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Understanding Printer Colour Management

A Brief Tutorial on Printer Settings

Moose and Strawberries — June, 2004

The leading cause of confusion, anxiety and martial disharmony among photographers concerns printer settings. "What the hell are the correct settings for the dozens of buttons and dialogs in both the image editing program and printer driver?" This is the the most common question that I'm asked at seminars, and by e-mail (though usually somewhat more politely than this). But it does mirror the frustration that most people feel when confronted with the seemingly endless setting choices available.

Here then is a simplified and concise description of how to set your printing software to give the most reliable and accurate colour results. It is based on using Photoshop and an Epson printer, but should be comprehensible with most other programs and printers.

Using Profiles

A profile is simply a file that describes how a given printer / ink / paper combination combine to accurately display colours. Almost all contemporary printers ship with profiles for their inks and that manufacturer's popular papers. These are usually installed automatically when you install the printer driver. You can also buy third party profiles, or obtain them online from paper maker's web sites. A third method, and often the best, is to make them yourself, but this requires that you have quality equipment and software, which can cost several thousand dollars, and usually only makes sense if you are using odd combinations of inks and papers that no one has prepared profiles for.

Profiles have either an .ICC or .ICM extension, (depending on whether they are for a PC or a Mac), and you can easily find them on your computer by searching for files with either of those extensions.


You'll need to wade through several menus to get to the one that you need. This example uses Windows, but on the Mac it's similar. In Photoshop step through the following...

File / Page Set-up / Printer / Properties / Custom / Advanced

and then set Printer Color Management to

Off (No Color Adjustment)

Figure #1

The reason for doing this is because you don't want the Epson printer driver to be doing any colour management. The profile for your printer, ink set and paper will be what controls colour rendition, not the driver. The way the screen should look is seen above in Figure #1. If you use profiles, and have anything set here other than Off, you'll be double colour managing and will get unreliable and usually nasty results.

Click OK and return to Photoshop. Next select...

File / Print with Preview

You will then see a window similar to Figure #2 below. Select...

Show More Options / Color Management

and then in the Profile dialog box under Print Space select the profile for the printer and paper that you will be using.

Figure #2

That's all there is to it. I've skipped over quite a number of other settings, but these are described in your printer manual and would take a book to detail. By the way, a very good book on colour printing is Mastering Digital Printing, by Harald Johnson. As of mid-2004 it is the single most up-to-date volume on fine-art digital printing that has yet been published. If you are having trouble with understanding the tools and techniques available for making inkjet prints, this is the one book to own.

That's all there is to it. Why is setting up a printer properly so unintuitive, obscure and confusing? I really don't know. But Epson and the other printer makers have a lot of explaining to do :-)

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Concepts: Printing, Color, Inkjet printer, Portable Network Graphics, Color management, Ink, International Color Consortium, Paper

Entities: printer driver, Epson, Harald Johnson, Windows, confusion

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