Real world colours cannot be easily captured and reproduced. To handle that the RAW image format was created: it allows to save the information captured by the camera’s sensor with minimal loss.
Yet printers can only reproduce a limited amount of colour, thus the images need to be processed and other factors need to be taken into account so that the prints are as close to the original as possible. Note that nothing you will print will ever have all the information that was captured by the RAW file, but you can obtain a good enough approximation.
Dye VS Pigment Inks
Dye inks are water based and reproduce the widest gamut. However the production of pigment based inks has improved over the years so there is now little difference.
Further pigment based inks last longer than dye inks, which can show fading in a matter of days sometimes.
How Many Inks Does Your Printer Have?
This is an important question. If your printer only has the classic cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks your printing will be limited. CMYK gamut is smaller than RGB, and it’s definitely lower than that of your HDR images.
High-end printers will have at least 3 shades of blacks. Some other printers will have more types of magentas and cyans and so on. You can have inkjet printers with 12 different inks – the additional colours will expand the gamut of your prints.
If you find you print a lot of photos, it might be worth it to invest in these printers.
The size of printers is also important. Even though you might not print photos that are bigger than 13”, buying a 17” printer means that your ink tanks will be bigger. This will bring the cost per print down, so even if the initial cost of the printer might be higher, in the long run you will save up.
Use the Right Paper With the Right Ink
If you use coated paper, it’s best to use the appropriate inks. If you use inks that are meant to be used on matte paper and vice versa, the results will be
If you print on both types of paper you need to have two different sets of inks. Some printers even swap them automatically.
8 Bits VS 16 Bits Printing
Colour depth is another factor that influences how good your images will look. 16 bits is better than 8 bits usually, but sometimes you just can’t choose between the two and are relegated to 8 bit. Note that if you shoot in RAW, your images will be 16 bits to start with.
First of all your operating system has to support 16 bit. According to some only Mac OS X supports it, however Microsoft claims that they introduced support for it from Vista onwards, and they also patched Windows XP.
Your graphic software needs to support 16 bits too. Photoshop is among one of the programs with that ability.
Last but not least your printer driver needs to support 16 bits colour.
If any of the above doesn’t support 16 bits, then there is no point in you worrying about it. On the other hand, some people question whether you can actually see the difference between the two once your photo is printed.
The quality of your photo, printer and paper come into this, but 16 bits colour seems to make more of a difference on bigger prints.
Use the Right ICC Profile
While you will never be able to print colours that correspond exactly to what you see on screen, you can try to get close. ICC profiles are text files that give instructions to your printer on how to lay ink on paper. They can be exchanged between computers and different operating systems, which makes them cross-platform.
Most printer makes will make a list of ICC profiles available for download on their websites. They will provide decent calibration to print on the paper they sell, however since they are not calibrated to your monitor, they are not as accurate as custom made profiles. This also applies if you change paper type.
There are a few ways to calibrate monitor and printer: one of them is using calibration scanners. You pull up an image on your monitor and print it, you then scan the image on the monitor and then the printed version. The scanner software will try to create a profile to calibrate the colours so that they are a close match. Keep doing this until you get the results you want.
The other method is using proofs.
Soft-Proof VS Hard Proof
Photoshop has a built-in option that tries to emulate how a picture will look once you print it, however this is a very limited function. Photoshop cannot fix your monitor so that it will reproduce all of the colours of your printer or vice versa. After all a monitor displays colour by emitting light while printing does so by reflecting it – the two processes are opposites.
The best way to see how something will print is by… printing it! Use the same paper of your final print to make a test print, even if a smaller one, then put it next to your screen and correct your image.
Note that the light conditions of the place you are working in are important. If your light source isn’t the same as the sun at mid day – balanced for 5000 degrees Kelvin, your print will not look right because each light type will give it a different hue as it gets reflected by the pigments.
Hopefully these tips will guide you in the right direction and allow you to print photos as close as possible to what you what you want.
There is, in fact, light at the end of the tunnel, no matter what colour it is.
About the Author: Elise Lévêque is a freelancer with a strong interest in photography, mainly derived from her social media-mania. When she isn’t busy with translations, you will find her at her favourite coffee-shop sipping a drink while checking in with her mobile, walking through an art exposition in town, or taking pictures of the latest interesting event or wonderful place she has just been to. Other times she writes for Cartridge Shop.
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