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Custom Printer Profiles

You can go directly to our custom printer profile service instructions, or read the introductory notes below.

Contents:

 

An Introduction to Custom ICC Printer Profiles

Custom printer profiles are the real key - the secret sauce, if you like - to achieving accurate and beautiful prints with your printer. Use of custom ICC profiles is essential to getting the very best results out of your equipment, and are likely to be the best investment you ever make in your photographic career - no other single thing will so quickly improve the quality of your work (and save you wasted ink and paper) as an accurate printer profile.

A printer profile is a complete and highly precise description of you printer's behaviour with respect to colour on a certain media. This description is used by Photoshop (or any other profile aware application) to create the best possible translation between your image's colours and the colours your printer can achieve.

With an accurate printer profile, you can also open up the world of accurate soft-proofing. Soft-proofing is when Photoshop uses your profile to create an accurate on screen simulation of your final print. When done properly, and with an accurate profile, it is incredibly accurate and can mean you save lots of ink and paper (and therefore money!).

How the process works

Printer profiling is a simple process. It works like this:

  • A target file (containing colour patches) is printed on the printer in question
  • The printed colours are read in using a spectrophotometer
  • These colours are matched against the expected colours
  • An accurate map of the printer's behaviour with respect to colour is created
  • This profile is plugged into Photoshop (or your RIP if you are using one)
  • All files are translated into the printer's colour space by Photoshop/your RIP before printing
  • The result is highly accurate colour!

A profile describes a specific printer and a specific type of media

You need a profile for every [printer+paper] combination you use. Occasionally you can get away with one profile for an entire range of papers if the coating is shared across different paper types, but for very best resutls, a specific profiles is generally needed for each [printer+paper] combination.

Why not just use canned profiles, or profiles found on the internet?

There are two main reasons why canned profiles don't give you the best quality.

The first is that printers vary quite significantly from unit to unit - the printer heads are surprisingly variable in the way they deliver ink/toner, so even within the same model line there can be quite striking differences in the colours produced by individual printers. So a profile produced for one printer (or an average from several printers) will probably not be a perfect match for your printer.

The second reason is that canned profiles vary greatly in quality and are specifically designed to reduce customer complaint phone calls to paper company/inkjet printer company support lines. Giving prints of adequate 'safe' quality is their goal, which is quite different from the goal of trying to give you the best possible prints.

Canned profiles can be quite useful in initially evaluating a new type of paper, but they're not designed to give you the best possible results. If you really want the best results from YOUR printer, then a custom printer profile is the way to go.

What will a printer profile do for me?

The best way to describe this is to describe our own initial experience with ICC profiling - years ago now but the situation is much the same with current printers.

The Epson 2100, while a beautiful printer, is a tricky little beast to get good shadow detail out of. It has a nasty habit of 'blocking up the blacks'. One particular image, a low key protrait, has been almost impossible to print well - separation of the subject from the background was just non-existent. We tried all the normal tricks and made some 20+ test prints...not cheap on this ink guzzler of a printer.

After profiling, this image prints perfectly, with great shadow detail. Skin tones are accurate and pleasing, with no colour cast.

In general, test prints are a thing of the past. Photoshop now accurately informs us which colours in an image are in or out of the gamut of our printer. Tonal transitions from our printer are much smoother, and a whole new range of colours are available to us - tones that were simply not achievable with the Epson supplied profiles.

Accurate printer profiles (ideally combined with an accurate, hardware calibrated screen) allow you to accurately 'soft proof' images on your screen - before you print. That is, you can see how an image will be affected by the colour behaviour of your printer. If you are, for example, working on images that push the boundaries of saturation, you can try different rendering intents to see their effect on out of gamut tones. You can even edit your image with the proof colours turned on to create a version of your file that specifically targets the behaviour of specific printers - be it your labs or your own. This allows you to get the best possible reproduction of your original image on each printer you print it on.

What won't a printer profile do for me?

Printer profiles help you achieve the very best reproduction your output device allows . This is wonderful. What they won't do is make the whole system perfect - some images will still display beautifully on your monitor, but not print well. This is because your printer simply is not capable of expressing the same colour range as your monitor, and nothing is going to change this. Certain highly saturated colours are just not achievable using the current inks used in printers. The 'glow' of a backlit image will never be reproduced by a print. However, a good profile allows you to 'soft-proof' the image on your screen - i.e. your monitor will display its best attempt to show you what the actual print will look like.

The important thing to understand is that you will be getting the best output out of your device that is possible (and with modern inkjets that is about as good as any process on the planet), and in those cases where your printer simply can't reproduce the appropriate colour tone, you will be able to see this on an accurate soft-proof. This will allow you to save LOTS of money on test prints etc as your printer will be a reliable tool offering repeatable results. With a custom profile and a modern inkjet, the modern photographer can easily produce better and more subtle prints than professional labs, with much greater control over the whole process.

About the Image Science profile service

We use premium hardware and software from X-Rite, the world's best colour company, to produce your profiles, and we constantly refine our processes to produce the best possible profiles.

Our service is as good as, and usually significantly better, than other profiling services, and our pricing is far more reasonable as well (most other services are around $200 to $300 - ours is $60 or less!).  Most other profiling services use hand held readers which are FAR less accurate than our machine (ask them to measure your target twice in two directions and compare the measurement files - the measurement errors from the basic Eye One hand held systems most other services use are huge!). 

Profiles from our service have been used by literally the best photographers in the country and have results in Gold print awards, even AIPP Photographer of the Year awards.

The targets we use contain over 1000 patches to fully sample your printer's abilities with respect to colour. Most other services use single page targets with around 200 patches and thus sample far fewer points within your printer's gamut. This leads to profiles that are less smooth and less accurate.

Our profiles are emailed back to you, usually the same day your target files arrive at our office, so that you're up and printing as quickly as possible. Most other services take a minumum of several days.

Our profiles come with comprehensive full instructions for their proper use, and on-going support should you need it.

If you visit our testimonials page, you will see we have helped hundreds of people already with our profiles. Our profiles have been used by stacks of AIPP/VPPY award winners in making their prints (including Dean Cooper, the 2006 Landscape Photographer of the Year! - Well done Dean! And more recently by Mercury Megaloudis the 2008 AIPP Photographer of the Year - well done Merc!).

Great! How much does it cost then?

$60 For RGB Driven Printers (almost all home printers!):

(RGB printers include almost all home inkjet and dye-sub printers - even those with CMYK inks! The important thing is the driver accepts RGB data - so pretty much every desktop printer from Canon, Epson, HP, Lexmark etc falls into this category, as well as bigger printers like the 7800, 9800 etc).

 

A Note on Potenital Pitfalls

Profiling as a service consists of measuring data provided by the user (in the form of prints) and using software to build a gamut map of a device. It works or does not work based on the quality of the original data, over which we here at Image Science can have no real control. As you will see below, we provide very comprehensive instructions and encourage you to contact us at any time if you have any questions about the target print process. Once the target prints are delivered to us, we make the profile, and 99.9% of the time the process is complete and everything works as it should.

Occasionally, however, something will go wrong with the process. 99.9% of those times, a mistake was made when printing the targets. If this is the case, we ask you to supply a new set of targets and charge a $25 target re-read fee (since we have to repeat the whole profile making process at this end).

Get the process started

The next step is to visit our custom printer profile service instructions.

Ordering Custom ICC Printer Profiles

You can order your Custom ICC Printer Profiles here.