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Colour Confidence Print Profiler review
Using the Profiler kit for monitor calibration and making your own printer profiles
We've looked at several printer profiling solutions from different manufacturers, however this product is slightly different in that it contains a mixture of software and hardware from different vendors, and a profiling solution from Colour Confidence.
Keith has been looking at the kit and how well it answers the need for monitor and printer profiling and calibration.
Out of the box I recognised several familiar items
The bag contains an Eye One spectrophotometer from X-Rite, a chart measurement tray, and a plastic device to make it easier to take individual spot readings with the Eye One.
The spectrophotometer is a USB device and has a base, which incorporates a white calibration tile.
There is also a box with disks and several printed installation notes.
Note that the device is designated an ES-1000 from EFI. It also still says GretagMacbeth (GMB) in small print at the back, but that will change as the Gretag/X-Rite merger progresses.
Since the measurement parts of this kit are from GMB, I've listed my individual reviews of GMB hardware and software at the end of this article. In those articles I also cover a lot more of the details about making profiles and what it is you are actually doing. If you are new to colour management, I've also included some of my introductory articles explaining more about why you would want to use it and what the benefits are.
The kit contains 3 CDs of software. One for monitor calibration (from EFI), one for printer profiling (by Colour Confidence) and one for profile verification (from EFI)
I'll cover each bit of software individually, for reasons that I'll expand upon later.
Monitor calibration should be anyone's first step in colour management so I'll start there.
The EFI Color-profiler software comes on a CD, which includes an important serial number on the packet.
You will need to open the folder labelled 'EN' to find the software installer - that's if English is your language, where you will find an installer package.
After installing the software you can plug in your ES-1000 (Eye One) and run the software.
First up you'll need that serial number
The license information is stored inside the measuring device, and once entered, you can run the software in two modes, depending on how much information you want to enter, and whether you need to precisely set the calibration parameters.
This screen immediately looked familiar, since I regularly use the X-Rite Eye One Match software to calibrate monitors.
Note the help information to the right of the screen - this tells you about how to position the sensor and in advanced mode, more info about the choices you can make.
Easy mode just asks you to calibrate the sensor
It then starts the measurement process
In the picture below, you can see the device hanging by a special strap over my Apple 23" monitor
You can also see some nasty moire effects caused by the interaction between my camera's sensor and the dot pitch of the screen.
The dark rectangle in the middle is the colour currently being measured.
Calibration relies on displaying different colours and then measuring how they come out on your screen. This information is used by the software to build a display profile.
In 'advanced' mode you can choose your monitor colour temperature and display Gamma
The profiles generated seemed perfectly good, which wasn't too surprising, since I've regularly used this software (without the EFI branding) in the past for monitor calibration.
I was a bit concerned over the Mac/Win standard info in the choices menu, since this hasn't actually been so for some time - Most Macs use 2.2 these days.
It turns out that this signified a potentially more serious issue with the software, but since it didn't affect its basic functionality I'll leave it until discussing some of my conclusions later.
The Printer Profiler software (V2.4 tested) is installed from either the Macintosh or Windows folder on the CD.
The software installs into a different folder to the monitor software and relies on the serial number info stored in the measuring device.
Your first choice to make is what kind of printer you are profiling.
As you can see there are some notes to the right of the window guiding you through the choices.
However this help is somewhat limited, so a thorough read of the 10 page PDF manual is advised.
Note the greyed out 'create linearised profile' box - this doesn't do anything at all in this version of the software, even though it is mentioned in some of the 'help' notes...
Afterwards you should select the number of patches you want to print out to measure.
In this instance I'm testing my old Epson 1160 printer, with Cartridge World inks and Canon Photo Paper
This is also where you print your target out.
Unfortunately this has skipped one of the vital stages in creating profiles - determining what media settings are best for your particular printer/ink/paper combination.
With the PrintFIX Pro for example, there are copious help notes on how to choose printer settings and special charts for you to print to decide which is best. I've even written an article on just why optimum media settings so important.
It just happens that I know the best settings for the combination I'm using...
Plain paper is not what you might have chosen first...
The chart must be printed with colour management switched off (that's a print driver setting, although there is no help or examples showing how to do this for any of the more popular printer makes)
An A4 test chart - 300 patches setting
After leaving the chart to dry you can measure the patches.
Before reading the patches, the Eye-One needs calibrating on its base unit.
The select device section of the program, defaults to the Eye-One you've got plugged in and offer no other choices, you can calibrate here, or if you've not done it since starting up the software, it will remind you before starting measurements.
The chart is read line by line. If you've used Eye One Match before then you should notice that the lines must be read in left to right, rather than in either direction.
As the values are read in, they appear in the window - note that the measured values will rarely look like the 'perfect' original versions.
You can see that in the first four rows below.
Here's the chart reading underway (note the generally dim lighting in the room)
The Eye One unit slides freely across the measuring window.
The black top of the unit is a clip to hold the paper steady (but see discussion below)
You can import and export sets of readings for creating profiles at a later date.
To generate a profile, you just click the 'Create Profile button'
You can choose whether to make 8 or 16 bit profiles, and the advanced button allows for all kinds of adjustment of profile generation parameters. Unfortunately you can't use 'advanced' since it's another 'feature' unavailable in this version of the software...
The profile gets built and you get supplied with some numbers about it
As you might have already guessed, there is no information about just what these numbers mean and why they should matter to you.
I produced a number of test prints, actually using the Kodak test images in the colour confidence test print pack - the results were very good, even for a 300 patch target. I'd not got a suitable printer available at the time to check black and white performance, so I couldn't say if the performance matched specialised B/W printing options, or profiling packages with specialist B/W modes.
Lastly we come to the EFI Color-Verifier software on the third CD
The version looked at is V3.0
This software comes with a hardware dongle (small USB device) and an important sounding 'Entitlement Access Code' on your Product Activation Certificate.
To run this software you not only need to have the dongle in a spare USB port, but you need to log on to the EFI web site and register to download a license file.
You may be wondering what this gets you?
Well, on the quick start sheet, it says that "The final step is to confirm the accuracy of your profile with the EFI Color Verifier Software"
After going through the registration process I fired up the software. Curious users will easily locate the 27 page PDF reference guide.
OK, I can see it's found the Eye-One (ES-1000) ... let's try the preferences
Now I've used quite a bit of colour management software and those settings have meaning to me, however it still took me a good half hour of playing round to get an idea of what was going on and just what I could do with the software.
I'll show a simple example, that I used to look at how colours change over the course of drying. I've no idea whether I did things the right way, since even the PDF file has very little explaining -why- you would want to do anything with it.
I printed out a test strip (there are dozens to choose from)
No it's not one of those options above - I printed the TIFF file from within Photoshop
Picking a test strip...
You can use a variety of measuring devices if you have them sitting around (I didn't try the iO)
After a few minutes drying time I measured the strip with the Eye One
There are instructions covering this
Here's the main window after a couple of sets of measurements have been read in
In this instance, two copies of the same strip on the same bit of paper.
I've also changed the display to 3D since it looks pretty - or you can have a wire frame view.
Or a 2D version
This software can really do a lot in maintaining the accuracy and consistency of your printing and profiling, unfortunately there is nothing telling you how to do this or more importantly why you should do it in the first place.
I could, for example, see whether a particular printer is drifting in its performance over time, or whether a new batch of ink or paper means I should consider making a new printer profile. I could also evaluate just how accurate my proofing setup is - i.e. will my inkjet produce proofs that match my chosen printing press.
The software allows you to do all of this, BUT if it takes me some time to work out what is going on then I'm offering little hope to those new to colour management.
The good bits
Good monitor and printer profiling capabilities. Judged by the results I'd have little to complain about.
The not so good bits
The monitor profiling software is seriously out of date (2003) - I checked the version numbers compared with Eye One Match (currently V3.6.1)
I'm told that if you download the latest version of Eye One Match, it will run with the ES-1000 (mine worked), but there is no mention of updates at all in the package.
The printer profiling software mentions functionality that is just not available - there are even things like this in the 'help' notes
It's a graph that does nothing and is entirely unreferenced, I believe it's connected with the (unavailable) advanced options, but as a new user of the software you are left wondering if it's broken, or you have damaged something.
I used to do usability research for several years, and if there is one thing you don't want to do, then it's introduce uncertainty in the minds of your users. This is the sort of thing that should just not get through quality control.
Some of the details of dialogue boxes also tell me that there are probably old bits of code lurking inside the application, and there is no mention of native Intel support on Macs at all. The Colour Confidence web site mentions 32bit Vista support only for the print profiler, the EFI software is still awaiting confirmation.
The print I made with the 1160 was slightly offset, so if you tried to hold it in place with the clip on the scanning tray, you couldn't read the first line of patches - this could be a simple settings adjustment, but once again it's not covered anywhere.
The omission of media setting information is the largest basic flaw from my point of view. It is not unfair to say that without attention to media settings then it's likely that any profiles you make are far from optimal. (see my PrintFIX PRO review for more information on this important step)
That the software can work well, was quite clear to me.
The software is let down by its sparse documentation and weak help. Too often I found myself doing things based on my previous experience with lots of other software, rather than any instructions or explanation. The software makes far too many assumptions about the level of expertise, experience and knowledge of users.
There are three CD's, each with a different installer, each slightly different. This doesn't give an integrated feel to the kit and won't inspire confidence in novice users.
As for the Color-Verifier software...
The EFI licensing scheme is probably best described in their own words
That's "easy and convenient" redefined for me then...
This software is aimed at professional print use, it is not the kind of stuff that an advanced amateur or pro photographer might want to fire up to check their profile accuracy (EFI information)
I don't doubt (although I can't say for sure) that the verifier package is an extremely useful one for certain groups of professional users. I can say however, that the number of professional photographers who could seriously make use of it (with current documentation) is very small indeed.
I was at a photography trade show the other day, and saw this kit on sale. I doubt if many there had the knowledge to use (or want to use) the verifier software as it stands.
As I mention in the Northlight Images Review Policy, we are happy to show reviews in advance to manufacturers (only for comment on -technical- accuracy), so Colour Confidence are aware of many of the issues raised.
They have told me that they are in the process of addressing them - however, the version of the Profiler kit I've looked at is the currently shipping one.
A big thank you to everyone who has ever purchased something via these links.
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Colour Confidence have promised that new updated, more user friendly versions of the print profiling software will soon be made available to all customers (the EFI software is a different matter).
Update to this review posted Sept 07 - big changes and most of my complaints addressed
Can produce good profiles for printers and monitors, but is unfortunately let down by weak documentation and on-line help, particularly for those without extensive existing colour management knowledge.
The review kit came from Colour Confidence in the UK.
It is currently (May 07) on offer at £589 (inc. VAT) The price on the site is also in Euros and US Dollars. Colour Confidence ships worldwide
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The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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