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Review of the PrintFIX PLUS printer profiling system
Keith has been reviewing the new PrintFIX PLUS printer profiling software from ColorVision.
The software is a departure from usual profiling solutions in that you do not print and measure test patches.
The Apple Mac version of PrintFIX PLUS is covered here, but the PC Windows version is identical.
2011 This review is retained for archive and informational purposes - the product is no longer available
March 06 - updated with pricing information. The PrintFIX PLUS is being supplied as part of the Spyder2 suite and Spyder2PRO - see conclusions for latest info.
July 06 V1.1.1 is released - see at the end of this article for a list of supported printers
Note that it says PRO on the splash screen, even if you are using the PLUS...
PrintFIX PLUS is a software package for making icm/icc printer profiles. Using printer profiles helps you produce more accurate prints and to get better results from your printer.
I've had quite a detailed look at both the original PrintFIX and the new PrintFIX PRO. Both rely on printing out test patterns on your printer and measuring them with some hardware device. The differences between the expected colours and what you measure are used to build an icc profile. The PrintFIX PRO review is also quite more detailed than this one - many features are relevant to PLUS as well.
The PLUS version of the software - your serial number sets the mode Demo/PLUS/PRO - takes the novel step of dispensing with the measurement process.
Well, that's not quite true -- someone else does the measurements for you.
The idea is that you can get ready made measurement files from the ColorVision web site that you use to build suitable profiles. Some popular printer and paper combinations are supplied with the software, and others can be freely downloaded from the ColorVision web site.
Where do these files come from?
If you want to see details of how the files get created, have a look at the PrintFIX PRO review, where I've shown how the process works.
Opening up the PrintFIX Plus application for the first time requires you to set some printer options for the printer that you wish to create the profiles for - this is a one off action.
The software is pretty self explanatory in the steps you take, but it is important to read the well written and comprehensive help. Just because you are not doing any test patch reading and using someone else's measurements, doesn't mean you won't benefit from an understanding of what is going on.
If you are going to get the best out of using profiles, then you owe it to yourself to at least understand the basics of what they do. It's not rocket science and you will get better results.
First of all make sure that your printer is working at its best.
There is a print quality check page that you can use to see that all is well (best to do a nozzle check first).
You make the print directly from the application.
Printer test print
Note the ability to print the test pattern in any corner of the paper - this saves paper if you need to do several tests.
Once you are satisfied with that, you can move on to building and testing a profile.
The available printer options are shown in a drop down list. It's probably worth ditching the files for printers that you don't have...
Available measurement files
You can see from the example above that there are several generic paper options for different printers. You pick the one that best suits your particular printer/paper.
In this case I'm looking at using a glossy photo paper in my Epson Stylus 1290.
The chart shows both the colours sent to the printer when originally printed, and the measured values from the test print.
The examples below show the measured values for glossy and matt papers with the 1290.
Although not so easy to see in these (reduced size) JPEG screen shots, the larger range of colours (gamut) with the photo paper is evident.
The next step is to create the profile.
Saving an icc profile
Give the profile a meaningful name that includes enough information to tell you about it when you come to use it 'for real'. It also helps to write it down somewhere - a collection of 33 profiles just named Test_prof1.icc to Test_prof33.icc may not be overly useful this time next year :-)
Notice all those sliders for adjusting parameters used for building the profile.
This is where you take the generic nature of the profile produced and fine tune it for best results on your own printer.
Printers have got better over the last few years, and more expensive ones like the Epson R2400 have much less variation between individual printers than for example an old well used Epson 890.
The amount that you need to alter the settings depends both on your printer and the particular paper you are trying. It's best to start with the default settings (do check any notes that came with the data for suggested adjustments)
There are many combinations of adjustments you could make. Take time to read the suggestions in the help, since just randomly fiddling round with settings is a good way to use up ink and paper - not to make good profiles.
The two bottom settings deserve special mention.
These allow you to adjust how the profile compensates for different print viewing conditions. For example if you know prints are going to be looked at under Tungsten lighting (ordinary light bulbs) you could create a profile for warm lighting. The numbers themselves are somewhat arbitrary, since actual changes depend on paper and ink issues and vary from one profile to another.
I'd suggest that viewing light compensation is probably not the first adjustment to try, but it really depends on what you think needs 'fixing' in your profile.
You need to see how good your profile is, and that requires a test print.
Making a test print
You can print a test image in any corner of the paper to enable easy comparison of prints.
Once again, do keep notes ... it is easier than you think to get confused (OK, for me it is:-)
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 any old photo you like the look of.
It's fine to test profiles on specific images later on, but at the beginning we are looking for a consistent approach.
The test image
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.
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 made a profile for an unbranded glossy photo paper for my old Epson 1290 -- the same printer I used for the original PrintFIX review several years ago.
The default setting produced a pleasing print, with a fairly neutral greyscale. The contrast could do with a slight increase, but I have to admit I was surprised at the quality from generic data.
Since I've been looking at the PrintFIX PRO, I was looking to be able to compare results with my own measurements and in particular the different results with 729 patch data, rather than 225.
Unfortunately the PrintFIX PLUS data file that I'd have used for my Epson 9600 and EEM paper looked to have slight problems (the profile generated, had a few glitches visible in the Mac OSX ColorSync utility tool) so I've had to delay the tests.
This brings me to one area of concern, if I take a popular paper with a popular printer, then how am I to know that the version of the data file I download from ColorVision is any good? There are ways of checking profiles for obvious faults that ColorVision could apply before posting data for a particular combination, but deciding which is the best of 10 sets of measurement data requires some thought. For the very best results, professional profile makers will often average results from several sets of readings...
Just for curiosity sake, I've got the obligatory profile plot..
From my point of view, the final arbiter is whether the prints -look- good.
The PrintFIX PLUS software was very easy to set up and use. The instructions are clear and the included help files very informative.
I'm looking to make some more detailed comparisons once more data files become available, but the one sample I tried produced a fairly good print that with a bit of tweaking might well look quite acceptable.
A new idea
I must admit I was initially rather sceptical about the idea of profiling printers, without even making any test prints.
However modern printers are being manufactured to have less variability and inconsistencies, so the principle could well work. A lot depends on the availability of measurement data for you to make your test profiles. The repository for this data is the ColorVision web site - look for data files appearing that match (or even sound similar to) your printer/paper/inks.
Do remember that to get the best results, you really do have to have an idea what you are doing - read all the help pages and learn why colour management works.
A novel idea, that if it takes off, could improve a lot of peoples' print quality.
Black and White
With the normal icc based printing aproach, it's hard enough to get good monochrome results with the very best ($$$) profiling software and hardware. PrintFIX PLUS is not really going to help there. (More info on B/W printing)
Pricing and options
This software only solution is being provided as part of the Spyder2 suite and with the Spyder2PRO. Details below are from ColorVision http://www.datacolor.com/products_digital.shtml
The PrintFIX PLUS allows you to use preexisting measurement data to create your own icc printer profiles. You can download appropriate files from ColorVision, and manufacturers/suppliers can provide their own measurement data via the ColorVision web site.
Once made, profiles can be fine tuned to optimize results on your own printer.
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These are the names of the data files in the V1.1.1 release.
The names refer to printer make, model and paper type. Some of the Epson files also distinguish between using matt black or Photo black ink.
For more detailed info check the ColorVision site, since I believe that new printer support files will be available there.
There is a current list at http://www.colorvision.com/store_pfplus-printers.shtml
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 before its final release, but Northlight Images has no commercial relationship with ColorVision.
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