Spyder3Print SR (SpyderPrint) review
Spyder3Print SR (SpyderPrint) review
Spyder3 Print SR – the printer profiling package from Datacolor
The Spyder3Print SR package from Datacolor (ex ColorVision) contains a spectrocolorimeter and software that allows you to build your own ICC printer profiles. For many this is the next step, after calibrating their monitor in improving print quality – does it work?
Updates – downloads
Spyder3 Print SR (SpyderPrint)
We’ve reviewed previous versions of the SpyderPrint profiling system, and its predecessor, PrintFIX PRO.
The new ‘SR’ version offers a new faster measurement device and software refinements to make ICC printer profile generation faster and more reliable. The software will be available as an update for current Spyder3Print users.
Keith has been checking out the new hardware and software to see just how it can help produce better prints.
The report here is based on pre-production hardware that we have helped test for Datacolor. Please note that we do not sell any hardware or software whatsoever, and have no direct business connections with Datacolor. Northlight Images carries out such testing for a number of different manufacturers.
So, after calibrating your monitor, the next step in producing better and more consistent print output is to print using ICC printer profiles.
Note – if you’re reading this and still don’t have your monitor calibrated, then make sure you budget for a monitor calibrator too, since it’s the essential first step of adopting a colour managed process. if you can’t trust the image on your monitor, then what hope have you for accurate printing?
Modern printers are often supplied with a range of ICC printer profiles that can produce excellent results with manufacturers’ own papers and inks.
Once you start looking at third party papers, then it becomes increasingly important to use good quality printer profiles.
Whilst some people get profiles made for them by profiling services, many at this stage would like to produce their own profiles.
In the past this has meant using rather expensive hardware and software, however in recent years we’ve looked at a number of more economic options that have become available.
Profiles are made by printing a known set of colours (a profiling target) and then reading what colours the printer has actually produced.
The difference between what colour data was sent to the printer and what appears on the printed paper, can be thought of as an error. By measuring this ‘error’ for lots of colours, it’s possible to build up a set of ‘corrections’. This is one way of thinking what a profile is and how it is used by your printer driver software.
Making profiles is not difficult, but it does take some care in their creation. Being in a hurry is not the way to make good profiles – they really are only as good as the quality of measurements you make to create them.
I’m not of a perfectionist nature, but profile making is one area where I double check everything I do and really do take my time. Remember that if your profile is not as good as it could have been, then this will be reflected in every print you make with it.
Take your time to understand what is going on and you can easily make profiles worthy of professional use.
I’m not going into all the details and variables of colour management here, but there are lots of other articles on the site that may be of help, including:
2012 – this product is now the SpyderStudio, and comes with the Spyder4Elite Colorimeter
A nice solid carrying case to keep your profiling kit in. Oh, and it works out appreciably cheaper than buying the individual items.
Remember that the results you get from using such devices depends on their accuracy, so a case like this is a lot better than just putting them in an office drawer (I have an old camera case with foam inserts that I keep all our colour management kit in when not in use.)
The most obvious difference from earlier SpyderPrint versions is the redesigned Spectrocolorimeter measuring device (below – right).
This includes a more accurate sensor, designed to capture readings at a higher rate, and allowing you scan a sheet of paper, rather than take measurements individually. The SR in the name stands for ‘Strip Reader’
Note – The instrument we’re testing here is a pre-release version without final trim.
The new design fits better in more people’s hands, and has a button area at the front to press for taking readings. Also redesigned is the base unit, so as to provide more accurate and consistent calibration.
The device takes its readings by illuminating a succession of different coloured LEDs and measuring the light reflected back
A long exposure shows all of the different colour LEDs. This illumination pattern is focused as a spot of light on the paper being measured, since the sensor measuring tip is normally in contact with the paper.
The lights cycle through the colours in a fraction of a second
The blue light on the top surrounds the measurement button.
I’ve made a series of measurements during a four second exposure, by pressing the space bar on the keyboard behind.
You have to move the sensor when making measurements of printed test targets.
There is an additional plastic guide ruler provided that can make it easier to take multiple measurements when reading test prints.
The spectrocolorimeter fits snugly into guide slots in the ruler and moves very easily from side to side.
The ruler also has rollers to allow it to be moved at right angles to the scanning.
The series of holes, to the left, make it easier to find the correct starting position.
There are a number of ways that you can use the sensor to read profiling data, and I’d suggest you experiment with some of the techniques described in the comprehensive on-line support information.
The aim is to find a style of movement that is both comfortable and capable of providing consistent reliable measurement data.
If you’ve used the SpyderPrint before, then you’ll also notice the expanded range of test targets you can print.
I’ll cover these later, but in general, the aim has been to improve the chances of you getting good consistent measurements when making profiles.
There is a text document from Datacolor that describes the various changes in Spyder3Print/SpyderPrint functionality and software versions. Available from Datacolor’s software update page
I’ll run through the basic profiling options and then address some of the more advanced features and options available.
When first opening the application you get the option to learn more about colour management, and what it is you are going to be doing with the instrument.
Even if you’ve used the SpyderPrint before, take time to have a look at what is available.
One of the strengths of the SpyderPrint package in the past has been the very good documentation and resources to help you get better profiles -and- to understand what you are doing.
The introductory information is well arranged to cover a range of levels of interest. I write a lot about colour management issues and I found items of interest…
When it comes to making a profile, then you’ve the choice of printing a test target to measure, or to use measurements from a previously measured target.
Why use previous measurements? Well the software allows a number of more advanced profile creation options, and after making your first profile, you may wish to fine-tune it. I’ll cover this later, but suffice to say, you don’t need to go through the print/measurement cycle again.
You need to enter some information before going on to print your profiling target.
I’d emphasise how important it is to remember to keep notes about what you are doing.
If I come back, after a week or so, to a set of measurements that just say ‘printer’, with no paper type info, or settings information, then the measurements are of little value.
Yes, I have made a profile in a hurry and forgot to note detailed printer settings – one useless profile.
It’s important that your printer is working well before profiling.
At absolute minimum you should run a nozzle check.
For even more assurance, there is a special test image you can print from within the software.
Next comes a vitally important step – deciding the correct media settings
You can print a small test image (saves paper – 4 per sheet), or a larger version (move your mouse over the image to see)
I’ve written a short article about just how important media setting are – it’s based on some of my tests made during the writing of several of my reviews.
It can be quite tricky to decide on the best media setting, so once again there is some good advice and tips in the associated help files.
If you are trying a new paper, then be prepared to experiment a bit at this stage, it’s well worth the effort.
Note – Third party paper suppliers may well suggest a media setting for their paper – these are usually correct, however I know from experience that this is not always so
Once everything is set up correctly, you can move on to print a test target.
As you’ll see below, there are a range of target options.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you should go for the most advanced target all the time.
Modern printers are much better behaved in terms of linearity and predictability than they were only a few years ago. As such, large numbers of patches may not actually benefit you that much.
The larger targets take more time and care in measurement. Resist the temptation to experiment with larger targets until you have the experience to be able to tell if the results are actually any better for your particular printer/ink/paper combination.
I would suggest that -any- person starting out with the Spyder3Print SR starts with the ‘EZ’ high quality target below.
You can print out the basic target on one sheet if you want.
If you are going to be printing monochrome images, then there is the option of printing additional grey patches to allow the software to create a profile with better greyscale performance.
If you really want, there is an even more advanced option, with over a thousand patches.
I’ve been testing the Canon iPF6100 printer recently for a review, and decided to see how the SpyderPrint fared with this 12 ink, 24″ width printer.
I’ve printed the 225 patch target with additional greys (right) and the basic ‘EZ’ target (2 sheets left)
Since I’m looking at a roll paper, I’ve taken the two TIFF files for the targets and merged them into one file to print.
No problem as long as you remember to keep the files as having no profile (‘do not colour manage’ option when opening in Photoshop) and print with no colour management/correction.
Once printed, you need to measure the targets.
Wait until the ink is properly dry.
I leave my Epson test sheets overnight at least, and for the iPF6100, I’d suggest a full 24 hours.
Whilst you can make a profile after half an hour or so, inks do change as they dry (this varies by paper type too) so I prefer to err on the side of greater accuracy.
Of course, you can easily print your targets for different papers on one day and leave the measurements for the next.
When you make measurements, remember to make a note of various settings…
I’ll show some examples from when I was profiling the iPF6100.
Here, I’ve selected the standard ‘EZ’ target.
You get the option to find out more about how best to make measurements.
Take your time – profiling is not something to rush. Have a look at the tutorial.
There are examples for reading targets in various modes
The on-line help also has information on how to get good results from using the ruler.
Do remember that there are lots of ways you can take the measurements – experiment and find which you are most comfortable with.
Before actually taking your measurements, the spectrocolorimeter needs calibration.
The white tile in the base unit provides a consistent calibration target – keep it clean and avoid fingermarks.
As you make your reading, the results can be shown on a sample target.
It’s important to remember that your measurements will look somewhat different from the ‘pure’ target you see on the screen – this is perfectly normal. It’s why you are creating the ICC printer profile.
When completed you get a chance to check you measurements for errors
This is another reason to start with the smallest target size. You do need to be careful in checking, since you will almost certainly make mistakes to start with.
The examples below show how the measured patches all look a bit darker and less saturated than the ‘pure’ target colours, but there are none that stand out as wrong.
If you move your mouse over the image below, you can see the effect of swapping between printed and measured patches. These examples are from the extra greys you can print.
Looking at the data above I can’t see any problems, but in some ways that’s a difficulty when reading the coloured patches – how do you know when a measurement is wrong?
It takes a bit of practice to get consistent reliable measurements, and I have heard of people in the past who had difficulty in getting reliable measurements (although I don’t know how careful they were being)
In the latest version of the software, not only can you scan the reader across a strip of patches, but there are a range of ‘EZ’ targets which will help in detecting measurement errors.
The software can build a very rough ‘profile’ from just the top row of patches in the target below.
This rough profile is not good enough for printing, but allows the software to estimate what the rest of the patches will probably look like.
As such it can sound an alarm if it thinks there are any errors in your measurements, and point them out to you.
This worked well when I tested it, picking up errors where I deliberately took a reading slightly off a target patch position.
Once you have a set of measurements, the software will make a profile and display an estimate of how a print would look – a ‘softproof’ view.
This shows the Datacolor test image.
If you move your mouse over the image you can see what it made of the measurement data from the iPF6100 profiling.
The image above is also available as a file that you can print to test your profile in action.
You can zoom in on any of the image panels for more detail.
There is the option to edit the profile building parameters at this stage, but I’d suggest that initially you don’t touch any of the settings.
I’ll cover a bit more when I discuss some of the more advanced profiling options, but as you can see there is plenty you can fiddle with…
When you’re happy with things, the profile will be saved to an appropriate place for your computer system (this is on a Mac, but it works just the same on a PC)
The software works fine if you just want to print a target, measure it and create a default profile.
However you might wish to experiment further, and there are quite a few features aimed at the more advanced user.
If you are going to start experimenting then make sure you have a good stock of paper and ink. It also helps to have a consistent mechanism for viewing and comparing your prints. At Northlight Images we have a viewing cabinet, but consistency is the key.
One other thing – if you are of a perfectionist nature (I’m usually not ;-) then be careful to appreciate the diminishing returns that you can get from more and more adjustments and profile creation. I regularly like to stop and ask myself whether what I’ve got is actually any real improvement, and just as importantly, would anyone else notice? I don’t paint behind my radiators – no one can see it – this causes me no bother whatsoever. If you do paint behind your radiators then be careful to realise when to stop…
When working on a measurement file, I can export the data in different formats for use with other software.
I can also merge pairs of files of measurement data, so as to average out errors.
If I’ve a measurement file from a colour target, I can merge the appropriate additional greyscale data. this saves me having to re-print and measure the colour data.
There are a number of adjustments you can make when creating a profile.
A collection of presets are provided to make certain specific types of profiles.
If you find a particular set of adjustments that work for a particular printer, then you can save your own preset.
You can import specific curves files (Photoshop curves format) to apply to your profile data.
If you look at the top of the panel to the right you can see readings for the (paper) white and (ink covered paper) black.
These are based on measured data from the test chart.
The values are given in Lab format (luminance and two colour values a/b)
The negative ‘b’ value tells us that the paper white has a slight blueness, most likely due to a quantity of OBA (Optical Brightening Agent) in the paper. This makes the paper look ‘whiter’
OBAs themselves are not a problem for most printing, and are found in the majority of photo papers. Some papers do have rather high quantities and this can effect profiling.
Whilst the calculations that go on in the software when it’s making a profile are complex and can allow for this to some extent, the blueness can still show up in a soft proof view, so there is the option to allow for this.
As with the other options, this is covered in more detail in the associated help files. Like many of the more advanced settings, it’s also something you can safely ignore when starting out with the Spyder3Print SR.
One other thing to remember, is that even if the profile you make for a particular printer manufacturer’s paper is no better than the supplied ‘canned’ profile, then you now have a tunable profile, something you can’t do with traditional custom profiles either.
Some examples of adjustments 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 (basic edit functions) 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 advanced options above allow even more fine tuning.
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).
You don’t have to re-measure your printed target for this – just use your original measurements file.
An important consideration: Print viewing lighting and screen brightness are usually the main factors when people complain that their ‘Prints are too dark‘ – make sure you have this sorted out before being tempted to start fiddling with profile building adjustments.
Presets show different adjustments in basic and advanced mode. The two pictures below show the effect of applying the sepia preset, and the effect on a B/W image
You don’t need to print your targets from within the Spyder3 Print SR application. All the targets are available as TIFF files.
You can see some of 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.
I’ve looked at the Spyder3Print system (and its predecessors) several time in the past and always found it easy to use, with a great deal of useful support and explanatory information.
If I’d had a minor quibble it would be the ‘one at a time’ patch measurement approach and its susceptibility to errors if you were not careful enough.
I realise that this is a personal quirk, not helped by the fact that I’ve got automated measurement equipment here, that is ten times the price of the Datacolor system.
The new SR sensor makes it a lot easier to take simple consistent measurements. you can use it in the previous ‘patch at a time’ mode if you like, or try one of the new scanning modes, where you move it across the paper.
That said, poor measurements make poor profiles, so it’s nice to see the new ‘EZ’ print targets where the software will do its best to alert you to mistakes.
I created a number of profiles when testing the Canon iPF6100 printer, every single one was noticeably better than the Canon profile supplied for the paper. [ More details in our detailed Canon iPF6100 review]
Using the EZ 225 patch target, for this printer, produced very good quality profiles. In fact there was little improvement to be seen when I tried the 729 patch target.
The greyscale performance was slightly better with a profile made with the extended greys target, but at the cost of slightly poorer overall colour performance. So, for this particular printer I’d use the colour+greys target for monochrome and the Colour only target for colour images. The important caveat is… ‘for this particular printer’ – your results might differ.
The software and hardware I’ve been testing is essentially what will ship in September 2009.
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 AmzonRWCM 2nd Edition RWCM
See some other books Keith has on the shelf, on our Books Page
For users who like to tinker with colour management, there are options galore, although to get the benefits from this aspect of the package you probably need to understand a reasonable amount about Colour Management.
The suggested rendering intent for printing is Saturation.
This is not a problem when printing from within Photoshop, where black point compensation (BPC) is available (and is on by default)
However, printing via the iPF6100 Photoshop plug-in, I found some quirks that affect choices of rendering intent, so you might wish to start with Perceptual.
This is what Datacolor says about rendering intent for their profiles.
“Saturation Intent: This intent favours colour saturation over hue or lightness when determining how to print out of gamut colour; those colours that the printer can’t reach, which must be replaced somehow with achievable colours. This intent offers the most satisfying inkjet colour in terms of keeping high colour areas in your images looking like you remember them. For smaller gamut devices, it may be more important to avoid Hue Bias, by starting with Relative Colorimetric.
Relative Colorimetric Intent: This intent makes the most accurate, literal, choices for replacing out of gamut colours. It is often used for prepress and graphic design work, for matching spot colours, and for other non-photographic work. Brilliant colours may be significantly less saturated than with Saturation intent on inkjet printers, but may better retain their hue with other types of devices.
Perceptual Intent: Datacolor’s Perceptual intent falls somewhere between Relative Colorimetric and Saturation intents, and is best used when an intermediate result is needed. Use in cases where Hue Shift with Saturation intent is objectionable, but the low colour brilliance with Relative Colorimetric is problematic.
Absolute Colorimetric Intent: This is a special intent for proofing purposes, where the off white paper of the final printing device needs to be emulated on the whiter paper of the proofing device. Unless you are emulating newsprint output on your desktop printer, you probably will never need this intent.”
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. ;-)
I used my own B/W test image to try out the black and white capabilities. It’s a very harsh test, and for this particular printer I found I could produce B/W prints that meet my fairly exacting standards.
The Spyder3Print SR software allows me control over such details as the choice of neutral greys or paper relative greys, so combined with a printer’s specialist B/W printing mode I’ve got all I really need.
You may see arguments on forums about the relative merits of different measuring devices – I take the view that if the results are good then that’s the main feature. Also, like heated camera debates, a majority of those arguing won’t actually have the devices in question. I’ve got examples of every device reviewed on this site and am happy to answer more detailed questions about anything I’ve written.
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.
Tip for extra accuracy in measurements – many measuring devices take a while to stabilise, typically there is an increased chance of a slight error in the first measurement, after that repeatability usually rises. As such when reading a chart, take a couple of measurements and then move the reading point back to the start (use the left arrow key) and then carry on as normal. Of course if you are going for the best accuracy, you might also want to consider making two sets of measurements and averaging them. Or how about three sets to spot mis-read patches more easily? As you can see, if you want to really go overboard, then you can. Do remember that the improvements may be pretty marginal if you are tempted to follow this route.
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.
Although not tested, I’m told that the new software speeds up the responsiveness of the original spectro supplied with earlier versions of the software.
The image to the right is from a test of the older software.
It shows the difference in black and white print quality between a paper supplier’s ICC profile (the Magenta print under the colorimeter) and the Spyder3Print version under that.
Buying the SpyderPrint
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.
Amazon UK link / Amazon Fr / Amazon De
Amazon USA link / Amazon Canada link
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)
It also gives an idea of how much paper you can use up when testing this sort of stuff…
The software component of this package will be available as an update for exisiting Spyder3Print users.
If you already have the Spyder3 Print then the upgrade to the new software is worthwhile just for the new error checking ‘EZ’ targets.
The scanning mode of the new SR measurement device both speeds up target measurements and by offering different ways of measuring targets, allows you to find your most efficient personal approach.
Both simple to use and capable of making good quality profiles. The attention to detail from a usability perspective is to be applauded.
- Mac OS X (10.4 or higher)
- Windows XP 32/64, Vista 32/64, Windows 7
- Colour monitor resolution 1024×768 or greater
- 16-bit video card (24-bit recommended)
- 128MB of available RAM
- 100MB of available hard disk space
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.
Spyder products feature comparisons
Information from Datacolor:
Spyder3 V3 vs V4 software features (May 2010) – S3Elite V4 review
Product features (late 2009)
There is a text document from Datacolor that describes the various changes in Spyder3Print/SpyderPrint functionality and software versions. Available from Datacolor’s software update page
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For information about printers, paper reviews and profiling (colour management) see the Printing section of the main printers and printing page, or use the search box at the top of any page.
All colour management articles and reviews are indexed on the main Colour Management page - please do let Keith know if you've any questions, either via the comments or just email us?
Some specific articles that may be of interest:
- 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 - some basic suggestions to this common problem.
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