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Spyder3 Print review (V3.5)
Spyder3Print - printer profiling package from Datacolor
The Spyder3 Print package from Datacolor (aka ColorVision) contains a spectrocolorimeter that allows you to build icc printer profiles.
The Spyder3 Print has a wide range of advanced features that allow you to edit and refine profiles, as well as create ones optimised for Black and White printing.
The software has continued to be refined, and in the current version (V3.5) not only has the software been given numerous tweaks and enhancements, it also allows you to make measurements faster.
The Original PrintFIX PRO was reviewed a while ago (Most recent PF PRO review), and produced good quality icc printer profiles.
One very welcome feature is that even if you have the old PrintFIX Pro Spectrocolorimeter, then this new software is a FREE upgrade.
This review looks at the Apple Mac version of the software, however the Windows version is essentially the same.
The first step in improving your printing is to make sure your monitor is calibrated and profiled - You'll need a specific device and software to do this.
We've got reviews of all the major options currently available (see the information at the end of this article), but it should be noted that you can get a version of the Spyder3 Print package known as the Spyder3 Studio, that includes the new Spyder3 Elite monitor calibrator and software.
Next comes printing, and here you can use what's called an 'icc profile' that characterises the performance of your printer with a particular ink type and paper.
Why bother with all this?
Well, let's say you print a picture and it doesn't look right?
If you know that what you see on your monitor is accurate, and that your printer is printing images as well as it can (for the particular printer/paper/ink combination you are using) then you know that it was probably your original image that has the problems...
Think of colour management as helping you get things right first time more often.
Printer profiles are also particularly useful if you use third party inks and papers with your printer.
I'm not going into all the other details and variables of colour management here, but there are lots of other articles on the site that may be of help, including 'Why don't my prints match my screen'.
The package includes the Datacolor 1005 Spectrocolorimeter, that's used to measure printed colours to build your profiles.
The one to the left is the nice shiny new version.
Others you might see in some of the images here are the slightly differently styled older version I used for testing (they are the same internally).
There is also a ruler device that you can use to make taking measurements a bit easier.
It's worth noting that it takes a little bit of practice to find your own most comfortable way of working with the device (whether using the ruler or not).
Whilst there is a button towards the front of the measuring device, some people find it easier to press the return key on their keyboard with one hand while holding the spectro with the other.
Spyder3 Print Version 3.5 has reduced the time it takes to take individual measurements, which can speed up the profiling proces, However, good profile building requires accuracy and there is no point whatsoever rushing the measurement stage.
I've seen people complain about the quality of profiles and when I've looked at their measurements I can visually see errors.
Profiling is a very good example of 'Garbage In - Garbage Out'.
If you get the Spyder3 Studio option then you get a Spyder3 colorimeter for monitor calibration as well as a nice carrying case for your equipment.
This isn't just for show - items of colour management equipment are precision devices and do not generally take kindly to being bounced around and collecting dust.
The software (Mac and Windows) is installed from one CD and only requires a serial number to enable it (Mac or Win)
I'll restrict this section to what's new, for visitors just looking at the differences between the older software and what you get now.
Available as a free upgrade to all registered PrintFIX PRO or Spyder3Print owners. This update offers improvements in speed, workflow, and convenience. Changes are largely in three areas:
I'll run through the basic profiling options and then address some of the more advanced features and functionality that characterise the approach Datacolor have taken with the Spyder3 Print system.
Basically, you print a sheet of coloured patches (the 'target') and measure the actual colours printed. You measure these patches and the software makes a profile for you to use.
You get a choice of how complex the target you use will be.
Although it might seem that you should automatically use the more complex targets, sometimes a quick test is all you need to get an idea of how a new paper will perform. With newer printers you may not notice much benefit from going to the largest targets.
There is also the question of the time it takes to make the measurements, although as I often say to people, there is no prize for being able to measure targets quicker than someone else.
Accuracy trumps speed EVERY time.
After starting up the software, you get a choice of easy mode profiling or the slightly more complex mode where you have a lot more control over what's going on.
Easy mode skips some of the testing and just goes straight through the target printing, measurement, profile building and saving stages.
if you are using a printer manufacturers' paper, with the printer manufacturers' inks, and you are sure the printer is working perfectly (nozzle check) then this is a perfectly valid choice.
I'll show examples from the 'Advanced Profiling with Full Options' workflow in the rest of this article (note, there are some even more advanced options I'll cover later). The Easy profiling follows the same procedure but reduces the number of various options at each stage.
You can see the number of patches in a profiling target rising through the list.
The target above shows the 225 patch target - this time with the extended greys target as well.
Roll your mouse over over the image below to see the greys target.
The image below shows the 150 patch target.
Note that you can print loads of patches if you really want to, but as I've said - practice a few times with the 150 patch target first.
If you are really keen on making lots of measurements, here's the full set that I tried a while ago when making a profile for PermaJet Fibre Base Gloss paper for an Epson R2400 with a PermaJet Eco-Flo ink system.
The profile from all those patches was excellent, and the black and white printing was better than using the Epson ABW print mode.
Whilst ABW works a treat on Epson papers, when you switch to third party inks or papers it -can- show minor colour casts and non linearity much more noticeably. Whilst I only tested this on Epson printers (I'm still waiting for the ones from HP and Canon. ;-)
I've no reason to doubt the profiling capacity on other makes of printer.
Do remember when testing third party papers that some printer/ink/paper combinations just don't work too well, and no amount of profiling will fix it - if you think this is the case, get over it, and try another paper. ;-)
I've jumped ahead a bit there in showing all the target types, but since target make-up is often discussed up front when looking at different approaches to profiling then I though I'd cover this first.
I'm starting the profiling process by defining my printer - this helps keep track of what I'm doing and all the settings I've decided to use.
This record keeping is very important if you make a range of profiles and then want to compare them.
You can see I'm using an Epson 7800 and an Innova paper here. I've put in a media driver setting since I happen to know this from previous experiments, but you can leave it at this stage if you don't know.
Next I get the option to check that my printer is working properly.
If the printer isn't working consistently then sort it out first - this will mess up your profiles if you don't get it right.
Notice that you can print the pattern in 4 different positions on an A4 (or US Letter) size of paper - this helps save on paper...
Next a vitally important part of the process, get this wrong and you will get inferior results.
Media settings checks are one area where I feel many printer profiling solutions are letting down their users.
This is particularly important if you use third party inks or papers - they usually work just fine -BUT- they are not what the printer driver was written for, so there may be the need for adjustments.
I've written a short article about just how important media setting are - it's based on some of my tests made for the writing of several of my reviews.
The help files in Spyder3 Print are extremely useful, and some of the most comprehensive I've come across.
When printing targets, the usual procedure is to make sure that driver colour management is switched off, however this isn't always the case. As ever there is info in the help files.
One refinement is that since the patches are not exact sizes, you can print the target a bit bigger on the page.
After leaving the targets to dry, you can measure them.
Whilst you can measure some papers within 10-20 minutes, there's nothing to be lost with a longer wait. For my own profiles I'll often leave them overnight.
If you're really keen you can repeatedly measure the same few patches over time using the spot measurement function (see later). Record the results and see how they change over time.
Before you can make measurements you need to calibrate the Spectrocolorimeter using the supplied base unit.
This takes a few seconds and now you can select where to store the measurement set you are about to create.
You need to let the software know what sort of target you'll be reading.
At this stage you could just select an existing measurement file to add measurements into (see below).
Why do this? Well the phone might ring and you have to go out, you can save partial measurement files and pick up again later (although in the interests of consistency, it's always best to print all your targets in one go and measure them in one go).
I happened to measure the high quality target and greys target separately, since I'd printed them in two goes. You can see my two measurement files in the screen below.
I could have avoided this by selecting the new two page option that includes greys and allows you to do the whole process in one go, saving a few steps. Of course, doing it independently allows me to use that grey measurement file with a 3 page 729 patch target if I wanted.
The chart shows up with blank spaces for you to fill.
The one below shows the two page target selected for measurement (page 1 colours, page 2 greys).
As you take each measurement the insertion point (the bright red triangle) moves forward. You even get acoustic feedback and a different sound at the end of a row.
Take your time, this is not a race...
The measurement window allows you to show measured values as well as what the target should be.
Note that these will -always- be different unless you happen to be testing 'the perfect printer'. ;-) The display allows you to quickly switch between the measured values and the target ones (or a combination). You should be able to spot inconsistencies. To re-measure patches, use the keyboard arrow keys to move back to a patch - this is where your next measurement will be inserted. if measuring multiple sheets, check each one before moving on.
Look carefully at the results. In the greys chart below (this is from when I measured the grey chart on its own), notice row 13.
There is an obviously faulty reading at 13D (look at the printed chart to check - it might just be your printer).
Fortunately I can go back and repeat patch measurements. In this case I'd do the entire row (note 13F as well).
Once I've got a set of measurements I can build a profile.
The help files are once again comprehensive, and try to explain why you can do various things, not just how to do them.
When creating a profile, remember to give it a meaningful name.
If you use a particular profile for printing, then all the printer settings need to be the same as when you created the profile. A consistent naming convention helps.
Having half a dozen profiles all named 'profile1' to 'profile6' may not be that helpful in six months time.
That's it - the profile gets made and put into the correct place for your system.
You then get a chance to see what your profile looks like in 'Soft Proof'.
I'm not going to cover details of soft proofing here, but suffice to say that when it works well, it allows you to get a good idea of what a print will look like, without having to print.
Effective soft proofing requires attention to the lighting conditions you view prints in, as well as any adjustments you might make on screen. It is very helpful -if- you understand what is going on.
Once again, much criticism of its effectiveness I've seen has come from people who have not taken the time to learn what it can do and just as importantly what it -can't- do. As you'd expect, the help files are of real use here.
The image above is also available as a file that you can print to test your profile in action.
Clicking on any section of the image allows you to zoom in, while the various options allow you to try different rendering intents. (Read the help again! ;-)
That's it - you've a profile for your printer.
If you've taken care with printing the target and making measurements, then it should be a pretty good profile.
However, one of the real strengths of the Spyder3Print package is that it allows you to refine your profile generation. Either to get even better profiles or just to try and iron out some kinks in your particular paper/ink/printer choice.
There are a whole host of profile building options available.
The screenshot below shows the -basic- adjustments.
I'd always suggest you try a profile with just the default settings/adjustments to start with.
I'll just show one example of an adjustment that you can make.
If you take a print and look at it in bright daylight, and then in dim lighting you should notice that the amount of shadow detail you can see varies widely. When I'm producing my large black and white prints for some locations I have to allow for this.
The 'PreciseLight Brightness' slider allows you to produce profiles optimised for different viewing conditions. You will have to experiment with this to find how it's of use for you (as ever read the help files).
The image below shows a screen capture of part of the PDI test image, soft proofed in Photoshop, with a default profile.
If you move your mouse over the image it shows two other versions of the profile created using the PreciseLight slider (one for bright, one for dim).
Note that you don't have to re-measure your printed target for this.
The profile generation software can build lots of different profile versions from the one set of measurements.
I've said before that having accurate measurements is important.
There is an averaging function that allows you to take a pair of measurement files and average them. All measurement systems have errors, this is one way of reducing them.
By tweaking the profile generation parameters it's possible to add toning and tinting effects to the print. You don't need to do anything to your image, you just print it with a specific profile (this is where soft proofing can help a lot).
There are even more options in the 'Advanced' section.
You can import Photoshop ACV curves files, decide how the greys in your profile relate to paper colour and a stack of other stuff.
If you are going to experiment here, the make sure you've got plenty of paper and ink, since there is no better way of understanding what these adjustments do than printing out lots of known test images and comparing them.
Most users probably won't (initially) want to get anywhere near this, but the important thing is that the functionality is there if you need it.
You don't need to print your targets from within the Spyder3 print application. All the targets are available as tiff files.
You can see the range of files supplied below (a screenshot of the targets folder on my Mac). This even includes targets spaced out for printing on CDs.
One other advantage is that you can profile a printer that is not connected to your printer. An example would be sending off some targets to be printed by your photolab (or CD/DVD duplicator).
One final feature I'll mention, is the ability to take individual spot measurements.
Just place the spectro where you want the measurement, press the button and you've got Lab and density measurements.
If you make a series of measurements, then these can be exported in a file.
Note the mention of QTR on the panel - QuadToneRIP. QTR is aimed at specialist black and white printing, but you can also use it to generate luminance only icc profiles to linearise black and white printing. There is a section in the help files that describes different options for black and white printing and profiling.
Note, I'd written an article about B/W profiling doing this, using the old version of PrintFIX PRO - it's now even easier to do
There is a whole section of the help files discussing black and white printing, with lots of useful information. You should note that it is only the more recent 'two grey' inkjet printers that give the best monochrome results with normal colour inks.
The Spyder3 Print also supports profiling of 'ICC compatible' monochrome ink sets.
This from the help file:
"The most effective MIS inkset for ICC-based control is called UT-3D. Inks for the following Epson printer models are available as UT-3D inks:
Jon Cone’s InkJet Mall K6 and K7 inks in any tint can be profiled with Spyder3Print."
>> Note - we were testing the public beta version of V3.5, which ran perfectly well on our test Mac.
I've used the PrintFIX PRO in the past and found it produced very good profiles. The Spyder3 Print builds on this. With care in measurement and the extra greys target, the black and white performance can be very good.
I do find that it takes some practice to get really good sets of measurements - not that much, but I wouldn't suggest your first profile is built with the 729 patch 3 page target with the extra page of greys.
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
I did notice a slight 'liberty' in the arithmetic when describing the combined 225 and 238 patch target (HQ Color & Ext Grays.) as a '500' patch target, but the product otherwise seems relatively free from the dead hand of marketing. :-)
More effort has gone into providing easy routes through the profiling process (such as the '500' combined target), without sacrificing the functionality offered through the more advanced modes of working.
For people who like to tinker, there are options galore, although to get the benefits from this aspect of the package you probably need to read up on Colour Management.
The suggested rendering intent for printing is Saturation, which is aimed to maximise the gamut of the printer. Since this can result in a slight loss of colour accuracy, some images might look better using Relative Colorimetric. If you are profiling a new type of paper I'd always suggest printing out a test print using different settings, so as to get a feel for the differences - once you are happy with this, it can help make your soft proofing more accurate too.
It helps to remember why you are doing all this - to produce better prints of photographs. Don't forget to go out and take some as well. ;-)
If you consider yourself a perfectionist, then be very careful when getting into colour management - it can be a tar pit that can suck you into always feeling that you could do that little bit better.
FYI: I run a LinkedIn group (~7200 members) for people interested in any aspects of Digital Black and White photography: Digital Black and White
I used my own B/W test image to try out the black and white capabilities. It's a very harsh test, and I suspect that with a bit more care in creating the profile I could produce B/W prints that meet my fairly exacting standards.
The help files are very useful and make a good attempt at explaining some of the principles of what's going on. There are also videos and other information on the Spyder web site.
I never found the measurement speed of the earlier versions an issue, if you did, then the extra speed should be of interest and the refined workflows should help any user.
Worth noting too is the excellent SpyderProof test image which actually allows you to decide a lot more about your profile quality than just running off a few prints of your own. (Link to a copy of this image and usage notes you can download)
The image below is from an earlier test of the equipment and shows the difference in black and white print quality between a paper suppliers icc profile (the Magenta print under the colorimeter) and the Spyder3 Print version under that.
It also gives an idea of how much paper you can use up when testing this sort of stuff...
For a comparison of all the various Spyder options (as of May 2008), there is this info from Datacolor.
* Note that if you have a PrintFIX PRO, then do note that the free software update for the Spyder3Print package will work with your existing spectrocolorimeter.
Spyder products feature comparisons
Information from Datacolor:
Spyder3 V3 vs V4 software features (May 2010) - S3Elite V4 review
Product features (late 2009)
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)
If you already have the PrintFIX Pro or Spyder3 Print then the upgrade to V3.5 is a no-brainer (it's free!).
Patch reading has been considerably speeded up compared with earlier versions, if you feel the need for timing your patch reading efforts. ;-)
Spyder3 Print 3.5 and other software updates from Datacolor.
Good basic profiles and a host of features to allow you to make even better profiles if you want.
Comprehensive and genuinely helpful help files available.
Excellent black and white (greyscale) enhanced profiles for use with ordinary printer drivers, with support for more advanced black and white printing techniques.
Full range of target files available for remote profiling, or devices not directly connected to your computer.
Update - do check our review of the latest version Spyder3Print SR - a free software update is available for Spyder3Print and PrintFIX PRO users
Just remember that to get the very best results, you -will- need to make some effort to really understand what you are doing ... and -why- you are doing various things.
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 Datacolor.
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