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The PrintFIX PRO
A review of the PrintFIX PRO printer profiling system
Some time ago Keith reviewed the original PrintFIX profiling system. Although it covered many printers and paper types, you could not produce icc profiles for non-supported combinations (especially 3rd party produts).
ColorVision (now Datacolor) have brought out an entirely new solution to printer profiling, which makes use of a new specialist colour measurement device.
PrintFIX PRO for printer profiling
The new package supports just about any printer/ink/paper setup you might care to try (3rd party inks/papers included).
Keith has been looking at what it is and how it works.
The picture above shows the PrintFIX PRO Spectrocolorimeter from ColorVision (aka the Datacolor 1005)
The Apple Macintosh version of the PrintFIX PRO is reviewed here, but the Windows version works just the same.
The PrintFIX PLUS uses the same software, but does not use the Spectrocolorimeter (our review of PrintFIX PLUS).
You can download the software for PrintFIX PRO and run it in Demo mode, where a lot of the functionality can be tried out with test data.
Do you have an original PrintFIX?
If so, Colorvision are offering a trade-in to upgrade to the PrintFIX PRO - see Keith's review to see how it's an entirely different product.
Details at: www.colorvision.ch/tradein/
PrintFIX PRO is for making printer profiles to improve the quality of your prints.
If you are not sure about what these are or why you should start your colour management with a profiled and calibrated monitor, you might want to read the brief introduction to Colour Management article as well as this review.
If you've seen the original PrintFIX you may be wondering what has changed?
You no longer create your profiles from within Photoshop. PrintFIX PRO is a standalone application.
The other big difference with the PrintFIX PRO is the Datacolor 1005 Spectrocolorimeter.
This is a USB device that measures the colour of reflective materials.
In this case you measure small printed test patches of colour, a collection of which is often called a profiling target (the original colours are what you are aiming for).
It's actually a lot more complicated than that -- there are lots of different ways of measuring the colour of an object.
I'm not going into the details of colour theory, but a colorimeter typically measures the light reflected from the object in three colours (RGB) and produces a value in some standard reference system.
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.ukRWCM 1st Edition RWCM
RWCM 2nd Edition RWCM
See some other books Keith has on the shelf, on our Books Page
This is similar to the way we see colour, and is one of the reasons that mixing red, green and blue light can simulate any colour we can see.
The spectrocolorimeter supplied, uses six colours of LED inside it to sequentially illuminate the target.
The measurements are converted by the software to L*ab values. That's 3 numbers - luminance and two colour components (D50 2 degrees for the techies ).
Having more colours of LED improves the accuracy of results and also allows (to some extent) for the inclusion of optical brightening agents (OBAs) in some papers.
OBAs are the same stuff that makes your white shirt glow in UV ('black') light. The blue glow can affect profiling if not allowed for.
To take a measurement you normally place the sensor in direct contact with the target, but the photo below shows the multiple coloured lights coming from the device during a reading.
The green LED on top also illuminates.
3 second exposure showing all colours used (there are 3 sets of 6 different colours of LED)
The package comes with a CD of software and printed reference guide. There is quite a lot you should know in order to get the best results from any profiling package - do take time to read through it.
In the screen shots below I'll show some of the stages that I went through in creating a test profile using my trusty old HP K80 all-in-one printer/fax/copier with ordinary plain copier paper. I picked this since I know how well it prints on plain paper and I've used it as a quick test for numerous other articles I've written.
It's worthwhile trying a few simple profiles like this first to get the hang of what you are doing, and for practice in patch measurement.
If you are new to the process, do try a few practice runs with the small target first - a measure of manual dexterity is called for. Do not go straight for profiling your best paper first, at highest print quality, with the most complex targets -- you will make mistakes.
In order to characterize a printer and create a profile you need to print your chosen target (test patches).
The first step is to define your printer, and enter some (helpful) information.
The media settings in your printer driver can be left for the time being, if you have not yet decided on them.
There is the option of printing a quick test ramp to check that your printer is working at its best. Do a nozzle check first, since any profile made depends on the printer functioning correctly.
Note how you can place the printed area in any corner of the paper, letting you save paper or compare settings.
Now comes the important step of finding which media setting in your printer driver produces the best results. Don't expect perfect prints at this stage, you are just testing driver settings. An example might be whether to use the 'matt' or 'art' paper settings for a particular paper.
In this case, I'm using the gimp-print drivers to print on a printer (HP K80) that is not directly supported on my Mac. 'Normal' is just a driver setting for plain paper. I'm not expecting exhibition quality prints, but more to see if the blue/grey colour cast that you get when printing directly is corrected.
There is a very good section in the help file showing how to analyse the test print, and all the different things you should look for.
Getting the best results takes time, don't skimp on the media settings stage.
Selecting a target
PrintFIX PRO offers three different targets, with different numbers of patches. More patches take longer to read, but produce better results. Newer printers such as the Epson R1800 may well produce excellent results with the 'Fast' target, but older ones may not. One way to get an idea is to look at how well the media test patches were printed. If the best media settings couldn't produce a very good print, then be prepared for more work.
Some printer/paper/ink combinations just don't work very well
No amount of profiling is really going to help in this case - it does happen! (not too often, but be aware of it).
You select and print the target from within the application, but if need be, the targets are available as TIFF files for you to print (but be careful with turning off all colour management if you go this route).
Now wait for the prints to dry -- the time for this varies, but there are some useful hints in the help file.
The USB spectrocolorimeter is used to measure each individual target.
Here it is with a printed A4 225 patch target, using some photo paper in the K80
With thinner papers it's probably best to place some more sheets of paper under the print you are measuring. This stops the colour of whatever is underneath influencing the spectrocolorimeter readings.
Hidden away in the preferences is also the functionality to use the PrintFIX PRO Spectrocolorimeter to take individual measurements (Lab values). Odd place to put it, but worth knowing :-)
After you select the target to read (and give it a meaningful name), the target is displayed.
The white triangles associated with each patch are where the measured data will go. The red triangle shows where the next reading will be placed. In this instance it is the very first patch.
Ready for patch reading
There are several ways you can read the patches. You can press the button on the top of the sensor, or hit the return key. There is acoustic feedback (noises) associated with different actions, and you can move the data insertion point (red triangle) with the cursor keys, to repeat measurements if need be.
After each measurement the data insertion point will advance, with a bell sound at the end of each line.
You should practice quite a few times before starting on important profiles, since there are many different ways of working, and different ways suit different people (see the help for some hints and tips). There is this Applescript from John Vitollo than can help automate the process by taking a reading every two seconds, but you will need to practice either way.
I didn't take precise timings of the measurement process, but look at the movie above and you will get an idea as to how long each reading takes...
You can also view and edit existing measurement files - in the example below the display shows one page from the three page 729 patch target.
This also means that you do not have to measure an entire target in one go...
The patch reading display
There are three different modes that you can look at target files.
The picture below shows the pure colours for a 225 colour target. if you move your mouse over, it will show the split view, while clicking (and holding the button down) will show the washed out colours (measured) that my K80 managed on plain copier paper.
Check your results carefully, since it is possible to make mistakes.
The samples below are from part of a target I'd measured.
Looking at the original measured values (left), and comparing them to the printed sheet, shows a faulty measurement.
Re-doing the measurement (right) corrects the error - I probably included a bit of the white border in the first measurement, which lightened the middle patch -- I said it needed practice.
When you have a good set of measurements it's time to move on.
Once you've got the measurements, you use them to make the profiles.
Either using the measurements you've just taken, or a file you created earlier, the next stage in the process is to create the actual icc profile.
After entering the profile name (remember to make it a meaningful one) you are presented with a collection of adjustments. Your first profile for a particular paper/ink/printer should use the default values. The software supports 8 and 16 bit precision in profiles - the 16 bit ones are over a megabyte each.
After testing you may wish to create a profile with different settings from the same measurement file. You can alter the overall tone, brightness, contrast or saturation.
There is also an option to show how the profile looks in soft proofing....
Rather than go into all the details I'll just say 'read the help file'. If you don't truly understand what is going on, then just fiddling with sliders in the hope that you will get better prints, is probably only going to benefit your ink and paper suppliers.
Whilst ColorVision has gone to considerable lengths in making the whole process easy and straightforward, best results require an investment in time and learning from the user.
One example I will show, is from when I tried making the profile for plain copier paper.
Look at the Lab value for the reference white (the paper). It has a distinct blue cast (negative b value). This is almost certainly due to the amount of OBAs (brighteners) in copier paper. Ticking the paper white compensation will reduce the b value to zero, and produce a better soft proof (note that it does not affect the print, only the soft proof).
After making your profile, you can print out a sample using it, with different rendering intents.
To make comparisons easier (and save paper) you can place the test image in any corner of the paper.
The default rendering intent for these ColorVision profiles is saturation, but different images may look better in perceptual or relative colorimetric. Absoloute colorimetric is mostly used when proofing for other devices and not for printing your photos.
When evaluating profiles it is important to use a known image, not just a photo you like the look of.
The information below is about the included PDI test image and is quoted from the on-line help. It gives an idea of the detailed information present and why you should take the time to read it all.
See ... all those things in the PDI test picture are there for a reason!
Don't forget the need for consistent viewing conditions when you're evaluating profiles. If your prints are always going to be viewed in tungsten lighting, then evaluating profiles under fluorescent lighting is unlikely to produce good results...
I tried a range of printers and print drivers to see what could be done. Not all of them are what I would normally use to produce colour prints. I've listed some of the combinations to give an idea of what you can expect.
HP K80 - plain copier paper
The quick 150 patch target produced a reasonably balanced print (considering the paper) but with overly saturated yellow/orange tones.
The 225 patch target produced a much more even result, with much less of the orange look.
On a good cold clear sunny day, my north facing loft window provides a light with an effective colour temperature of about 11,500K -- hardly typical viewing conditions, but knowing your viewing lighting can help in profile evaluation and deciding what to change in the settings.
I looked at the print in that very cold light and it seemed none too bad. I produced another profile with the 'warm' setting turned right up, and got rid of a lot of the 'orangeness' in normal viewing (~5000K) but it was still not quite right.
Both versions showed slight banding at the dark end of the greyscale ramp.
This was as much a practice run for getting used to making measurements as it was for real profile testing. The original media settings test showed very poor shadow handling, so I was not surprised at where the prints failed.
One of those times that no amount of profiling is going to help...
HP K80 - unbranded 'Photo Paper'
I tried 225 and 729 (3 page) targets. Both produced pleasing results with noticeably better shadow definition in the 729 patch profile. Once again a bit of unevenness at the dark end of the greyscale. Both versions a bit warm looking for my taste, but not excessive
Overall results show that the driver is probably not particularly well tuned for this printer, and the profile is being asked to do a lot of work in correcting things. But I can hardly complain, it's my office fax and copier!
Epson 9600 - Epson Enhanced Matte paper
I tried 729 patch targets using both the Epson driver and the ImagePrint RIP I normally use for my printing. There are some limitations when producing RGB profiles for this particular RIP and the supplied EEM profiles from ColorByte Software are particularly good for EEM (made for a range of lighting types). Even so I wanted to have a look.
Oh and just to be completely unfair I also tried the 9600 EEM profile from Bill Atkinson, which was based on over 7000 patch readings and represents a degree of effort you just don't even want to think about :-) (Info and downloads for Bill's profiles)
The profile for the RIP lacked depth, although it did have a good linear greyscale. The first profile made using the Epson driver was almost as good as the RIP version and the Atkinson profile. The greyscale was not as linear, with a very slight unevenness in the darkest areas. My only concern was that it did still look a bit too warm for my liking. A new version with the viewing light set to -10 looked pretty good, particularly in a normal home room.
I suspect that with some tweaking of the profile generation settings I could get very acceptable results.
The (standalone) software was very easy to set up and use. The instructions are clear and the included help files very informative.
It's good to see the emphasis placed on setting up the printer to give its best results, before you even print out the test charts. This is important and makes a big difference in getting good profiles. The media check will give you a good idea as to whether to expect any problems later.
The Spectrocolorimeter is quite a bulky hand-held device and you should do a few test profiles to get the hang of using it. There are several different ways of going about this, described in the documentation, which you should look at. This experimentation is well worth your while in improving the accuracy and consistency of your patch reading.
Once you've built your profiles, you may want to tweak them for best results. I've looked at some aspects of profile editing in another article and in general it is something to be approached in a methodical manner.
One feature of the PrintFIX PRO is to be able to edit profiles for print viewing conditions. The image below shows the adjustments available.
The profiles I use on my Epson 9600 with the ImagePrint RIP are available for different viewing conditions and really do make a difference if you know that your prints are going to be viewed at a particular location.
I did wonder a bit about the 'PreciseLight' name used above? OK, so I've got the 'PreciseLight Color Temperature' set to precisely -10. Minus ten what? (has marketing been at work again? :-) It's difficult for the numbers to be any specific unit, since we are talking about dealing with illuminant metamerism, and the actual adjustments will depend on the exact behaviour of the ink/paper combination.
I've looked at several aspects of profiling in my reviews, but I'm always faced with the problem of saying how good the profiles are.
Now, I could include a load of tables of measurements, lots of pretty gamut plots and the like...
A comparison of the PrintFIX PRO profiles produced for plain paper and photo paper, on my HP K80.
The smaller coloured shape represents the smaller gamut of the printer using plain copier paper.
Note the wider range of dark colours in the outline (photo paper) plot.
Lab image from the ColorSync utility found in the OSX Utilities folder.
The problem with this, is that if you truly understand all those figures, you are probably already providing colour management advice to people, and most likely have equipment and software far in advance ($$$ as well) of what ColorVision is offering here.
It's like those lens reviews that quote MTF figures -- as if most photographers had the slightest idea what a Modulation Transfer Function really is :-)
So, does it beat the results I get from my 9600 using the ImagePrint RIP?
Not quite, but the 729 patch target profile is pretty good and compares well with the results I get using one of Bill Atkinson's carefully built profiles. With a bit of editing you would have no difficulty in getting good prints using one of the PrintFIX profiles.
The important thing to remember here is that I was using a paper that I'd already got very good profiles for. What if I didn't have a profile for the paper at all, which is likely to be the case for many people using the PrintFIX PRO.
Was it good enough to try with a new paper? Yes, especially if you take care at the media settings selection stage.
A lot depends on your own requirements and standards. For example, I'd probably look to get a professionally made profile (thousands of patches) if I found a new paper I really wanted to use a lot for colour -- one of the main reasons I use the ImagePrint RIP is for the quality of black and white printing I get.
If I wanted to create profiles for a good desktop printer, I'd say the results were very good.
You are not limited to any particular choice of ink or paper, so if you have that bulk feed system using 'WhizzyInk' 50 pence a litre inks, and that £5 a thousand A3 sheets photo paper, then you can produce profiles.
Black and white
It is very difficult to produce exactly neutral greyscales, using traditional profiling tools. The eye can spot minor deviations and colour casts very easily. If you also add the requirement to produce a smooth change from grey to black, then it becomes difficult, even for experts with far more expensive equipment and software.
The PrintFIX PRO is really for colour printing -- really good B/W is a specialist area (more info in the B/W articles section).
The latest printers from Epson have a special B/W printing mode - this does not use the normal profiling setup, so making profiles will be of no help there. I use special inks (such as Permajet's MonoChromePro) or specialist printing software (like ImagePrint) to get the quality I'm looking for in black and white.
You can use QuadToneRIP to linearise the B/W printing in the newer Epson printers, where you could use the PrintFIX PRO Spectrocolorimeter to make individual patch measurements for calculations (I've written a short article on using the PrintFIX 'as is' to create luminance only icc profiles for better black and white printing.).
After my original PrintFIX review, I've had a few mails from people who tried the original PrintFIX and had problems. Now some of these were down to faulty measurements (bad scans) or printers that just weren't very good. However, one area I sometimes found was that people were using the system, without really understanding what was going on. The PrintFIX PRO is an entirely new system and does an awful lot more than the original scanner and Photoshop based approach.
To get the best out of colour management you really do need to learn what it is all about. I'm not talking about being able to give lectures and talks on the subject, just having an appreciation of the principles.
Fortunately ColorVision have realised this and a lot of effort has gone into the on-line documentation. You can use printer profiles to get better prints without knowing how they are made, but if you are going to create them yourself, it's time to find out more about the process.
You can run the software in a 'Demo mode' that allows you to print the patch targets, for someone else to read and produce a profile. This suggests that some people are going to see the chance to make a bit of money. I would advise anyone thinking of this to read the fine print in the software license quite carefully.
If you are going to pay someone to make you a really good profile, then go to a colour management expert with the (expensive) equipment and expertise to do a good job. If you find people offering cheap profiling services using the 'Fast' 150 patch target, then beware.
Always ask any person offering profiling services exactly what software and measurement hardware they are using - a true professional will happily tell you. I'm not saying that you can't get very good results from the new PrintFIX system -you can- just that there are rip-off merchants out there :-) A reputable profile maker will also happily provide references...
Pricing and options
I've just looked at the PrintFIX PRO package here. I've also written an introductory review of the PrintFIX PLUS system (it uses existing measurement files to make/edit profiles -- without the Spectrocolorimeter). There are various other options and packages available on the ColorVision web site.
The pricing certainly brings the cost of good profile measurement down to a new level, and it will be interesting to see how the market responds...
This info from a ColorVision press release
The table below is from ColorVision (so I have not checked all the figures!)
it shows a comparison of the technical specs between several well known devices. It's included here for information only.
Buying the SpyderPrint (current version)
We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying the Spyder Print, or any other items at all, via our link with Amazon.
It won't cost any more (nor less we're afraid) but will contribute towards the running costs of our site.
Purchase From B&H (also helps us)
An easy to use standalone program for creating RGB printer profiles. No limits on ink or paper type. Allows you to print your own patch target prints and measure them with the supplied Spectrocolorimeter. Profiles can be modified when created, including adjustments to match print viewing conditions.
Well written help and good interface design should allow anyone to produce good quality profiles - but to get the best results requires practice and learning the principles behind colour management.
Much of the software functionality (including printing targets) and the documentation can be previewed by running the software in Demo mode. The software is available for download from ColorVision.
A pretty big leap forward from the original PrintFIX.
2008 - Now known as the Spyder3print - review
May 2006 - Issues with Lyson Fotonic dye inks?
In a ColorVision FAQ about the PrintFIX PRO, it is suggested that if you are still using Lyson Fotonic Dye inks, you will may not get very good profiling results. This seems to be related to the precise colour make up of the Fotonic inks, rather than 3rd party ink in general, since one of the features of the PrintFIX PRO is that it can be used with just about any ink or paper (fixed in V2 of the software as far as I know)
March 2006 - update news
ColorVision are working with several manufacturers and software suppliers to provide support for this measuring device.
One area that is going to be addressed in the next version of the software is providing density measuring functions, Lab data export, and averaging commands. I'll be covering some of this in detail in a future review, but have written a short article on using the PrintFIX 'as is' to create luminance only icc profiles for better black and white printing.
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.
Declaration of interest - Keith was asked to look at beta versions of the software and hardware before its final release, but Northlight Images has no commercial relationship with ColorVision.
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