To Profile or Not To Profile; that is the question.
Most Photoshop guru’s will tell you that the only way to get good consistent print results is to profile your images in Photoshop and then choose “Photoshop Manages Color” in the printer dialog box. Ever ready to serve as the contrarian I say; “Bunk! And More Bunk!”
Many times profiling in Photoshop will work wonderfully, and while the results coming off your printer will never (EVER) look exactly like your computer’s monitor, they are reasonably close. Close enough that you are able to get a general idea of what the image will look like prior to printing it.
My color management workflow is as follows:
Shoot in Camera Raw format.
Convert in Adobe Camera Raw–use ProPhoto RGB Color Space
Open in Adobe Photoshop-Selectively edit in Photoshop to create look and feel of image.
Convert to Printer/Paper Profile prior to sending the image file to printer.
I have obtained my printer profiles from downloading them free from Epson, or the paper manufacturers of the paper/canvas types that I use. These free profiles can range in quality from excellent to poor.
“Well,” says the Photoshop guru “you need to purchase custom profiles that will solve your problem.”
Custom profiles are specific printer profiles that are written for specific printers and paper types. Custom profiles typically run about $100 per profile. I own and use three different Epson Printers; I select from approximately 8-10 different media types (I like to experiment so my paper stocks are in constant flux.) The only problem that custom profiling will solve is the bank account balance of the service bureaus providing me the custom profiles!
Here is what I have found after several years of working with printer profiles and dozens of different photographers who have taken print making or digital imaging workshops from me.
Generic profiles work pretty well when you are working with the latest generation of printers, and camera files. If your camera or the printer is older than about 3 years the profiles may or may not work well. If your paper profile is coming from a smaller paper company it may not work well. Most of Epson’s and Hahnemuhle’s profiles are pretty good-I have not had much luck with Moab’s profiles.
What to do when a paper profile does not result in a good looking image:
Don’t freak out it’s not the end of the world. Go back to the ProPhoto RGB color space image file. Convert to Adobe 1998 RGB Color space. Edit the image as you normally would in Photoshop. When you are ready to send it to the printer select “Printer Manages Color” in the printer dialog box. With Epson Printers you should select the “Color Controls” under “Media Settings/Mode.” This means that in essence you are allowing the printer to profile the image prior to output.
Is this a bad thing? Epson is a multi-billion dollar world-wide corporation. They employ over 72,000 people (by comparison Adobe employees a little over 7,000, and most paper manufacturers are considerably smaller yet) don’t you think that the Epson Corporation has the resources to hire people who can figure out how to make an image file look pretty good when it comes off of their printers? Try it you might be surprised. I suspect that the results are the same when working with HP or Canon printers.
Using this method will mean that you may have to print a test print and then adjust the color and or density/contrast before making the final image.
Something that I usually need to do even with the best of printer profiles.
In particular I have found that Moab Entrada paper profiles render an image that is contrasty and wholly un-appealing. However, when I send an Adobe 1998 RGB image to the printer (with some extra magenta added to the file) it comes out of the printer looking very nice. The colors are soft and pastel like, a very acceptable print.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. This is the only way that you will find a color management workflow that will work for you.