i1 Profiler printer profiling review
i1 Profiler printer profiling review
Part of X-Rite’s new colour management software
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X-Rite has recently released version 1.0 of their new application i1 Profiler.
It’s been previewed since last year and we’ve been testing it for a while. In due course we hope to have more detailed reviews of different aspects of its use.
This review looks at the basics of printer profiling, using the i1 Pro spectrophotometer. This functionality is found in the i1 Photo Pro and i1 Publish versions of i1 Profiler.
Other functionality is listed/reviewed at our i1 Profiler main page, where we’ll include links to updates, other reviews and any useful resources we come across.
The examples that will be shown are using Apple Macs, but the software generally works in the same way on Windows machines.
i1 Profiler – download
The printer profiling capabilities of the software cover a lot of different level users, right the way up to advanced multicolour digital presses.
In this article I’m looking at printer profiling for RGB printers.
This catches some people out at first, when they look at the CMYK inks in their printer and wonder why it’s RGB?
It’s about the the files that your printer driver takes for its input. If I’m using our large Canon iPF8300 printer, it has 12 inks – this doesn’t matter to me, since I’m printing RGB files (in say, the Adobe98 colour space).
I’ll be pitching this review towards readers with a basic understanding of using profiles. If you are new to this, you might also want to read some of our other reviews (such as the ColorMunki or SpyderPrint) which have a lot more details about the basic principles.
You can import cxf formatted measurement files from other devices, using software such as X-Rite’s Colorport.
In the testing here, I’m using the iSis XL – partly just because reading in an A3+ sheet of nearly 3000 patches is so much easier.
I’d not expect results to be noticeably different using an i1 Pro spectro.
Making a printer profile
I’ll be going through the process whereby I created a profile for testing a new paper I’m currently looking at.
The software allows for a lot of tweaking of options and settings, but I’ll try and address any choices I’ve made and why I picked them.
The software is activated with either an i1 Pro spectrophotometer or a USB hardware ‘dongle’
The front ‘Home’ screen of the software shows the license status, and is where you can add upgrades and activate the software (both on and off-line options available)
The software package does rather a lot, so I’ll try and keep individual reviews to particular functionality.
There are two modes of operation – Basic and Advanced
Basic mode will provide a range of default printer profiling targets, with the options depending on what instrument you are using.
This mode produces perfectly good profiles from only a few hundred patches, and if you use the software to create a second iterative set of patches from the results of reading your first set, then it’s possible to make very good profiles from just two A4 sheets.
You can print the target directly or save the file for printing via different software.
If you do print elsewhere, make sure that you are printing with colour management turned OFF.
The software makes no mention of getting the correct media settings for printing your target. I suspect it’s assumed that if you are using software like this then you already know how to determine the correct media settings for your print driver.
- Some more info about choice of media settings in general
Whilst there is help available in the various screens, there is an underlying assumption that you know what you are doing – I’d not put this software into the novice user category.
Switching to Advanced mode allows me to build (and save) custom profiling targets and select ones I’d made earlier.
I’m going to be loading one called ‘iSis XL 2938-A3plus’
Target design depends on the device you are using to read the target prints.
Here, I’ve switched to the iSis XL.
I’m using a target I created earlier which fits 2938 patches onto an A3+ sheet
It’s at this stage I can print the target, or save it as a TIFF file.
The software puts all its targets and measurement info into directories that are at the system wide level.
You can over-ride this and put them where you like, but they won’t appear in the Asset list at the left hand side (in Advanced mode)
Here’s a TIFF file of my target – I’m opening it in Photoshop to print it out.
Just one aside about creating your own target files…
The patch generator will create a target with a given number of patches.
At 2945 patches below, you can see a good set of greyscale tints along the bottom – this helps give the profiles a good neutral greyscale.
However, move your mouse over the image to see what happens if you add another patch to make it 2946.
I’ve no idea how this affects things – I may enjoy aspects of colour management, but I’m not a complete geek about it – fortunately, some of the people testing the software are a little more ‘precise’ and we should find out a lot more detail once the software has been around a while (I’ll include links to any info I come across on the main profiler page)
I’ve opened up the target file in Photoshop, and am printing it to our iPF8300 via the Canon printing plug-in.
Here’s the 13″x19″ target printed on our iPF8300.
Note that I’m not using the optional barcode feature of the iSis targets, since you can fit a few more patches on the sheet. The barcode feature is very useful if you’ve a lot of targets being printed or don’t entirely trust the reliability of the staff carrying out the measurements… ;-)
Once the target is suitably dry, I can measure the patches for profiling.
With the iSis you get the choice of taking UV measurements – with the i1 Pro, this depends on whether you have a UV-cut version of the spectrophotometer or not.
When making profiles in the past with ProfileMaker Pro, I’d often use the two datasets to make two profiles, one with and one without UV info.
Depending on the paper, one version might look better, and I’d use that. With i1 Profiler, this is still possible but I need two sets of measurements, since I’ve not yet found a way to generate two different profiles from the dual measurement mode.
You can also set the paper type at this point – just what difference to the profiling this makes isn’t clear – there are rather a lot of ‘black box’ features in this software, which I can see is going to cause a deal of discussion amongst users.
if you move away from the measurement part of the profiling workflow then you are prompted to save your data – even if that’s not what it says.
Once again, this data defaults to a system wide available folder (I’ve not tested the software on a Windows PC, so couldn’t say where things end up).
If you look at the workflow pane in the picture above, you can see the next step is lighting.
There are a wide range of standard illuminants you can pick for your profiles.
It’s also possible to measure light sources with a spectrophotometer and use your own custom lighting settings.
On the iPF8300 I found that producing profiles for tungsten lighting (Illuminant A) and D50 produced profiles that worked well in normal office and dim interior lighting – quite subtle differences for some test images I created.
People are not usually paying enough for my prints to get a profile matched to their home lighting ;-)
There are a lot of sliders you can adjust to fine tune profiles…
Unfortunately, whilst you can adjust away to your heart’s content, there is no easy way to determine just what these numbers actually change.
As with most features of the software, it’s easy to store your own settings, once you’ve decided just what works.
Having used ProfileMaker Pro 5 in the past, I’ve picked the ‘colorful’ setting, and notice that neutralise grey has moved to 75.
Now if only I knew what that meant? (I believe it’s a choice between neutral and paper relative greys)
Next up, I create the profile, and get a pretty 3D graph to look at…
Once again, I’ve chosen to keep my profiles in a system wide available folder.
The hot folder feature is related to batch production of profiles.
Once you’ve created a profile, you can use the optimisation feature to analyse it and create a second profiling target.
Think of this as helping to ‘fill in the gaps’ from your first target.
In the example below, I’ve asked the software to create a target based on the profile just built.
i1 Publish upgrades
In reality, with nearly 3000 patches in the first target, any improvement is going to be pretty minimal.
This works far better if you only use a few hundred patches for the first target.
The new patches can also be based on spot colours and colours extracted from an image.
There is no profile editing capability in i1 Profiler – you need to re-make your profile, or edit it in a 3rd party application
I’ll not go into details of the numbers, since many of my tests were with beta versions of the software, but I found that with our iPF8300, the profiles I’m getting for new papers look very good and produce excellent prints.
I’ve not yet had a profile from this printer that I wasn’t satisfied with – I’ll leave it until I’ve seen far more feedback and discussion before I’ll extend this to other printers, since during testing of the software, the iPF8300 was our main printer here at Northlight Images.
One oddity you might notice when opening up the pack for i1 Profiler kits, is the standard ColorChecker card …however this one has holes punched in the middle of each target.
The ColorChecker Proof option, allows you to print a version of the ColorChecker target, that you can place under your test ColorChecker, this allows you to see just how well the printed colours match the test – in whatever lighting you want.
It was this I used to convince myself of more of the real world differences between my Illuminant A and D50 based profiles.
I can now take some test prints on my chosen paper, using different profile versions, to the place where a print is to be hung, and quickly see which profile works best.
The software will show a quick guestimate of ‘out of gamut’ colour if you want, but is aimed at making real test samples, you can physically check.
One area of profiling, that I’ve looked at in the past, is the OBC compensation option for the iSis.
This has now been more directly incorporated into the profiling workflow, although it still requires physical comparison against special test targets (below), in the lighting conditions that you want to test.
- I’ve more info about this from when it was introduced as OBC for the iSis
The software is easy to use if you are moderately familiar with the printer profiling process.
It’s not aimed at the consumer market and makes assumptions that follow this.
If you’re getting started, then do spend some time looking at the linked videos, which give a reasonable overview on how to get things moving.
An example below from the linked videos.
Videos are great, but some of us learn better from reading – hopefully more varied and detailed training resources will appear soon on the X-Rite site.
The quality of results has not disappointed me – I started using it to produce our printer profiles not long after testing started. In terms of smoothness and handling of gradients, I’ve not seen any problems at all. Where differences are visible between it and my old ProfileMaker Pro profiles, I’ve preferred the i1 Profiler one every time.
There are still a few minor usability related quirks, in that I feel the user experience is subtly different depending on where you are in the software – sometimes it is not clear how you advance in the workflow, or if you click on a save button, just what it is you are saving, or whether you have already saved it.
Do you know what these icons at the right represent?
No, neither do I, unless I move my mouse over them and find out that they are related to saving and loading workflows. Usability research has consistently shown that complex and rarely used icons hinder usability.
There is also a complete lack of functionality from the main (Mac) menu bar – no preferences or any settings.
There is very sparse help and documentation at the moment – what’s there gives a start, but just misses out on the details. If you’re looking for help as to why you should set a slider at 75 rather than 60 (or any other value) then you will be disappointed.
Anyway, that’s my usability related complaints out of the way (it’s what I used to do as a research job in the past)
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.
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The software has taken a long while arriving, and it is obvious that there was a distinct cut-off in what features were going to make it to a V1.0 release.
Some previous functionality, such as profile editing and ICC camera and scanner profiling have gone.
In ProfileMaker Pro, there were aspects of UV/OBA detection incorporated in the basic profiling process that you could use with an i1 Pro – this is not present in Profiler (unless you use as iSis) – or if it is, then it’s been put into another ‘black box’. I should note that I’ve not profiled any really high OBA papers and will be looking at this aspect of profiler operation in more detail in a future article.
One other example of a ‘missing feature’ would be the ‘free’ functionality in MeasureTool from PM5 – I use this when making QTR correction profiles for some of my B/W printing. On the plus side, I know that, during testing, X-Rite were interested in feedback from those interested in monochrome printing – let them know what you’d like to see in later versions? ;-)
Also missing are the averaging functions that were available in MeasureTool in PM5 – you can average readings (multiple ‘assets’) but you’ve no control over how the averaging is carried out, and as (currently) with many functions, no readily accessible guides or detailed help.
If you are new to profiling at this level, then I don’t think you’ll have much difficulty in adapting to using the software.
If you are an experienced ProfileMaker Pro (PMP) or Monaco user, then the good news is that your old software will keep working if you update/upgrade.
- A warning though – the new license is much more restrictive in what you can do with profiles, and an upgrade will apply retrospectively to your existing software – if you run a business offering profiles, then this could have serious implications – I’ve more info on the license in the i1 Profiler overview.
Profiles created with i1 Profiler can contain measurement data, allowing for re-building of new profiles. You can read in CGATS formatted data from PMP (via MeasureTool), whilst if you’ve been using the Monaco software, you’ll need to go via ColorPort.
Look upon i1 Profiler as a sound foundation for the future of X-Rite’s profiling products. The old packages did so many things that I’m sure there will be complaints about what’s new – such is the way of things.
Do remember that primarily, I’m a commercial photographer, so printing and colour management is not the main part of what I do for a living. It’s a tool, not an end in itself, so my questions and answers relate to that.
It’s still very obviously V1.0 software in some respects.
So, for someone wanting to produce excellent profiles for printing their work, would I choose this software? – yes most definitely.
It’s a complex enough bit of software that someone needs to write a book on how to get the best from it – I’m busy doing photography though ;-)
If you’ve any questions or comments – please let us know.
Article History – first published April 2011
The 3 versions of i1 Profiler are:
i1Basic Pro is a solution for high-end monitor profiling, monitor and printing quality verification, and spot colour measurement. Designed for imaging professionals, i1Basic Pro is ideal for an effective workflow in a colour-managed ecosystem. i1Basic Pro includes i1Profiler software, PANTONE Color Manager software and an i1Pro spectrophotometer.
i1Photo Pro is specifically designed for photo professionals to manage their RGB workflow from camera to display and projector to print. Thanks to the iterative profiling capability of the i1Profiler software, professional photo users will enjoy the highest quality colour results that especially target highlight and shadow details and delivers greater colour accuracy for more neutral greys and natural skin tones.
i1Publish (a standalone software package) and i1Publish Pro are the ultimate, fully-featured ICC profiling solutions for graphic arts professionals that need to organize and manage their complete RGB, CMYK and CMYK+N (CMYK plus any 4) prepress workflows, complete with new assurance validation and verification functions using digital standards. This includes a display QA function to check soft proofing for ISO (G7, SWOP, PSO, Japan Color) and a printer QA function to check print quality using ISO media wedges (IDEAlliance ISO Control Wedge or Fogra Media Wedge).
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