Say Goodbye to Dark Prints And Bad Color! How Monitor Calibration Improves the Quality of Your Prints

One of the most important steps in color management is choosing a good monitor that’s properly calibrated. A good monitor that you calibrate is just as important as the lens on your camera. Worried about the quality of your prints? Here is what you need to know.

What and Why Do I Need to Calibrate My Monitor?

If your prints are too dark, it is a sign that your monitor is too bright.  The point of calibration is to put your monitor in its known state, such as 5000k is 5000k, so regardless of where you are, the monitor will display the same color, brightness and contrast.  A monitor calibration solution is a system. It includes a colorimeter (the piece of hardware) and a software application.

For accurate color you’ll need to calibrate your display with a hardware calibration device such as X-Rite Color Munki Displayi1Display ProSpyder4PRO, just to name few. Once you’ve purchased a display calibration device, install the software then calibrate the monitor by following simple on-screen instructions.

There are professional photographers who leave nothing to chance. They are concerned about the quality of color and density in the final print. To control the print output aspects, they use soft proofing. If you want to soft proof before printing, ask your lab for a printer’s (ICC) profile. When you become a D&M Imaging client, we’ll send you our ICC profile for soft proofing purposes to which we’ll get to in a minute.

The Ideal Computer Setup & Daylight Bulbs

Below is an old picture of Martin Evening’s office. Evening says that even if your working area is too small, you can make it efficient. He painted his walls neutral gray that when measured with a spectrophotometer it almost matches a perfect neutral color. The gray walls absorb light and reduce the risk of color casts which affects what we see on our monitors.

Martin Evening's Office

His desk lighting comes from daylight balanced tubes, turned to a low light level in order to maximize the monitor viewing contrast. If you need a light source at your work station, use a light bulb that reproduces the full color spectrum of natural daylight. You can try SoLux 4700K bulb because matches the daylight spectrum. So before you start calibrating, ensure that you’re working in a low lit place, with consistent lighting conditions.

Know What Color Space You Are Working In

We recommend to our photographers that they work in the sRGB color space. This way your pictures will also display well online. For the sake of color consistency, a photographer should pick a color space and ensure that the same color space is used in Photoshop, Lightroom, or any other photo editing software.

To access Color Settings in Photoshop CC, go to Edit > Color Settings. In Lightroom 5, go to Edit > External Editing > Color Space. Lightroom and Camera Raw may be set to PhotoPro RGB. Make sure to switch from this color space to sRGB or Adobe RGB 1998.

Photoshop CC Color Settings

First Steps to Monitor Calibration

As mentioned above, purchase a monitor calibration device such as Spyder4Pro. Working in a dim place, with consistent lighting, helps. Install the software and initiate the calibration process upon placing the the calibration device over your monitor. The software will do most of the work for you. You may have to tweak a few things when prompted to do so.

After you calibrate the monitor, install a printer (ICC) profile to your computer, provided that you want to soft proof before printing. You can get this profile from your professional photography lab. But what is soft proofing, really?

What is Soft Proofing and How Do I Soft Proof Before Printing?

Soft proofing allows us to simulate how our pictures will look when printed. To have a general understanding of soft proofing, we need to be aware of the color gamut. Color gamut is a complete subset of colors within a given color space. You can also think of it as a complete set of colors within a single image.

When a single image with a large gamut goes to print, it will be converted into a smaller color gamut, since paper cannot reproduce every color we see on the screen. Converting your image profiles from ProPhoto to Adobe RGB 1998, or from Adobe RGB 1999 to sRGB may cause undesired color shifts which can be difficult to re-adjust.

The same applies when you send pictures to print. When you print your images, they are transferred from its native and wider color space to a printer’s narrower color space. This is when undesirable shifts in your images may occur. Calibrating your monitor and soft proofing can help you make necessary adjustments so that such shifts do not occur. I’ll point you to  the soft proofing tools in Photoshop, Lightroom 5, and Camera Raw 8.

How to Soft Proof in Photoshop CC

First, obtain a printer’s profile from your lab and then install it. To soft proof in Photoshop, go to View > Proof > Custom to open the Customize Proof Condition dialog box. Now let’s look at the options available in the Customize Proof Condition dialog box. Look at the graphic below. I’ll try to explain each in order.

This option allows you to make necessary adjustments and save them for future use. So next time you need to soft proof, all you have to do is select your preset from the Custom Proof Condition drop down menu.
You’ll find many profiles under the Device to Stimulate drop-down menu. If your printer profile has been installed, you’ll select it from this menu.
In most cases you don’t need to worry about checking this box. This option disables the color space conversion and shows you what the color values would look like in print without color management.
Rendering Intent shows how colors will render once they are converted to a printer’s color space. There are four rendering intents: Perceptual, Saturation, Relative Colorimetric, Absolute Colorimetric.

Monitor Calibration. Soft Proofing in Photoshop

The Four Rendering Intents & Black Point Compensation

Based on the gamut of a color space in a digital image, some color clipping may occur in the final print. Rendering Intent helps us see which colors may be clipped. We can use this information to make further adjustments to our pictures. There are four rendering intents: Perceptual, Saturation, Relative Colorimetric, Absolute Colorimetric. The Black Point Compensation maps the black point of an input profile to that of an output. You can check that box.

Perceptual Rendering Intent compresses the total gamut of your image into a printer’s color space when one or more colors in the original image is out of the gamut of the destination color space. Good for printing pictures with a lot of gradients, such as skies. This rendering intent delivers natural colors. (We recommend this one).
Saturation Rendering Intent is great for vector graphics and charts. It increases the color strength, but hue shifts can occur. Adobe suggests that we don’t use this rendering intent for photographs.
Relative Colorimetric Rendering Intent moves out of gamut colors to the closest in-gamut color while keeping in-gamut colors unchanged. While it can cause banding, it’s good for printing digital images. (Good for photographers).
Absolute Colorimetric Rendering Intent causes color casts and is not recommended for photographic output.

How to Soft Proof  in Camera Raw and Lightroom

We can finally soft proof in Lightroom 5 and even Camera Raw 8. I wonder what took Adobe so long to include these options for us. In Lightroom 5, go to the Develop module and select Soft Proofing from the tool bar, or toggle the S key keyboard shortcut. To change the Profile and Intent, use the panel on the right. When you enable Soft Proofing in Lightroom, the background will change to white. If you don’t like the white, right click on it, and change the color.

Softproofing in Lightroom 5

How to Soft Proof in Camera Raw 8

To soft proof in Camera Raw, open your Raw file and navigate to the Work Flow dialog box, from which you can change the color space, simulate paper & ink, and more. We’ve never been able to soft proof in Camera Raw. I’m glad Adobe added this option.

Soft Proofing in Camera Raw

I Calibrated and My Color Looks Awful!

Yes. The color may look bad and your monitor is dimmer. But this preview allows you to re-adjust your images so they print properly. When you’re done adjusting your images, save them and don’t forget to embed the ICC profile. However, do not to convert or embed your images with a printer’s profile.

Embed ICC Profile

Make Test Prints to See How You Did

When your monitor is calibrated make a few test prints to see how you did. If you’re printing with us, launch ROES, our photo ordering software, then click Products and select the catalog Calibration Test Prints from the drop-down menu on the left. Upload and send up to four test prints. We suggest that you send at least one black and white image, and at least one outdoor image.

When you receive your prints from us, compare them to the same pictures on your monitor. If your prints are too dark, and if the color is off, adjust your monitor manually to the point where it matches the prints. You’ll need to access your monitor’s manual adjustments such as: brightness, contrast, color balance, RGB.

Prints Not Matching the Monitor? Try This

If you’re having a difficult time calibrating your monitor, initiate the calibrating process again and try changing a color temperature to 5000K and set the Gamma to 2.2. If the print is too blue compared to the monitor, change  the target color temperature to a higher white point, say 5500 or 6000. You can also adjust the height or intensity of the viewing lighting source of the test print. As mentioned earlier, use a 4700K light bulb that matches the daylight spectrum.

The Benefits of Working With Dual Monitors

When your monitor is properly calibrated, you’ll notice that it’s significantly darker. Your online browsing experience will not be as pleasant. Everything will look dimmer and more saturated. Because of this, many photographers and designers work with dual monitors. One is a viewing monitor, and the other one is dedicated to printing.

Two or more monitors can be connected to a single tower or a laptop. I have two monitors connected to my Mac Pro. One is dedicated for printing and the other one for surfing the web and online work. I also keep Photoshop panels, such as Layers and the Tools menu, on one monitor, while the working space is on the other end.

What Is a Good Monitor?

You’re probably wondering if just any monitor will do. Imagine spending four grand on a camera only to attach a $100 lens to it. So what kind of a monitor is good?

Monitors with In-Plane Switching (IPS) are accurate and sharp, providing a wider color gamut. A professional monitor allows the user to manually adjust the brightness, contrast, Red-Green-Blue channels, and white balance. Knowing your professional monitor is just as important as knowing your professional camera. They work hand in hand.

Unfortunately, some photographers underestimate the power of a professional monitor which results in frustration with color inaccuracy and inconsistency as the proper monitor calibration cannot be achieved. To read more about professional monitors, visit our topic on monitors, titled, What’s a Good Monitor.

Have You Calibrated Your Monitor Yet?

Have you calibrated your monitor yet? What kind of a monitor do you have? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments area below. And don’t forget to ask questions. I’ll respond right away. See you next week. Cheers.

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