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Author Topic: odd print lab proofing advice  (Read 10096 times)
ejnewman
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« on: January 06, 2010, 03:34:07 PM »
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I have recently been discussing how to proof my work for the print lab I use with their technician (who I think owns the lab). It seems like a well reputable print lab, they seem to have professional photographers amongst their clientele...

The way I would like to work is as follows:
ProPhoto colour space, 16bpc and soft proof using the print labs supplied ICC printer profiles, however their advice seems strange, here is a sample from their email back regarding workflow for achieving a colour managed print:

"In my opinion, having tried soft proofing with our Lightjet & Noritsu printers, it just doesn't reflect what the finished print looks like. In every case, when I have carried out a series of test prints for customers they have all come back and said that the print that matched their monitor best was when they worked in sRGB, got the file looking correct in that colourspace and then as the last step "convert" to our relevant printer profile without making any further adjustments. Converting to the profile simply adjusts the colour numbers in the file to compensate for the output of the printer - but it doesn't mean that the final image looks correct on the screen. Some colours hardly change but others change dramatically and don't look right - but they will when the print is produced. I hope that makes sense, I know it doesn't tie in with what a lot of colour management advice preaches but this is the best method in reality when using our printers. I would be quite happy to do a few tests for you."

This doesn't seem right to me, what do others here think?

Elliot.
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2010, 04:28:31 PM »
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Lots of variables here.

Three things immediately come to mind: (1) If the colour gamut of the printers and papers they use exceeds sRGB, preparing files to fit an sRGB colour space will deprive the final image of hues which could have been reproduced, so this advice does indeed seem strange under that assumption. (2) Are the displays their customers use properly profiled and calibrated? If not, the softproofing won't be reliable no matter what procedures and settings are adopted. Maybe his experience indicates that many of his clientele are not  colour-management savvy enough to cope with the requirements of a properly colour-managed workflow, so he has developed simplified instructions to compensate for that? (3) One would not normally convert an image to a printer profile. One may convert between colour working spaces (sRGB, ARGB, ProPhoto etc.) for various reasons, but the usual procedure would be to softproof an image for the printing condition, but leave the colour space in say ARGB or ProPhoto, depending.

If you have a properly calibrated and profiled display, the way you describe you would like to work makes sense. So why not prepare several files doing it your way first as a test, and see what comes back?

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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2010, 04:55:05 PM »
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Quote from: Mark D Segal
... Three things immediately come to mind: (1) If the colour gamut of the printers and papers they use exceeds sRGB...
How about the forth: the colour gamut of the printers and papers they use does not exceed sRGB?
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« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2010, 04:56:39 PM »
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Perhaps, and that's why I started item (1) with the word "IF".

Mark
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« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2010, 10:21:57 PM »
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Let me take the liberty of trying to translate what this lab owner is ACTUALLY telling you...

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"In my opinion, having tried soft proofing with our Lightjet & Noritsu printers, it just doesn't reflect what the finished print looks like."

"I have tried softproofing but don't have a friggin' CLUE how to do it correctly, so we really, REALLY hope you don't want to go down that road..."

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In every case, when I have carried out a series of test prints for customers they have all come back and said that the print that matched their monitor best was when they worked in sRGB, got the file looking correct in that colourspace and then as the last step "convert" to our relevant printer profile without making any further adjustments.

"Photographers are idiots and don't have a clue how to profile a monitor so if they are using big color spaces (like Adobe RGB or heaven forbid ProPhoto RGB) our prints will end up looking like crap...and we HATE making "do over" prints...

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Converting to the profile simply adjusts the colour numbers in the file to compensate for the output of the printer - but it doesn't mean that the final image looks correct on the screen. Some colours hardly change but others change dramatically and don't look right - but they will when the print is produced.

"We do have ICC profiles for our printers...we have no idea how they were made and it seems our interchange color to screen display side of the profiles suck...so while you can get pretty "close" you really can't trust the profile (did I mention the profiles prolly suck?)"

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I hope that makes sense, I know it doesn't tie in with what a lot of colour management advice preaches but this is the best method in reality when using our printers. I would be quite happy to do a few tests for you."

"I hope I've scared you off of actually trying to do soft proofing and working in large color spaces because if you do try to go down that road, you're gonna be a pain in the ass customer that will adversely effect our success rate for first print acceptance...really, just do EVERYTHING in sRGB cause that's all your camera captures and our printers can print..."


I think I'm pretty close in the translation...

:~)
« Last Edit: January 06, 2010, 10:22:30 PM by Schewe » Logged
Wayne Fox
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« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2010, 12:51:14 AM »
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Quote from: ejnewman
I have recently been discussing how to proof my work for the print lab I use with their technician (who I think owns the lab). It seems like a well reputable print lab, they seem to have professional photographers amongst their clientele...

The way I would like to work is as follows:
ProPhoto colour space, 16bpc and soft proof using the print labs supplied ICC printer profiles, however their advice seems strange, here is a sample from their email back regarding workflow for achieving a colour managed print:

"In my opinion, having tried soft proofing with our Lightjet & Noritsu printers, it just doesn't reflect what the finished print looks like. In every case, when I have carried out a series of test prints for customers they have all come back and said that the print that matched their monitor best was when they worked in sRGB, got the file looking correct in that colourspace and then as the last step "convert" to our relevant printer profile without making any further adjustments. Converting to the profile simply adjusts the colour numbers in the file to compensate for the output of the printer - but it doesn't mean that the final image looks correct on the screen. Some colours hardly change but others change dramatically and don't look right - but they will when the print is produced. I hope that makes sense, I know it doesn't tie in with what a lot of colour management advice preaches but this is the best method in reality when using our printers. I would be quite happy to do a few tests for you."

This doesn't seem right to me, what do others here think?

Elliot.
Unfortunately, as discussed in a thread recently, printers such as theses  have not been designed to effectively utilize color management tools.  The basic theory and design dates back to the late 90's before color management tools were widely adopted.  This original design hasn't changed significantly ... all improvements have focused on throughput and automation.

The target market for these machines were minilabs printing consumer snapshots. Film was the primary capture method. The entire system was "closed loop" in that it went from film processing to scanning to printing.  It wasn't until about 2000 that Noritsu even provided a model that didn't require the scanner front end and could output files from a hot folder.  I was quite involved in that process (well, my company at the time).  Currently many of the major labs using these printers are driven by a Kodak software product called DP2, which was designed in the 90's to replicate the model of traditional color labs.  This includes things like color correction stations with controls that operate nearly identical to video analyzers these labs used in the days before digital.  I'm not sure DP2 has any real management tools, but by now perhaps they do (i've been out of touch with that product for a few years).

The advice given is actually pretty close to the "hack" required to get any type of color management.  This is a challenge for those of us who really use color management in our workflows with inkjet printers ... this hardware in it's current form really can't operate the same way.  In my previous Company we operated 185 Noritsu printers, as well as a Durst and a Chromira.  I tried several times to figure out a way to employ better color management, but the only thing that really worked was to lock things down and correct the files at capture.  It worked pretty good for individual locations  since everything was a closed loop system, but was challenging for our central plant because the color variation was pretty dramatic.

The manufacturers don't seem to get it.  I spent two days with Noritsu engineers in Japan a couple of years ago discussing things that would improve their printers, and we spent quite a bit of time discussing this, but they just didn't think there was a need so it was pretty low priority.  Currently there are some third parties trying to provide solutions, which I think mostly consists of allowing submission ppRGB or aRGB files instead of sRGB and then automating the conversion process to RGB.

If you have a well calibrated device, and convert your files to sRGB before printing the results should be pretty good - this is the color space they were designed around.  I haven't found soft proofing to be very effective, but I suck at soft proofing anyway.  In addition, what you should find is if the prints are off, they will most likely be off in a pretty consistent manner, so you may be able to automate the process of applying corrections before converting to sRGB.
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Ryan Grayley
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« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2010, 05:09:49 AM »
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Quote from: Wayne Fox
Unfortunately, as discussed in a thread recently, printers such as theses  have not been designed to effectively utilize color management tools.  The basic theory and design dates back to the late 90's before color management tools were widely adopted.  This original design hasn't changed significantly ... all improvements have focused on throughput and automation.

Thanks for an interesting insight Wayne. FWIW about 6 years ago I remember the immense difficulties a UK company had with colour management using their Durst Sigma and Lambda. I just took a look at the current Lambda product info and CMS is an optional extra!
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Ryan Grayley BA IEng MIET ARPS
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ejnewman
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« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2010, 09:30:29 AM »
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Thanks for all the replies.

I have had issues with this print lab before, prints coming back looking too dark etc. everything is calibrated my end, and fair enough since I didn't soft proof for these prints, but now I do want to soft proof and the lab tells me it will be even further off the mark, and I should stick with the ball park method!

Does anybody here use a uk based print lab that offers full soft proof colour management through profiled printers and papers? or is this just a theoretical myth? I want to be able to see what I'm gonna get, whether I use canvas, gloss, matt, lightjet, inkjet, dot matrix...
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digitaldog
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« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2010, 09:36:38 AM »
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Quote from: Slobodan Blagojevic
How about the forth: the colour gamut of the printers and papers they use does not exceed sRGB?

It should in some areas and more importantly, the sRGB reference media is an emissive display. That's simply not the case with output profiles (print profiles) being discussed here. There's no such thing as an sRGB printer (the only output device being an emissive display).

Most of what this lab owner states about sRGB seems nonsensical to me in terms of soft proofing and sRGB (which while soft proofing has left the building). As others have said, it seems like the typical "party line" from labs that want you to think they are professional and up to date in color management when in fact, their main goal is to crank out as many prints as humanly possible, using a workflow that is totally weighted for their needs and not their clients.

If a user can produce good print to screen matching using sound color management practices with a $399 Epson printer, I'd sure hope someone who invested the kind of money in a Lambda or Lightjet could as well.
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Andrew Rodney
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« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2010, 09:41:33 AM »
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Quote from: Wayne Fox
In addition, what you should find is if the prints are off, they will most likely be off in a pretty consistent manner, so you may be able to automate the process of applying corrections before converting to sRGB.

If indeed the device (or the multiple devices which is usually the norm) all consistently produce the same output day in and day out. I have to wonder what the plots of measured consistency over say a month would look like, using a tool like Chromax's Maxwell (see http://www2.chromix.com/maxwell/index3.cxsa).
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Andrew Rodney
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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2010, 10:03:08 AM »
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Quote from: ejnewman
Does anybody here use a uk based print lab that offers full soft proof colour management through profiled printers and papers? or is this just a theoretical myth? I want to be able to see what I'm gonna get, whether I use canvas, gloss, matt, lightjet, inkjet, dot matrix...

<plug>For fully colour managed 7900/Z3200 inkjet in the UK you could always contact me at Ionaca.com :-) </plug>
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Ryan Grayley BA IEng MIET ARPS
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« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2010, 03:16:24 PM »
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Quote from: digitaldog
If a user can produce good print to screen matching using sound color management practices with a $399 Epson printer, I'd sure hope someone who invested the kind of money in a Lambda or Lightjet could as well.
Sounds logical, but it all assumes a design similar to an inkjet printer, wherein the user has control of the data going to the printer via the manufacturers driver.

Almost all of these legacy machines don't operate that way.  You can't even effectively print a target out, because the firmware is going to step into the middle and manipulate the data.  The design of these machines is assuming an sRGB file is coming in, so they are hard coded to calibrate to a norm that fits the sRGB input.  Agreed it seems stupid, but when they were designed in the mid 90's color management wasn't even on their radar .  

As I said, the technology of these machines was engineered and developed to work in a non-digital world trying to effectively simulate a traditional silver halide workflow , with assumptions based on a closed loops system, the goal was to crank out consumer snapshots.  They have been adapted into professional applications, but the limitations of the design is something that makes it incredibly challenging to implement a color managed workflow similar to what can be had with current inkjet processes.  Digital printing via scanning became very commonplace in the mid to late 90's, even in some professional applications, but it was still a silver halide workflow which at that time was assumed would be the primary capture method for at least a couple of more decades.  Even the early versions of Kodaks DP2 software called Composite Machine employed color correction models that followed traditional methods, including methods to duplicate traditional CC filter corrections through the software.  

It's tough for me to place much blame on current  lab owners ... they just don't have   any tools.  I think there is growing pressure on labs to solve this problem, so some 3rd party options are out there,  but for now most solutions are just tools that automate a work around, not actually solve the problem.  I don't know if the manufacturers are working at all to solve the underlying problem ... for example the Durst optional CMS may be very good , or it might be a work around much like the 3rd party tools.

I'll admit we haven't purchased a new Noritsu for some time, but I haven't heard of any new developments coming from them.  They are struggling now that most things have gone digital so far fewer places are converting, so the demand for new machines has dropped considerably.  These machines can run for several years without any problem and they don't offer any real new technology to drive a need for replacement.  I visited their headquarters in Japan 2.5 years ago, and completely stunned by their size and magnitude.  A 12 story tower that included 3 floors of luxury hotel suites, helicopter pad, and numerous large manufacturing buildings.  Even then you could see they were struggling ..they had shut down the hotel floors completely, there was no longer a helicopter for the helicopter pad, and R&D was being spent to find other products outside the photo industry to manufacture, and they were aggressively trying to develop inkjet solutions.  

If you want a fully color managed workflow I don't think any silver halide process will provide that. You can "hack" around it and get pretty good results, most likely at the lowest price point possible, or you can move to inkjet output on high end Epson/Canon/HP printers either through a lab that offers that service or do it yourself.  Unfortunately for inkjet, it can't even come close to competing with the material costs and speed of these silver halide printers, meaning most large full service labs will not be full inkjet output ... just can't handle the volume, and they can't offer competitive pricing.
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« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2010, 03:22:37 PM »
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Quote from: Wayne Fox
Sounds logical, but it all assumes a design similar to an inkjet printer, wherein the user has control of the data going to the printer via the manufacturers driver.

We're talking consistency and screen to print matching. Doesn't mater if you're sending RGB to an Inkjet, Lightjet or Indigo.

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Almost all of these legacy machines don't operate that way.  You can't even effectively print a target out, because the firmware is going to step into the middle and manipulate the data.

So do all the RIPs that take RGB data and convert it to CMYK on the way to a digital press. Totally immaterial! We're taking about sending know data to a device and reading what it spits out, looking at if it changes over time etc.

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The design of these machines is assuming an sRGB file is coming in, so they are hard coded to calibrate to a norm that fits the sRGB input.

Well maybe for some devices but again, doesn't matter. And again, its not outputting sRGB or anything like it.

Quote
It's tough for me to place much blame on current  lab owners ... they just don't have   any tools.

Sure they do. And they don't have to treat their customers like their idea of proper color management and workflow just can't be done and come up with the nonsense we hear (here's a profile, soft proof but send us sRGB). That's just drop dead stupid. Either tell the customer "we don't do color management, you can't soft proof or convert, you have to send us sRGB and if you're lucky, the print will match what the RGB numbers you were looking at match". Anything else is an excuse and a big fat lie.

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Andrew Rodney
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« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2010, 03:51:43 PM »
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Quote from: Wayne Fox
If you want a fully color managed workflow I don't think any silver halide process will provide that. You can "hack" around it and get pretty good results, most likely at the lowest price point possible, or you can move to inkjet output on high end Epson/Canon/HP printers either through a lab that offers that service or do it yourself.

Wayne, you say that but that kinda flies in the face of what Dry Creek Photo was able to do for Costco stores around the country...see Dry Creek Photo's Introduction to Digital Photo Lab Profiles.

I know you've run these type of printers and yes it may be a problem to set up a Noritsu or Fuji Frontier so that it DOESN'T force color transforms on the front end when cueing up images...but it can be done, heck, Costco has proven that the typical line from "Pro Photo Labs" that the printers print in sRGB and you don't want to use ICC profiles and can't soft proof is simply not accurate...

True, it may be a bit more work, slightly reduce productivity and require a level of employee training that pro labs are unwilling to do. But that's an entirely different issue than color management not working for those machines.

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« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2010, 05:31:21 PM »
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I claim no expertise in color management, and have no intention to argue anything with anyone in that regard, just to ask  a question that hopefully contributes to the discussion. I hope those more knowledgeable of the subject can tell me what I am seeing here:

[attachment=19264:Noritsu_sRGB.png]

I used Apple's ColorSync Utility to compare two profiles: Costco - Noritsu 3102-B (color) and sRGB (shaded). It appears to me that Noritsu profile is very slightly bigger in very few areas, and quite smaller in much bigger areas than sRGB.

The next comparison is between the same Noritsu (color) and a lowly Canon all-in-one MX850 printer's canned profile (shaded). Again, what I see is the much larger space of the lowly ink-jet:

[attachment=19266:Noritsu_MX850.png]

So... if based on the above (and my ignorance) I conclude that it does not make much sense to send anything bigger than sRGB to the lab (as the lab owner already said to the OP), where is my logic wrong?
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« Reply #15 on: January 07, 2010, 06:07:31 PM »
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Wayne, you say that but that kinda flies in the face of what Dry Creek Photo was able to do for Costco stores around the country...see Dry Creek Photo's Introduction to Digital Photo Lab Profiles.

I know you've run these type of printers and yes it may be a problem to set up a Noritsu or Fuji Frontier so that it DOESN'T force color transforms on the front end when cueing up images...but it can be done, heck, Costco has proven that the typical line from "Pro Photo Labs" that the printers print in sRGB and you don't want to use ICC profiles and can't soft proof is simply not accurate...

True, it may be a bit more work, slightly reduce productivity and require a level of employee training that pro labs are unwilling to do. But that's an entirely different issue than color management not working for those machines.
Actually Dry Creek was the main 3rd party I was referring to. They seem to have  the best handle on implementing a workflow, although personally knowing the hardware I'm unclear how they can get around the limitations of the firmware other than providing a somewhat functional work around.  I admit freely that you and Andrew are far more knowledgeable in the area of color management but the hardware is extremely frustrating to work with because of the basic design premise of the firmware ... simulating a silver halide workflow..  Where I've run into problems trying to make this work is related to the printers firmware.

If I send colors to an inkjet printer through a driver that has all color management turned off, I can assume nothing has interfered with those colors, and then can use that data to characterize how the printer responds to those colors.  This allows a profile to modify the data so I can get what I what from the printer.

When I send colors to a Noritsu printer, the firmwares job is produce an expected result based on that color, and that expected result is based on sRGB.  If I send a target to a Noritsu, the printer will manipulate the data to provide what it thinks I want.  It doesn't provide an opportunity to just send the pure colors to the paper and let me measure that result and then allow me to apply a profile to modify my colors to get my desired result.  Perhaps producing a profile from this still offers some opportunity to at least have a tool to softproof, but it really isn't working in what I've always been led to believe is a correct color managed workflow.  Personally I believe silver halide paper is capable of larger gamuts that they get credit for, but the devices just won't send that much light through the laser or LED head.

I'm unfamiliar with Dry Creeks method, but personally spent a great deal of time trying to get around this.  Perhaps they have found a way to circumvent the firmware involvement,perhaps they've just found a work around, which I admit is better than nothing.  Not sure major labs based on Kodak's DP2 software can take advantage of this (of which most of the large ones are), but I know WHCC and Millers/mPix are aggressively working on solutions as well, I believe WHCC also offers a profile that can be used for soft proofing, but at this point I don't believe that profile is actually applied to the data, instead it is just characterizing the firmwares involvement and the lab is still converting the file to sRGB for printing.

At this point in time, things are beginning to move fairly quickly as more educated customers are wanting these capabilities. Small labs with older hardware may be challenged to fully implement, because in my mind to work correctly it will require new firmware.   In fact there may indeed be some firmware enhancements that are now being offered (i've been out of his loop for a year or so).  Currently I'm involved in setting up a new lab that will utilize Noritsu and Chromira printers as well as Epson inkjet, and have a point person  talking to both companies about how we can do this the right way - can we offer a true color managed solution.  If not, then we will be analyzing how Dry Creek Photo does it and either work with them (if they are effectively bypassing the firmware issue), or provide similar solutions to theirs using a similar work around.
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« Reply #16 on: January 07, 2010, 06:08:21 PM »
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Quote from: Slobodan Blagojevic
So... if based on the above (and my ignorance) I conclude that it does not make much sense to send anything bigger than sRGB to the lab (as the lab owner already said to the OP), where is my logic wrong?

I did two profiles for the same Kodak Endura VC paper - one was printed on Noritsu (that treats everything as sRGB), second was printed on KIS lab with with Color Management module (that could just print RGB targets without any internal transformations).

The print from Noritsu's gamut volume was only 520.000 dE^3(76), while the print from KIS's gamut volume was 645.000 dE^3(76).

So it seems that the print is potentially loosing about 20% of gamut volume when the machine is locked to sRGB.
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« Reply #17 on: January 07, 2010, 06:08:28 PM »
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Rather than sending something bigger or smaller than sRGB, the question is, why not send the data in the output color space of the device using a good profile from whatever original RGB working space you started with?

The discussion/argument isn't that the device is significantly bigger or smaller than sRGB. The point is, this isn't an sRGB output device and the color space you should send is that of the printer, after soft proofing and editing with the profile from that device.

You and I might both have a 30 inch LCD but that doesn't mean I can send you the profile of my display to use and vise versa even if both have very similar sized color gamuts.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2010, 06:09:37 PM by digitaldog » Logged

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« Reply #18 on: January 07, 2010, 06:13:45 PM »
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Quote from: Slobodan Blagojevic
So... if based on the above (and my ignorance) I conclude that it does not make much sense to send anything bigger than sRGB to the lab (as the lab owner already said to the OP), where is my logic wrong?
I think the answer to that depends on how the profile is being used.  If indeed it is a true output profile so the lab is converting the working file directly to the output profile, then it makes sense to not convert.  Otherwise you end up with an unnecessary double conversion.  

However, I believe most labs are offering these profiles as a soft proofing solution only, but the files are still converted to sRGB to be submitted to the printer. If this is the case sending them aRGB or ppRGB files won't change the results, so might as well just send them in sRGB.

(I might add I have my point person contacting Dry Creek Color to try and understand their process.  I'm hopeful things have progressed, but I"m still a little skeptical based on all the frustrations I've had with this over the past 10 years or so).
« Last Edit: January 07, 2010, 06:15:34 PM by Wayne Fox » Logged

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« Reply #19 on: January 07, 2010, 06:15:06 PM »
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Quote from: Wayne Fox
If I send colors to an inkjet printer through a driver that has all color management turned off, I can assume nothing has interfered with those colors....

That's not necessarily the case. In fact, one can (and some do) profile over alterations of the driver or linearization in a RIP. You can profile an Epson using Color Controls instead of No Color Adjustment just fine (and produce more linear response at the expense of color gamut). If data out for building the profile is consistent, it doesn't matter that data in might have been altered in the printing path.

If you've been following the posts on Snow Leopard and printing targets, its not real clear that what's really going on in the print path in terms of no color management.
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