Up until this week, I would have said that I have a pretty good, solid and most importantly consistent print work flow. I am able to print images and have the final print be representative of the on screen image. I take a consistent approach to colour management and am reasonably fastidious when it comes to calibrating my montitor. I had (have ) a pretty good grasp of the concepts of colour space and colour gamuts, and all in all I’ve been able to produce and print images that have been exhibited and published internationally. But this week, a simple yet highly saturated landscape image, rocked my colour management world
It turns out that my print work flow was in fact seriously flawed and only because the work I’ve been producing has never really stressed this flow, these flaws have never been evident. Unfortunately this week, whilst helping a photographer from my camera club to print her LIPF panel, it fell over in a pretty significant way. But let me start at the beginning…
Take the portrait of Holly above. This portrait is indicative of the work I shoot – shots primarily of people, so I’m very rarely dealing with highly saturated colours, or certainly not in any great amounts within a particular image. When I work in Photoshop, my default workspace is Adobe RGB and when I convert images from RAW, I assign them to the Adobe RGB colour space as well. I use Photoshop itself to print images, so use that to manage my colours during printing. I ensure the colour management is turned off in the print driver and I also choose the correct printer/paper profile, which in the majority of cases is the Pro38 PLPP profile, which the Epson Semi Luster profile for the Epson 3800 printer. Ensuring I have the quality in the print driver set to the highest quality setting possible as well as setting the paper size and type, I’m more or less ready to print.
And to date this approach has worked fine. Brightness, contrast and colour rendition have always been in line with what I expect and what I see on screen.So where’s the problem? Well the problem lies in the fact that the images I have been printing, whilst they are in the Adobe RGB colour space, have all fit very comfortably within the printable gamut of my output media.The dynamic range, contrast and colours were all possible to reproduce in print, so I never really had any out of gamut colours in my images, or certainly not to the degree that it altered the print in any significant way.
It was the highly saturated landscape above, from photographer Deirdre Docherty, that threw everything into turmoil Printing the image as per my normal flow, produced pretty horrendous results and worse still the print varied quite a bit from the on screen image. Something had gone wrong But where I investigated numerous different reasons that I believed could cause this and probably printed about 10 different test shots of the same image, varying different options and trying different print techniques. I would like to say I got to the bottom of the problem on the night, but unfortunately I didn’t The solution on the night was brute force hacking of the on screen image (no matter how bad it looked) to get a pleasing yet different print.
In the end, the problem was simple, but not something I considered The image simply contained colours beyond the gamut that was possible to print given my printer and paper choice. Had I clicked the “Gamut Warning” box on the print dialog form, it would have been immediately evident. However, since the majority of work I have shot in the past never contains “unprintable” colours this hasn’t been a problem. So, these out of gamut colours had to be mapped (rendered) to a printable colour and it was this rendering process that caused the difference between the print and the on screen image.
Knowing that there are out of gamut colours just before the print stage is useful, but it’s also quite late in the day to find this out. What is more important is knowing that the image you are editing, whilst you are editing it, is capable of being printed to which ever medium you choose. It is this part in the flow that was a revelation to me.
Under the “View” menu, it is possible to setup a proof preview, or effectively a print preview. By choosing the same printer/paper profile as I do on the print dialog box and the same rendering intent, it is possible to emulate the print output on screen. But better still, once the proof is setup, it is also possible to view out of gamut colours on screen as you edit.
Like the print preview showing out of gamut colours, the live preview during editing shows the same information (and just look how much of the image is out of gamut… no wonder the print varied so much from the screen image!!). There are numerous ways to fix the out of gamut problem and in this case, I desaturated the image (particularly the blues and the magentas) until all areas of grey are eliminated.
So some valuable lessons learned Certainly I will proof every image I work on from here on in, as well as ensuring to view out of gamut warnings during editing and prior to printing. It should certainly help cut down on the copious amout of wasted prints and wasted time printing them.
If all the above is just a touch too heavy to read, I’ve explained it on video below
And best of luck to Deirdre on her LIPF