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Why media settings are vital in your printer profiling

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Why media settings are vital in your printer profiling

How to get the best from your profiling

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Making ICC profiles for third party inks and/or paper is little use if you don’t get your paper and ink choices right.

The thing a lot of people neglect when trying to profile their printers is getting the right driver (media) settings.

We have a page of downloadable media test images to help with media settings selection.

Note that although his article looks at 3rd party inks and 3rd party papers, it’s also important with 3rd party papers and original inks.


One of our older but still valid articles (2005)
2006  New version of the PrintFIX PRO software
2010 Updated to SpyderPrint) – adds additional support for black and white printing.
2014 See also the article about trying out a new paper, including details about profiling and linearisation using i1Profiler.

Media settings – A vital part of profiling

if you don’t have your printer driver set to use the correct media settings, then no amount of profiling can correct for the fact that the printer is not laying down the correct amounts of ink for the paper.

You might think that just following the media settings for the paper is all you need. Well, for OEM branded papers (Epson/Canon etc) this is a good bet. However for third party papers it’s by no means certain that the supplier will have done comprehensive testing with their paper on your model of printer.

2020 Update:  The consistency and quality of printers has improved massively, but wrong media settings can still harm your print quality

Print Driver settings – an example

The Epson Stylus COLOR 1160 has sat in the corner of my printer room not doing much for some time. It still had Lyson Small Gamut inks installed, just in case I needed to reprint some of the prints I sold a few years ago.

I now use a 9600 with the ImagePrint RIP for my B/W work, but the 1160 was a sort of backup — hang on who was I kidding? There was no real comparison between the two! :-)

I decided to clean up the printer.

A few millilitres of Sainsbury’s bathroom cleaner flushed through each ink channel onto some rolled up kitchen roll, with a small syringe sorted things. (see my article on cleaning inkjet printers for more info)

Compatible inks?
Haystack Rock, Cape Kiwanda, Oregon

Haystack Rock, Cape Kiwanda, Oregon

I have a Stylus 1290 with genuine Epson inks in it, so I went down to my local Cartridge World and bought some refilled 1160 cartridges and their best selling glossy photo paper, which happened to be Canon Photo Paper Pro.

This reflects the sort of printer setup that many people use – could I get really good prints out of it?

After quite a bit of cleaning, including taking the top cover off the printer to get access to where the heads park, I installed the refilled cartridges.

Quite a few test prints and cleaning cycles were needed to get good consistent nozzle checks.

Just remember that printer cleaning is something that requires patience.

If a channel does not print properly -wait a while-

It took over a week for me to get a clogged up Epson 3000 working reliably. That said, the 1160 had never seen much use and by the next day was working reliably with its new inks.

OK, a test print with lots of colour…

First of all I’ll make a print using just the driver’s normal settings for a glossy photo paper, with no icc profile or anything.

In other words, how the vast majority of people print their digital photos :-)


The picture (below right) has been ‘photoshopped’ to show what the print looked like.

I tried scanning it, but it just didn’t quite look bad enough…

An interesting version, not an effect that might look good on a group of peoples’ faces…

green test printObvious faults were over-inking (but not enough to run or pool on the paper) and far too much green in the image (or not enough magenta ink)

The image I chose, shows up some faults, but for a good test you need an image that has been specially created for the purpose.

In other words, an image that you know is good.

I generally tell people to never test with one of their own images.

The exception being my own specially formulated test image for black and white…

I’ve got a page set up with links to free test images for printing if you need some examples.

test imageThe information below is from the PrintFIX PRO help files, and is typical of the well written support this product includes (PF PRO review)

A reduced version of the PrintFIX PRO PDI test image – Download page

  • A Smooth even gray ramp on the right of the image, without visible colour casts or breaks in the gradient.
  • Good skin tone colour throughout the range of different skin types and their shadow areas, especially the difficult pink skintones in the second face, and the areas where the skin transitions into the hair on the third face.
  • Dark areas in the hair of the first model that show detail without clogging.
  • Bright, saturated, colours without loss of detail in the robot, the beta fish, and the coloured beads.
  • Good deep tone detail in the purple sand in the fish bowl and the background of the tapestry.
  • Bright sunflower yellows in the sunflower, distinct from the lemon yellows of the lemon.
  • Good saturated blues in the vase and its stem.
  • No problem tones in the dark areas of the lemon, the peach, the orange, and the apple.
  • A rich range of greens in the cactus and the sunflower leaves.
  • Rich brown tones in the binocular case, transitioning well into the dark areas.
  • A good range of varying warm highlights in most areas.
  • The tint of each shadowbox section is effected subtly by the contents of each box.
  • Cool blue highlights on the optically brightened golf balls.
  • Good detail in the coloured areas on the elephant, without bleeding from the blacks.

datacolor test image for printer profilie evaluationUpdate (2009) – the Download page now has a copy of the more advanced Datacolor test image, with full descriptions covering all its parts.

Profiling my Epson Stylus COLOR 1160

I decided to create an icc printer profile for this paper/ink/printer combination.

I’m currently testing new versions of the software for the PrintFIX PRO, so I used that and my Eye One Photo package for creating profiles (see links at the end for product reviews and more details on profiles and colour management)

I’ll just concentrate on one part of the process here (the end profiles produced by the two packages were very similar, but that’s another story all together).

Before you print out your test patches, you need to decide which driver settings to use. If I was using Epson inks and Epson paper then there would probably be a setting in the printer driver specifically for what I want. But I’m not using Epson inks, and despite what some third party ink suppliers say, they are not exactly the same.

Here are the available settings in the Epson Stylus COLOR 1160 Mac OSX driver

SC1160 driver setting for Mac OSX

OK, not so many for this older printer, but there is a Photo Paper setting that might be good, and maybe the Photo Quality Glossy Film, which I’ve often heard suggested as a good choice.

This is where the PF PRO scores in its handling of the profiling process, there is a specific test image that you use to evaluate the media settings (see the test images page and media check images for other assorted images you can use for this if you want).

Part of it is shown below, although this one has been modified to give a fair chance of it looking OK in a web browser on your monitor.

test image for media checking

The colours are a very serious test for any printer, and you should not expect a perfect result (particularly since it is printed without any profile corrections)

The PF PRO help file (installed with the software) has detailed comments covering its interpretation, but I’ll show a few scans of printed versions so you can get an idea of what to look for.

First of all is a version printed using the same settings as the green test print above….

using colour controls only

Notice those big blobs of green and some quite sharp transitions between some areas

Next, just for comparison, I tried a print using the Gimp Print driver that I had on the computer for the 1160, and settings for Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper.

Gimp Print driver test

Far too dark, with some too abrupt changes near the darkest areas

Now with ‘Glossy Film’

glossy film media check

Glossy film. This was very similar to the Photo Paper results. The detail below shows some of the slight problem areas. I’ve processed the scan in a slightly different way to show them up, but you can see that apart from the corners, the evenness is not too bad.

If you are getting the idea that this process is pretty subjective, then you are right :-)

media check details

Problem areas?

Anyway, I went ahead and made a profile using the photo paper setting and printing at 1140dpi, unidirectional, high quality.

  • Note – for some more examples of things to look for in the test print, see the Innova fibaprint paper review

photo paper profileA test print looked pretty good, if a little dark.

On closer inspection it also showed some serious loss of shadow detail and dark colours looking a bit too brown.

Opening up the profile in the ColorSync Utility (found in the Utilities folder on Macs – WinXP info) showed a seriously misshapen profile.

Right – photo paper profile

I’ve seen some people faced with such a test print, rush to the profile editor and start tweaking away to correct things.

Wrong! … sometimes no amount of tweaking will fix a bad paper/ink/printer combination.

Had I found such a thing?

It looks as if the amounts of inks being put down was a bit too high and not in the right combinations in some of the darker areas.

I went back to my media checks, and it was just those areas I’ve indicated in the detail above that were showing problems.

Then I went back for an even closer look at the driver settings – I’d not tried ‘plain paper’ – I’d just assumed that it must be wrong –oops :-)

Plain paper media check 1160

Plain paper media check

Not perfect by a long way, but without those odd colour changes near the dark areas.

One profile later, and I think that this comparison of the plain and photo paper profiles shows the difference nicely

gamut comparison

Much more range in the shadows…

Color Management book

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

RWCM  2nd Edition RWCM 

See some other books Keith has on the shelf, on our Books Page

The differences were considerable, far better shadow detail and vivid clear colours.

The 1160 with this ink, paper and profile is now good enough for the rare times I need to send glossy colour prints to clients – I supply the vast amount of my commercial work digitally, but every so often a client wants a print. My 9600 has matt black ink in it (for my B/W fine art prints) so won’t print very well on glossy paper.


  • Get your media settings right before profiling.
  • Test all your media settings, if you are using third party inks and papers.
  • Don’t be in a rush to edit profiles…

My 1160 can now produce stunning glossy colour prints and contribute once more to the bottom line of the business ;-)

Important – if you are getting someone to produce remote profiles for you, and you have a ‘non-standard’ paper/ink combination, ask them how they suggest that you find the best media settings. If they are silent on the matter, or try to brush you off with a standard answer, then look for someone else to do the job.

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More colour management and printing related information

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.

Articles below by Keith (Google's picks for matching this page)

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