to explain than fits in this article)
Thus we have potential problems in that:
The image file produced by the camera is not the same as the 'Real World'
The screen view is not the same as what is in the image file
The printed version is also not the same as in the image file, but in a different way to the screen view
And that's before you even get round to looking at the the screen and prints...
There is lots more info about printer profiling on this site but you might want to start with my reviews of the ColorMunki, SpyderPrint SR and the more advanced i1Profiler
Soft proofing is one way to simulate more accurately how your prints will look - see this very useful introduction by Bruce Fraser (archived copy)
How does my choice of ink and paper reflect light?
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With a print, the whitest white you can get (without white ink) is the reflected colour of the paper. This will undoubtedly be different from what your monitor emits when it is displaying white.
Some papers have optical brightening agents in them (OBAs) which absorb UV light and re-emit it as a blue light. This can be quite bright when the paper is viewed in daylight, but completely missing when using ordinary tungsten lighting (which has no UV component to speak of)
Different ink types also produce different results on different papers - how black is the deepest black you can get for example?
How does my choice of viewing lighting affect prints?
The visible colour of dyes and pigments in the coloured parts of your images also vary with the kind of light you are using.
Try a simple experiment - match two similarly coloured pieces of clothing (from different manufacturers) in tungsten lighting - then take them to a window (north facing on a clear sunny day is particularly good) ... do they still match?
There are many ways of measuring lighting, but you will often hear of the colour temperature of a light source. This is the same as the setting you may have used in your monitor calibration.
You can think of it as how yellow or blue the colour white is.
A low colour temperature (2800K) might equate to the yellowish white of a tungsten light bulb
Daylight might be 'whiter' white -- maybe 6000K
Light from a north facing window with a clear blue sky at noon might be 9-12000K
There is also a measure of the 'quality' of light for colour rendition, compared to an arbitrary 'perfect' daylight.
This gives what is known as a CRI or colour rendition index (100 is 'perfect')
Some monitor calibration tools give the ability to measure the quality of ambient lighting.
The diagram shows the results when testing the quality of an energy saving light bulb with an Eye One.
The bumpy red line shows the spectrum of the bulb compared to daylight. It is so bad for colour rendering that it scored zero.
So ... never check prints under energy saving light bulbs unless that is where they are going to be displayed!
How does the human visual system perceive colour/contrast under different light intensities?
Our visual system is tremendously good at adapting to the ambient lighting conditions. We automatically adapt our own 'white point' to the brightest white in our visual field. We also compensate for colour casts, so for example, you do not see everyone looking slightly green when you are sitting under a leafy tree on a sunny day.
As a result of this, the lighting conditions where you work can have quite a noticeable effect on how images on a screen, or a print are perceived.
To compare a print with an image on screen, they both need to be similar in brightness. You can get special viewing cabinets, with special adjustable lighting, designed for comparison work (they are not cheap - see the link above)
Following on from this, one of the worst ways to compare a print with an image on screen, is to hold the print up next to the monitor. It is far better to have the print well lit, to one side of the monitor. You make a point of physically turning your head to look at the print - it take a bit of practice, but the comparison is much more accurate.
At lower light levels the eye sees images with a slight blue shift in colours, so in a dim room and with a dim monitor, a colour temperature setting of 5000K may look OK, whereas in more normal working conditions it would look rather yellow. This also helps explain why dim candle light with a colour temperature below 2000K doesn't seem as yellow as first might be thought.
There are two nice examples of colour adaptation on the colorcube web site (example 1, example 2)
Colour Vision - Very complete collection of info. fascinating stuff but -way- beyond what you probably wanted to know :-)
So, does monitor calibration really help match my prints to what's on the screen?
As you can see, there are a lot of variables...
One of the best arguments for a using colour management (a colour managed workflow) is that it nails a lot of the variables down, so when things don't work, you have a much shorter list of things to investigate.
The factors I've listed come into play even if you don't actively use any 'colour management' at all. For example, if you just print using the printer driver settings, there are the equivalent of printer profiles and rendering intents built in to the driver software. You are just working with -lots- more variables.
Yes it does help, but it's only part of the solution...
One of the key realisations I made, and a reason for writing this article, is that asking to match prints to a screen is really getting things the wrong way round.
If you are aiming for prints, then the view on your screen is only an intermediate stage in the workflow from camera to final print.
The Screen is -not- the Print
It's quite possible that the best print does not come from the best screen version of your image - get over this and you can concentrate more on print quality.
The picture to the right has been adjusted to look OK on the web.
The print version for my Epson 7880 has had saturations for the deep reds and blues turned up considerably.
The version that looked the best on a Canon iPF6300 was different again - not by much, but enough to make a difference.
You need to experiment with good known test images for this, don't initially rely on using your own photos.
Calibration and profiling - not the same thing Monitor calibration or monitor profiling? I probably know what you mean, but actually they are two different things. A short explanation for the usage of the terms that I try and stick to in reviews and when writing about colour management.
Adobe utility for printing profiling targets (CS5) with no colour management.
Why don't my prints match my screen?
A short article showing why there is more to getting your prints to match your screen, than just calibrating your monitor. It's the vital first step, but you do need to consider some other factors for best results.
Why are my prints too dark?
One of the more common printing problems we get asked about. Addresses some of the steps you can take to produce more consistent prints.
Dark prints revisited - If you're having problems adjusting your monitor, Keith has some details of an experimental approach, using adjustment curve layers that may be of some help.
Choosing a working space There are a number of popular choices for working colour space when editing images. Keith shows examples and discusses his personal choices for different applications. One size definitely does not fit all.
Beware the colour management Tar Pit
Know what levels of colour management (and expense ;-) suit the needs of your work... A personal view from Keith covering some of the things it is good for, but also why you should be careful to understand why you are doing it in the first place.
Media settings and profiling for third party inks
Keith recently converted an Epson Stylus COLOR 1160 to third party inks. In describing the profiling of a this set-up with a third party glossy paper, he shows how that often neglected aspect of profiling -driver media settings- can make all the difference between a so-so print and one that he would be happy to send out as a sample to his commercial clients. Test images for media selection.
Camera Profiling for ACR with the DNG Profile Editor Using a ColorChecker card, we've created custom camera profiles for the Ricoh GX200. Used for processing RAW camera files with Adobe Camera Raw. Applicable to any camera producing RAW files that can be opened in ACR.
Using QTR and PrintFIX PRO for better black and white prints
By using the PrintFIX PRO to take readings from a greyscale test target, you can create luminance only icc profiles that can give a noticeable improvement to black and white print set-ups. It can even be used to improve the results from the likes of Epson's new 'advanced black and white' print settings.
Links to articles and sites we've found useful.
(Please do let us know if you find something useful that we've missed)
Equipment and software reviews
X-Rite (ex GretagMacbeth)
ColorTRUE for profiling an iPad used with CamRanger X-Rite ColorTRUE allows you to create display profiles for iPads and other devices. Profiles add colour management to the display of images in compatible Apps. This review uses the CamRanger App (and device) to remotely control cameras - colour managed liveview.
i1Profiler - scanner profiling review - The latest V1.4 update to i1Profiler adds scanner profiling, using a range of specialist targets for film and flat bed scanners. The review shows how the output of even a basic desktop scanner can be greatly improved.
ColorChecker Passport - test card for photography. Also allows DNG camera profiles to be built for the Adobe ACR raw converter
i1iSis OBA compensation - Optical brighteners can cause problems in profiling some papers. Article shows why, and reviews X-rite's approach to building corrected profiles for different lighting conditions with the iSis.
i1 profile editing - The Eye One Match software from GretagMacbeth (now X-rite) now allows you to edit icc printer profiles. How easy is it to use, and what things should you consider before editing profiles.
i1 iSis - advanced measuring device for printer profiling.
An automated whole chart reader for printer profiling test charts. A3 and A4 versions provide spectrophotometer readings for both UV and UV-Cut (filtered) measurements.
May 2010 X-Rite annouce new profiling software for Q4 2010 - i1 Match and ProfileMaker Pro will be superseded by i1Profiler later in 2010. We have some notes and press info in the X-rite information section of the Northlight blog. For purchases after April 1st 2010 here will be free upgrades, along with other offers when the software is available.
Sept. 2008 X-Rite and the i1 range
From Sept. the range is simplified to two options. The functionality is the same as we have reviewed, but exactly what you get varies. As a result of this rationalisation, the i1Photo, i1Photo SG, i1Proof and i1XT have all been discontinued, and the i1 range now consists of:
The i1Basic - i1Pro measuring device with monitor profiling software
The new i1XTreme - professional monitor, RGB and CMYK printer, camera, scanner and projector profiling, plus profile editing
With the i1XTreme you can calibrate and profile:
Monitors - LCD, CRT and laptops
RGB output devices
CMYK output devices
*Requires Digital ColorChecker SG Chart - available separately.
Datacolor (aka ColorVision)
Spyder5 Elite monitor calibrator - The Spyder 5 Elite monitor calibrator features a new colorimeter design, giving improved performance. The Elite version includes projector calibration and a wide range of profiling options and measurement data.
Spyder4TV HD - Review of Datacolor's Spyder based TV and home cinema calibration kit.
Spyder4Express - Review of basic monitor profiling and why you need it.
Spyder4Pro - Review of monitor profiling and calibration package (multiple monitor support)
Spyder4Elite - Full review of the (multiple) monitor and projector profiler from Datacolor.
SpyderCheckr - Colour test target for creating camera adjustment profiles for better colour reproduction.
Spyder3Elite V4.0 - Review of the improved and updated software for the Spyder 3 elite - Monitor and Projector calibration.
Spyder3express - review of Datacolor's basic calibration equipment and software
Spyder3Print SR - Full review of the latest printer profiling system from Datacolor. Updated spectrocolorimeter allows for strip and patch reading.
Spyder3Print - printer profiling package for creating icc printer profiles. Allows considerable optimisation of profile qualities, including black and white.
Spyder3Pro - monitor profiling with multiple monitor support and ambient light measurement.
Spyder3elite - review of the comprehensive monitor and projector profiling system with multiple monitor support and ambient light measurement.
Spyder2express - entry level monitor profiling system from ColorVision for Macs and PCs.
PrintFIX PRO - A considerable upgrade to the PrintFIX. The new version uses a Spectrocolorimeter to let you create printer icc profiles (Not sold directly any more - you can ugrade the software for free to Spyder3 Print)
PrintFIX PLUS The software only version of PrintFIX PRO that allows you to create icc profiles without your own patch reader.
The original PrintFIX review. Printer profiling system
Pantone Eye One Display LT - monitor profiling. The mid range monitor profiling solution in the trio from Pantone. The measuring device is an Eye One Display LT from GretagMacbeth, and uses the Eye One Match software.
Pantone Eye One Display 2 - monitor profiling. The measuring device is an Eye One Display 2 from GretagMacbeth, and uses the Eye One Match software. This review has additional information to that in our original GretagMacbeth Eye One Display 2 review, and compares features between the Display 2, Display LT and Huey.
Pantone Huey - review
The Huey is a new and relatively inexpensive addition to the monitor profiling market. Keith looks at how it performs, including its novel capacity to modify your monitor setup in response to changing room lighting.
Desktop Print Viewer - PDV-3e - A review of the GTI print viewer, showing why having a well defined print viewing solution helps with print evaluation and soft proofing. Good lighting is a key factor in print consistency and prints looking more like you see on your monitor.
A review of the Ott Lite based print viewing lamp.
The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
Keith is always happy to discuss matters raised in his articles. You can Email Us Northlight Images prides itself on its independence when giving advice. We do not sell hardware or software and have no direct commercial links with any of the software or hardware vendors that may be mentioned here. See our Review Policy for more information.
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