Why use a custom printer profile?

What were my symptoms?

I spent many happy(?) hours wasting sheet after sheet of glossy photo paper and rather a lot of ink cartridges, simply trying to get print colours which were a reasonable match for what I

  • Could see on my screen
  • Believed was a good match for the original photograph
  • Most irritating of all were the very obvious colour-casts in greyscale prints - especially in the mid-tones.

    What was the diagnosis?

    Having almost despaired of ever getting acceptable prints from my aged Epson Photo1270, I decided to investigate other options. I spent some time reading about "colour management" both in books and by searching the internet.
    The clearest treatment of the subject that I found was probably Real World Color Management

    After many hours of reading I can summarise the problem:

    Although Epson Photo quality Inkjet printers are stable (with time), their ink delivery jets are both non-linear and appear to vary enough from printer to printer to make "standard" (off the shelf) profiles rather poor.
    What was the treatment?
    Custom profiles for my rehabilitated printer

    As a result of this I purchased a spectrophotometer from Gretag Macbeth, and stopped wasting paper and ink because the immediate results were very obviously a huge improvement.

    With hindsight, had I known how good the results would have been, I would have thought that buying custom profiles at the equivalent price of two inkjet cartridges/ packets of paper to be a bargain if it solved the printer problem. (However, it is worth noting that the profile of the monitor is a significant element in getting things to work well.)

    What were the results?

    Suddenly, the colour-casts in the grey-scales disappeared, the (intended) dark greys became dark grey instead of black.
    The rendering of a Gretag Macbeth Color checker card became very much better.

    Best of all, apart from finding that the profiled Epson 1270 was excellent after all - so I did not need to buy a new printer, I no longer waste my time waiting for a disappointing print........because the system now works.

    There is quite a lot of hype about "what you see is what you get". I do not believe that this is possible when comparing a paper print (which only reflects light) with a Monitor (which emits light). However, even though I will not argue they are the same, the result is usually (in my opinion) an excellent match - so, by using Photoshop "soft proofing", I now get very close to what I expected - in my first print.

    I also use the same Gretag Macbeth unit to calibrate my monitors. Getting any measure of agreement between monitor and printer does require you to ensure both devices are profiled correctly, but the cost of acquiring a dedicated monitor profiling instrument is very much less than the cost of an EyeOnePro device.

    The Epson 1270 printer was eventually retired (not very gracefully ) when its PC interface card became unreliable (after more than 5 years service).

    A word of caution:

    It is worth noting that whatever system you choose to adjust your printer / monitor colour, the light you use to illuminate a print will affect the colours your eyes perceive. Domestic fluorescent tube sources will typically create unwanted (magenta or green) colour-casts in areas which appear as a neutral grey under daylight. Sometimes this effect is relatively subtle, other times it is more pronounced - depending on paper, inks (those actually used in that print) and lighting.

    I believe that this is an unavoidable consequence of the fact that we use three ink colours (plus black) only rather than making each colour pixel match over the whole light spectrum.

    Although Tungsten (normal domestic) lighting is not neutral (gives red / orange casts) the human eye/brain combination is so good at compensating (for variations in sunlight) that these colour shifts are much less noticeable than with domestic fluorescent lights.

    Paper "base white"

    Most inkjet papers are deliberately coated with an optical brightener. This makes us perceive a "nice bright white" which is actually very blue and usually a result of fluorescence, so will brighten more in daylight when there is a lot of Ultraviolet. Papers with optical brighteners often reflect less in the yellow part of the spectrum (which also enhances the perception of blue). Unfortunately, mounting a print under UV filtering acrylic will defeat the optical brighteners.

    Ths fact that we tolerate these distortions in the white point says much about the outstanding ability of our visual system to adapt.