About 11 weeks ago I wrote about the insanity-inducing problems I was having getting proper prints under MacOS X 10.6.2: "The Printer/Photoshop/Snow Leopard Hell." The OS update to 10.6.3 didn't change anything nor have I heard that the soon-to-be-released 10.6.4 will. It's still hell out there.
I learned how to live in hell. At this point I have all my printers working properly, with good profiles that behave correctly under Snow Leopard, and I've convinced myself that the prints I'm getting are nearly identical to what my MacBook Pro running OS 10.4.11 produced. It took several steps:
1) Making sure I had the absolutely most current drivers for all my printers.
2) Culling my existing profiles. ColorSync Utility identified which of my ICC profiles were v4.x, and those were banished, as Snow Leopard still will not play nicely with them. That wiped out most of my custom profiles. Happily, Bill Atkinson's profiles for my Epson 9800 were ICC v.2.x. That allowed me to compare prints made with Photoshop CS4 from both my laptop, under MacOS X 10.4.11, and our iMac running 10.6.3. They were very close to indistinguishable. Really, I expected bigger differences from changes in the print engine between the OS versions.
3) Generating new profiles for my Epson R2400 and R800. This is where things started to get "amusing." I set ColorMunki to produce version 2 printer profiles. The prints came out way too dark; my profile was clearly no good. I had something set wrong in the twisty little maze of printer controls that all looked the same. Huzzah, the X-Rite website had several helpful pages:
I needed to give control of color matching to "Epson Color Controls" rather than "ColorSync." I should have caught this; the first test chart just looked wrong. My profiling test chart should have had dark and saturated color patches (figure 1). When the software is massaging the data behind your back, you'll get a result that looks more like figure 2. Many patches are lighter and pastel. You need to find printer driver settings that get you a print that looks more like figure 1...usually. I'll get back to that.
Figure 1. A properly made profiling test chart is going to look something like this. Note that most of the color patches, especially the ones corresponding to primaries, are dark, saturated, and rich. It's the kind of output your printer will produce when it's just dumping ink on the paper, with no adjustments to get the most accurate color.
Figure 2. If a printer profile is sticking its nose into your profiling process, you get a print that looks more like this. Most of the colors have gotten lighter and many are pastel. If you see something like this you need to backtrack and figure out how to turn off color management, because a target like this is not going to produce a good profile...usually.
Well, once I got the driver settings right, everything went swimmingly. ColorMunki gave me a great looking profile. I don't think it's quite as good as the V.4 profile I generated under 10.4.11; the transitions between primaries are little harsher in my new V.2 profile (figure 3). But it is so very close that I doubt it will make a perceivable difference in any of my prints.
Figure 3. On the left is a print made using my ICC version 4 custom profile printed under MacOS X 10.4.11. On the right, the same test image printed using an ICC version 2 custom profile under Snow Leopard v 10.6.3. They are very close to identical, although I think the latter isn't quite as smooth in color gradations.
So much for the R2400 printer; on to the R800. Here's where things got weird. The very latest Epson driver software didn't present me with the same interface as the driver I had running under 10.4.11. When I tried the X-Rite recommendations, I didn't get a clean, un-massaged test chart; it looked a lot like figure 2. No combination of settings did any better. After wasting far too much paper, I decided what the hell, let's see what happens if I just go with this and generate a profile. I mean, if there's really, truly no way to turn off the driver's color massaging, it's a constant that the profile should be able to take into account, right?
A naïvely hopeful assumption, but in this case it worked! I wound up with a profile that looked just about as good as the ones I'd been running under 10.4.11. Equally significantly, the test prints I made with both the R2400 and R800 looked remarkably similar, which is no small achievement given the very large differences in the ink sets of the two printers.
I still don't understand why I couldn't entirely turn off color management, but the pragmatist in me doesn't really care. It worked.
So I'm good. Well, until Apple decides to finally fix the ICC bug and I decide I need to redo my profiles...or Epson updates their drivers and printer interfaces...or I get a new printer. But at least now I feel that whatever happens I'll be able to cope with it.
So, taking a deep breath and setting aside a good chunk of spare time, I just finished upgrading my MacBook Pro from MacOS X 10.4.11 to 10.6.3. An entirely straightforward 45 minute process, that ended up taking me 14 hours. Sigh, it's still business as usual when upgrading core software, and that business is most assuredly a sadistic one.
Ctein's regular column appears weekly on Thursday mornings.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.