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Solving Recent Profiling Issues With Apple Computers
Epson Printers and Photoshop

By Mark Dubovoy

INTRODUCTION

I recently received several boxes of new photographic papers for beta testing. Since I always make my own profiles, I proceeded to print my usual target, I measured it and I calculated the profiles.

Since I had also recently upgraded my MacPro to Snow Leopard and downloaded the latest Epson driver (6.55) for my Epson 9900 printer, I also decided to re-profile the papers I normally use.

What I found was a total disaster. All my profiles were terrible and the test prints I normally make to check new profiles looked horrible.

I was at a complete loss. In general I am very meticulous, and I have never before experienced any color management issues that were not easily resolved.

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THE DIAGNOSIS

In trying to diagnose the problem, I went as far as to borrow another spectrophotometer, identical to mine, just to make sure I did not have some kind of hardware problem.

Luckily, I am careful enough to always mark and date my target prints and test prints for profiling, which I keep in a special drawer. This seemingly compulsive habit paid off. A quick look at my prior prints of the profiling target versus the new ones, immediately revealed large visual differences. It was obvious that a huge amount of color information was being clipped. My prints of the target were bad prints. This told me what was happening: I had bad prints of the target, and therefore the calculated profiles were also bad.

But, why were the prints bad? I could not figure it out. The usual process is quite simple, and thoroughly familiar to anyone who has made a profile:

      1. Open the (untagged) target in Photoshop.

      2. Tell Photoshop to “leave as is, don’t color manage”.

      3. Go to File>Print.

      4. In the print dialog select “no color management”.

      5. In the printer dialog turn off color management

      6. Print

That is exactly, precisely what I was doing, but the system was not obeying the commands. In spite of being told 3 times to print the file “as is”, with no color management, the system was doing something weird and color managing and clipping the file.

Opening the Apple ColorSync utility, I noticed that the default profile for the 9900 is sRGB, so I immediately suspected that somehow sRGB was being forced into the process. Not good!!!

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I AM NOT ALONE!

I checked the Adobe, Apple, Epson and Luminous Landscape forums and found literally hundreds of postings from people having problems with profiles using Epson printers and Apple computers.

I was obviously not alone. This is a serious issue.

There were many things said in the forums about the problem originating in newer versions of the OS, Photoshop, and the Epson drivers, so as a test, I grabbed an old laptop with OS 10.5, I installed CS 2 and the latest Epson driver for the 9900 (6.55) .

With this combination, I was able to print a perfect target.

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THE ISSUE

The issue is as follows:

If you are using an Epson printer and Apple computer with the latest operating system, the latest version of Photoshop (CS4) and one of the latest Epson drivers, you cannot print a file with no color management.

I know that this sounds almost absurd, but it is a fact.

A clear consequence of this is that making a profile becomes impossible (however, there is a workaround, read on).

Please note that I am being somewhat vague on naming specific printer models, OS versions, and driver versions. The reason is that it appears that this is a very complicated issue. Different people have problems with different printer models, OS versions, and driver versions. The problem also seems to appear with Photoshop CS4, but not earlier Photoshop versions like CS2 or CS3.

Some people, for example only experience the problem with drivers that are 6.5xxx and later, some experience the problem with earlier drivers. Some people have the problem with Leopard, while others have it only with Snow Leopard, and so on.

This has lead to much confusion and huge frustration.

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WHAT TO DO?

I decided that this issue was important enough that I needed to contact a number of senior people in the right places. I first contacted some people I know at Adobe and Epson. I also contacted a number of the most knowledgeable folks on color management. By the time you read this, I should be in direct contact with senior executives at Apple also.

I must say that most of us tend to under-appreciate the incredible zeal and dedication that some of these people have. In a matter of hours after my first email, dozens of emails were circulating and everyone was engaged in trying to understand and resolve the issue.

Whether at Epson, Adobe or independently, everyone jumped in and tried to contribute. I, for one am beyond grateful and impressed. There are too many people to mention here without sounding like an Academy Awards ceremony. I know they will all be reading this, so I would like them to know that all photographers owe them a debt of gratitude for their contributions.

The top award for incredible dedication, brain power and making things happen at warp speed goes to Eric Chan at Adobe. On Saturday night (Halloween), Eric was at it big time trying to resolve the issue, sending me emails, asking me to do some tests and so on. By about 1 AM Eastern time (Eric’s time), it was clear that he had figured out the root problem, as well as a workaround.

By early Sunday morning, an email from Eric went out to all individuals involved detailing the root issue and the workaround.

All of us in the photographic community owe Eric a HUGE THANK YOU!

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THE WORKAROUND

For anyone having this problem, here is the workaround:

Open (untagged) profile target image in CS4.

Edit -> Assign Profile... -> Adobe RGB. Click OK.

File -> Print...

Set Color Handling = Photoshop Manages Colors.

Set Printer Profile = Adobe RGB.

Set Rendering Intent = Relative Colorimetric.

Uncheck Black Point Compensation.

Click Print...

In the Epson driver, disable color management, and choose whatever driver settings you normally want to use for printing on your chosen paper (e.g., 16-bit, appropriate media type, thickness, High Speed = Off, etc.)
Print.

Please note that it does NOT matter that Adobe RGB is used as the profile in the workaround. You could use Pro Photo RGB instead, for example.
It DOES matter that you choose the exact same profile in the “Assign Profile” dialog box and the “Print” dialog box. Make sure that you DO NOT choose “Working RGB-xxxx” as the printer profile.

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THE TECHNICAL EXPLANATION

For those of you wondering about the technical explanation of what is happening, here it is:

Advanced users who wish to build their own custom profiles (or have custom profiles made via a service) need to print untagged profile target images. Conceptually, the pixel values in these target images need to pass unmodified from the printing application (e.g., Photoshop) to the printer driver. There should not be any type of color transformation applied to the profile target image. So far, so good.

However, when printing from Photoshop CS4 in “No Color Management” mode on Leopard (10.5) or Snow Leopard (10.6) to a recent Epson driver, the OS appears to be applying a color transformation (via ColorSync) to the profile target image data before handing it off to the printer driver. Specifically, the OS is converting the image pixel values from the Media Type-specific profile to sRGB. For example, if you are using an Epson Stylus Pro 3800 and have set the Media Type in the driver set to Premium Luster, then the default profile “Pro38 PLPP” will be shown in the “Advanced Color Settings” of the driver. ColorSync then performs a conversion of the target image data from Pro38 PLPP.icc to sRGB, then hands the result off to the driver. The result is a bogus target print. Regrettably, it is not entirely clear at this time what is triggering the conversion.

In the meantime, the workaround described above allows profile targets to be printed, regardless of OS version or driver version.

Effectively, the workaround does this:

– tag the (previously untagged) target image with a profile; doing so doesn’t change the pixel values,

– ask Photoshop during print to perform a conversion to the same profile (e.g., Adobe RGB to Adobe RGB), which effectively does nothing (i.e., null transform), since the source and destination profile are the same, and

– tells the OS not to perform any additional conversion, since the application (Photoshop) already handled the color transform; the OS then hands off the Adobe RGB-tagged image as-is to the driver, with no modification

The end result is that the profile target image pixel values go straight through the system with no change, which is what we’ve been trying to achieve all along. This is why it does not matter whether you choose Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB, etc. for this workaround. The central idea is to (1) cause Photoshop to avoid doing a color transform (implemented by making sure the source and destination profiles are the same), and  (2) to convince the OS that the data being provided by the app has already been color transformed, and hence the OS won’t interfere.

The reason you don’t see these issues when printing from Photoshop versions CS2 and CS3 is because they use the older Apple print APIs, which are now deprecated in Leopard and Snow Leopard.

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THE GOOD NEWS AND THE BAD NEWS

The good news is that we now have a workaround to print untagged targets with no color management. We can go back to making good profiles again.

The bad news is that it is a workaround.

My hope is that continuing this conversation with the proper people at Apple, Epson and Adobe will lead to a thorough understanding of the importance of these types of issues, as well as to a more permanent solution.

November, 2009

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Dr. Dubovoy is highly regarded as a technical expert in many aspects of printing technology and photography. As such, he is a regular writer of technical articles for PHOTO Techniques magazine and a lecturer at various workshops.

His photographs are included in a number of private collections, as well as the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Monterey Art Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in Nanao Japan.

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Eric Chan is a computer scientist at Adobe Systems, where he works as an engineer on the Camera Raw team. His primary research interests include real-time rendering algorithms, graphics architectures, and color appearance models. Eric is an enthusiastic nature photographer and spends an unusual amount of his free time peering through lenses, experimenting with papers and inks, and figuring out how to squeeze every last ounce of quality out of his printer.

To learn more about Eric and to see some of his photographs, please visit http://people.csail.mit.edu/ericchan/ and http://people.csail.mit.edu/ericchan/photos/.


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Concepts: Printing, Photography, Color, Mac OS X, The Target, Portable Network Graphics

Entities: Michael Reichmann, Epson, Photoshop

Tags: prints, profile, color management, bad prints, Epson 9900 printer, latest epson driver, new photographic papers, color management issues, target prints, usual target, print dialog select, large visual differences, prior prints, profiling target, test prints, compulsive habit, total disaster, Snow Leopard, complete loss, calculated profiles, beta testing, usual process, color information, printer dialog, hardware problem, special drawer, new profiles, quick look, new ones, Photoshop, MacPro, spectrophotometer, clipped, photographic, boxes