The Importance of Soft-Proofing

I’ve had the Epson 3800 for about 6 weeks now, and I’ve already made a few nice prints. I still have a lot to learn about the art of editing and printing, but at least I’ve got the technical difficulties out of the way. I

  • Calibrate and profile my monitor about once a month. See here for the troubles I went through, calibrating and profiling my monitor.
  • Edit my images in a wide-gamut color space (Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB). See here for all the troubles I went through, switching between color spaces.
  • Make sure that the paper that I use is compatible with pigment inks. The very first paper that I bought was Ilford Galerie Classic Pearl. I loved the look and feel of that paper, but when I went to Ilford’s site to download a profile, I realized that the classic papers are not compatible with pigment inks. I exchanged the paper with Ilford Galerie Smooth Pearl, which is dye- and pigment-compatible and has the same look and feel, but is about 15% more expensive. 😦
  • Download and install a profile for every combination of printer and paper that I use. This was easy, but I had to create an account on Ilford’s site. Why on earth? Why not let me download the profile directly?
  • Soft-proof each image before printing. I set the appropriate profile and try out different rendering intents. I usually have to boost contrast and saturation slightly so that the soft-proofed image looks closer to the non-soft-proofed one.
  • When printing I let Photoshop do the color management and I choose the exact same settings like when soft-proofing.
  • Choose no color management in the printer driver, then set the correct media type and paper size. Default (at least with the German driver) are “Epson color enhance” and A4 paper size. “No color management” is buried quite deeply, so you really have to look for it. And if that’s not bad enough, you I have to change the settings every time I print! Now I’ve created several presets in the driver, and I switch between them with a single click.
  • Hit “Print” and wait for the print to come out of the printer. I used to use 2800 lpi and printing took quite a long time. I then read here that there is no visible difference between 1440 lpi and 2800 lpi, made my own test and my prints come out in half the time now. Apparently 1440 lpi has the additional advantage of using 10% less ink, which is very nice indeed!

But today I wanted to talk about soft-proofing. For my first prints I skipped this step and got some unpleasant surprises. I then watched “From Camera to Print” again and read two very good articles by Bruce Fraser (1, 2). These are on Photoshop 6.0, but they are still relevant!

A few days ago I took this nice shot in the hallway in my office, and over the weekend I decided to make a print of it.

Orange Abstract

Armed with my new knowledge, I activated the soft-proof function.

Orange Abstract (with soft proofing turned on)

Incredible! I’d tried soft-proofing before, but this was really extreme! Both relative and perceptual rendering led to these large hue and saturation shifts, and I wasn’t having much luck correcting them via curves or hue/saturation. After trying for about 15 min, I tried saturation rendering and it was almost perfect. Two minutes later I had a print that matched the image on screen very well. Imagine my utter disappointment had I printed without soft-proofing!

Note that I’m not saying that you should always use the saturation rendering intent, but rather that you should always soft-proof and look for the best intent for your particular image. Also note that Lightroom does not support soft-proofing.