Greetings, all! Here's the quick news wrap up, before I get into the topic of today's column—
• For those of you betting on what new camera I'm going to get, so far I haven't decided to get anything. On the other hand, I have fallen in love with the Tesla S (I got to drive a friend's).
• Tragedy has struck! My SuperFocus glasses have developed a leak! I am not at all sure Howard Davidson and I can repair the leak, in which case they are shortly going to become useless. The alternative, Adlens' Focuss, aren't in my area yet, plus they are the devil I don't know. I've been scouring the Internet for a pair of frames I could buy, but I haven't found any. If any of you folks with better search skills than I have can locate one, please email me directly at email@example.com.
• The early-October book tour for Saturn Run is being finalized as you read this. John Sandford (John Camp, here at TOP) and I will only be hitting a limited number of cities—Scottsdale, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Houston (John only). Sorry if that doesn't include your city, but that's where the publisher deems we will do the most good.
Oh yeah, and we just got a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Yay for us.
• I am well along on working with/testing the 27-inch Retina iMac and the Epson SureColor P800 printer. Proper reviews will be forthcoming over the next week, but for now I can tell you I'm mighty happy with both of them. It's these tests that lead me to this column's topic. So without further ado…
Custom color profiling has two main roles in ensuring you get as faithful and accurate color as you can. First is monitor profiling. You only need one monitor profile for each color temperature you work at. Much of the world goes with D65, which is the display manufacturer's default. I prefer D50 for all my personal work-- it's a better match to how prints look. Monitor profiles are something you make for yourself, with a gadget like ColorMunki (which I use) or Spyder.
The remarkable truth is that if it weren't that I wanted a monitor calibrated to D50, my retina iMac wouldn't need profiling at all. At the display default of D65 it's damn near perfect sRGB out of the box. I created a custom D65 calibration and the colors didn't shift one visible bit between the system defaults and my calibration. The grayscale got slightly more linearized in the shadows, which are a bit more open with my custom profile. It is not a large difference.Without switching back and forth, I'd never notice.
Most people are happy working at D65. If you are, and your retina iMac comes out of the box looking as neutral as mine did (there's some manufacturing variability, there) you're done. You don't need a custom calibration.
Of course, this is going to vary with make and model of computer or monitor, etc. But, it's noteworthy that there are any circumstances where I wouldn't see the need for monitor profiling. It indicates the direction things are moving.
Then there's printing. For printers, you have a custom profile for every paper you use, although you can often get away with one profile for each category of paper (matte, canvas, glossy, etc.). You can make them yourself with the right gear or send calibration prints to a service that'll make them for you.
I wrote two years ago about the problems I had printing this photograph...
...with a custom profile, and how much better it worked letting the printer manage the color, sans profiling. Getting this photograph right is a corner case, but it stands as an example where a custom profile couldn't do the job.
Dave Polaschek had been telling me that there are newer printers for which paper profiles are simply obsolete. He's convinced the most recent generations of printers can do a better job of rendering color all by themselves than handing the problem off to an external software profile. Some of you will recognize Dave's name from reader comments. Dave is way, way up the Photoshop engineering food chain. He's the guy who is responsible for the printing engine within Photoshop. It's just possible he knows something about printing.
We really are talking about “printer-managed color,” as Photoshop refers to it. Profiling is turned off entirely. No custom profiles, not even the canned profiles that get installed with your printer software. You're letting the printer engine do it all. It works fabulously well. Dave's right about this.
There are many caveats. This is going to depend upon your model of printer, the image handling software you're using, and your operating system. I'm using Photoshop, under Mac OS X, with Epson 3880 (a 6-year old design, it's worth noting) and P800 printers. I make no claims for any other setups, especially older printers. If you want to know if printer-managed color will work better on your system, you'll have to run some test comparison prints yourself. Here are some test files I use for ferreting out weaknesses in printer renderings. They're not a substitute for printing a suite of your more difficult real photographs, but they're a helpful addition:
I did extensive tests of my best custom-made paper profiles (which may not be the best in the entire world, but they are pretty damn good) against printer-managed color. The printer won. There was never a photograph where my custom profiles for either printer produced a better print than the printer could do by itself. Sometimes my custom profiles did just as well. Sometimes they did worse.
The conclusion? For me, custom printer profiles are a thing of the past. I'll keep using the ones I generated for my Epson 3880 for existing prints, simply to ensure the prints look exactly the same as what I've already decided I like. For new work? It's all going to be printer-managed color.
For those of you running a setup like mine, here's the settings you need to know about. When you pull up the printer control panel, choose "Printer Manages Colors" under "Color Handling." Then click "Print Settings…". Select the Color Matching submenu and click "Epson Color Controls." Click the Printer Settings submenu and under Color Mode choose "Color Controls > Adobe RGB."
(Note for Windows users: currently you don't have an Adobe RGB option; you'll have to make do with sRGB. You may find it's good enough; I don't have a standalone Windows environment I can test this under. You're on your own.)
Click "Save" and "Print," and wait for your results. If you do this test, please report back here and let us know what you find. It would be nice to have an assemblage of information on which printers work better with printer-managed color and which don't.
Follow-up: All right, there was a big flaw in my methodology. My test files were created in Adobe RGB color space. Now, there's nothing wrong with working in Adobe RGB space, but digital cameras can produce colors that fall outside that space (which is why you want to do your RAW conversions into ProPhoto RGB), and good printers can render colors outside of Adobe RGB space. You can argue about how significant that is in practice. Mathematically, the printer gamut looks much larger than Adobe RGB; perceptually, I would describe it as being only a little larger. The impact on the vast majority of photographs is subtle, in my judgment. But it's not nonexistent.
I don't see anything wrong with working in Adobe RGB space (although I don't normally, myself, not when working with original digital photographs). It's not quite as good as ProPhoto RGB, but most of the time you'll be hard-pressed to see any difference. Had I limited myself to discussing working in Adobe RGB, I'd stand by my assertions. There, I really haven't seen any evidence for the superiority of custom printer profiles, to date.
But I didn't. I made a blanket assertion, and it was wrong.
Ctein, Technical Editor
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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