Color Profile Primer
We get asked about color profiles and
their use on a regular basis. This installment of Inkjet Tips offers
a quick definition of color profiles, why they are
important, and how to use them effectively. Think
of this article as a beginner's guide to the basics of
printer color management.
First Question - Do I Have to Use a Profile to Get Good Results?
The short answer is no. Many inkjet printers, especially those made after 2012, use drivers with excellent color reproduction capability. In many cases, you can choose the right media setting, allow the printer to manage color output, and the results will be pleasing.
Taking a broader view, profiles exist so you can acheive a higher level of consistency and accuracy because they are specific to your printer, paper and ink combination. Many images print fine under printer color management. Others though will not print well without a profile. If you always use profiles you will not have to find out the hard way which images need to be reprinted.
What is a Profile? Why Do They Matter?
Color profiles are often
thought of as too complex and that they require too many changes to settings in order to work properly.
is that color profiles are relatively simple to understand and
are very helpful in achieving consistent output quality. After
you understand the basics, you can move on to more advanced levels
of color management. The web offers many sources
of information on color management
and digital workflow to help you understand the details of creating
a true color managed workflow. Links to helpful resources
are at the end of this article.
|Simply put, an ICC printer output
profile is a piece of software code that defines the color
a certain inkjet
printer, inkjet paper, and ink set. The idea is to standardize
the color space so you know what to expect from your output.
When everything is working right (in a color managed workflow),
||Color Profile n:
software code that defines the color space of an input or output
device and that allows different devices to reference the same
standard color space as defined by the International Color
It is helpful to visualize where profiles
are used in a workflow. Profile usage flows down from capture
(camera or scanner) to output.
Cameras and scanners both use profiles to interpret and pass along image data to your image editing software. In your editing software, such as Photoshop or Lightroom, a color profile will be utilized. In this case it is called a "working space". The most prevalent working spaces / editing profiles are Adobe RGB (1998) and sRGB. The working space you choose has a lot to do with your output method. sRGB is favored for screen display and lab printing while Adobe RGB is best for inkjet output. Finally,
when printing an image, a printer profile will be used. A printer color profile is specific to a printer, paper, and ink. You can obtain printer profiles from reputable paper manufacturers, make them yourself using specialized hardware and software like the Spyder system from Datacolor, or outsource the work to a third party such as Chromix.
An example of this process is a Nikon D500 camera capturing
in Adobe RGB (1998), editing the image in Photoshop with working
space set to Adobe RGB (1998), and printing to an Epson P800
using Red River Paper's UltraPro Satin profile made specifically for
Using Printer Profiles
Using a profile starts
with installing it on your computer. However, to say
that a profile
is “installed” is not
entirely accurate. Installation implies a program that sets itself
up to run on your hard drive. A profile is actually a small data file
that needs to be placed in a particular system folder. An ICC aware application like Photoshop, Lightroom, or
Q-Image will look into that folder and generate a list of all available profiles for your use.
The next step is to choose the profile during the print process. With most programs it will be selected from the print dialog. By doing this, you are allowing the program (Photoshop, etc.) to manage color output. In the printer's preferences or driver dialog, you choose the corresponding media type and disable the printer's color management system. The key point here is that your program, and not the printer, manages how your print will look via the profile's data.
When you think about it, the difference between not using a profile and using one is roughly three extra clicks of the mouse. Not a bad deal given the benefits.
Resources to Get Your Started