Printer calibration

We have all experienced it: a picture that looks fantastic on the screen, suddenly looks rubbish when it is printed. Colours are completely off, the whole thing looks dark and muddy or competely washed out. It is not only frustrationg but it costs, especially if you are using good quality inks and paper. Sometimes you can sort it out by tweaking the image until it looks lousy on screen but manages to make a halfway decent print. This can take a lot of time and wasted inks.

Luckily, you can get results that are much closer to what you see on screen by calibrating your printer. This isn't cheap, but if you add up all of the savings in time and ink and paper, then a printer calibration will soon pay for itself.

1. Screen Calibration
The first step is to make sure that what you see on your computer is a true rendition of the image. Basically you don't want to correct a magenta cast on your images, only to find the cast is on your screen - not your picture! Both the Mac OS and Windows have various wizards that will walk you through a manual calibration. On Mac OSX this is built in to the system software and accessible through the Displays Preference Panel. This takes you through a step by step process to make sure that your monitor is displaying 'true' colour. On a PC you might have to download a program such as Calibrize.

It is also possible to buy external calibrators, which fit over the screen and measure the exact colours and work out a profile to correct the colours so that the screen will display your images accurately.

Currently I use an external colour calibratorfrom a company called Xrite.

2. Printer Calibration
Colour calibration works by creating profiles. These are used by various applications - including Adobe Photoshop - to make corrections needed in the capture, display and output of your images. When you buy an inkjet print, you usually get a standard profile that you should select when printing. The problem is that these inks are very generic, and don't take into account any non-standard inks or paper that you might choose.

Calibrating your printer is fairly straightforward. It involves downloading a target image from the internet, and printing it out according to the instructions with the image. This is then posted off to the profiling company. They will analyse the results and email you a profile that you will use instead of the generic printer supplied by the printer manufacturer. A calibration will only be accurate for one printer/ink/paper combination, so it is worth spending sometime to make sure that you are happy with your inks and paper before going to the expense of making a profile.

One of the reasons that you might want to change the paper and ink combination from that recommended by the printer manufacturer is that you can choose archival papers and inks. This are ones that are designed with an extended life, so your prints are unlikely to fade or discolour with time. This is vital if you are planning on creating limited edition fine art prints.

Two companies that offer a good printer profiling service are:

Chromix, which is based in Seattle and currently charges $99 for a printer profile.

Neil Barstow, who is based in the UK charges 95 + VAT. Although this price is higher, Neil analyses two sets of the printed target chart in order to allow for any inconsistencies in the output.


When you have your calibration profile, then you can select it int he Photoshop printer dialog box, so that Photoshop will automatically correct your prints so that the output matches more to what you see on screen. In Photoshop you are also able to soft proof the printed result on screen.

Go to View >Proof Set up> Custom... and select the printer profile. When you then select View >Proof Colors the screen image will approximate the output, allowing you to make slight adjustments to get the best possible output.

Soft proofing is particularly useful when converting an RGB image to CMYK prior to printing in a book or magazine, as this can radically change the colour palette requiring a greater degree of adjustment.

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