Understanding Color; the key to fine art printing.
While I can teach most people the computer fundamentals of digital fine art printing in about 3 or 4 days the nuances of understanding color can take years to develop.
Photography captures the world in a RGB color Palette (Red, Green, Blue), but most digital print devices output in a CMYK color palette (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black.) This difference can cause some misunderstanding and confusion. I don’t have the space here to write a full dissertation about color theory, however, I can give you a few tips that hopefully will further your understanding of the relationship between the image captured by your camera and the image reproduced by your printer.
Look at the above illustration, this is what I call the Color Circle. This illustration should hang next to your printer. It is the key to understanding how to make proper color corrections on your test print images. Look at this illustration everytime before you make a color correction. If you would like a pdf file of this illustration just email me at the email address listed below and I will send you a free pdf file so you can print it.
Here are some common color printing mistakes: Blue–Cyan, these are two of most commonly mistaken colors. Most novice printers will look at an image that is too “warm” and add blue thinking that they need to “cool” the image down. Blue has red in it, if the image is too “warm” because it already has too much red in it this will only make it worse. If adding blue makes the “warm” image muddy looking try adding cyan instead.
Red -Magenta, and Green-Yellow, are frequently mistaken as well. A proper color correction to an image will result in the colors being distinct and vibrant. A misdiagnosed color correction frequently results in mudding colors or cross curves of color that show up in the shadows or highlights. Look at the neutral tones or whites in your image, they should be color neutral. A quick and easy way to tell if they are color neutral is to hold a blank piece of the printer paper next to the test print or screen image. Do the neutral tones or whites still look white, or do you perceive a color cast.
Get the colors right before you move on to the next step in your digital workflow. There is a reason why the Adobe Software Engineers put the color balance tools at the top in the Camera Raw workflow. If the image looks muddy, flat, or soft there is a good chance that the “color temperature” and “tint” are not set correctly and no amount of “clarity”, “vibrance”, or “saturation” will fix the problem.
Your computer monitor will never-ever– match your prints. Get over it and move on. Judge your prints on the basis of the print. Unless you hang your computer monitor on the wall next to your framed artwork the final viewer will only see and judge your work based upon the finished print.
Always judge your test prints under the same light conditions. The light conditions that you view your test prints under should be the same light conditions that you typically view your images in. Variances in light sources can dramatically alter the perceived color of a print. This effect is called mesmerism, a fancy term for chronic and frustrating problem for fine art color printers everywhere.
Always consider the first print to be a test print. While a test print can be smaller than the finished print to conserve paper and ink costs, the test print should be large enough to adequately see all aspects of the image. Most of my test prints are made on 8.5×11 inch paper.