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Inkjet FAQ 003: How can I easily test my lab’s print output?

This is a common question, and I have a pretty simple answer. First, it is important to have a calibrated and profiled monitor (a.k.a. display). Without going too far into that topic, the next step I recommend is to use a “target,” or test image, as a benchmark to help determine whether your monitor is displaying images properly. By printing out the target on different days and possibly on different papers, such as gloss, luster and metallic, you’ll be able to compare them side-by-side. You’ll also see whether there are significant changes from day to day.

The following 4×6-inch test file can be downloaded at the link below:

ctest_sRGB

http://www.andrewdarlow.com/ctest.zip

The file contains color and black and white images sized to 280PPI on a 4×6 canvas and saved with the sRGB working space.

You should then save the file as a JPG file (quality 9, 10, 11 or 12 is recommended-12 is best, but will create a larger file) and send the target image to your lab to print.

Because this tip is primarily for continuous-tone printers like those found in professional photo labs, the file is in the sRGB working space and Photoshop PSD format. Saving a JPG on top of a JPG is a no-no because you will keep introducing more artifacts as you save a JPG on top of a JPG. The image includes some text, which also helps to judge the sharpness of the lab’s output.

Note: It is very important to instruct your lab to turn off any color correction, or you won’t be able to properly control the color and density of your prints!

I have a similar file here with the same test image in AdobeRGB color space, which is ideal for inkjet printer testing.

Enjoy!

Inkjet FAQ002: Finding Output (Paper) Profiles in Mac OSX

Inkjet FAQ 002: I can’t find my Canon, Epson or HP profiles in my Profiles folder, but I see them in the Photoshop Profiles dropdown list under File>Print, and when I choose “Other” in the Color Management section in Lightroom’s Print Module. Why oh why???

When you install a printer driver from a CD, or by downloading it from the printer manufacturer’s website to make sure it is a current version (recommended), printer profiles are generally a part of the install. For Mac users using OSX, the profiles will usually be placed in one of three places:

1. /Library/ColorSync/Profiles (visible and usable by all users).

2. In your User folder (next to the house icon)/Library/ColorSync/Profiles (visible and usable by just the current User).

or here:

3. Main Hard Drive with your OSX system files/Library/Printers

What’s interesting is that OSX Spotlight searches for the profiles in Number 3 above don’t appear to work (at least they didn’t for me). Files in that section may be considered special files, and I’m sure a Unix/OSX systems expert will know exactly why that’s happening.

Also note that you will need to restart Photoshop (or any other color management aware application from which you are printing) if Photoshop is open when you add profiles to your Profiles folder. That will allow the profile list in Photoshop to refresh.

A more efficient way to find all the profiles on your system is by using a great application that comes free with your Mac. It is called “ColorSync Utility” and can be found in your Applications/Utilities folder.

One section of the Apple ColorSync Utility with the “Profiles” icon selected.

After launching the application, choose “Profiles” from the icons at the top of the screen, and then look down the list on the left of the screen. If you look inside the item named “Other” you will see the path to the “hidden profiles” that I mentioned in Number 3 above. You can also take a look at the profile in 3D color space.

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Inkjet FAQ 001: My Monitor is Too Bright, Even After Calibrating/Profiling. What Do I Do?

I’ve decided to launch an Inkjet FAQ on InkjetTips.com, and this is the first entry. Look for more soon, and to see a full list of the Inkjet FAQs, just click here, or choose Inkjet FAQs from the Category List at the top of the center column on inkjettips.com. In all cases the FAQs will cover topics that relate to inkjet printing, but many of the tips will be more broad in scope. This one is a good example. A well calibrated and profiled display is an important step in any inkjet printing workflow.

Inkjet FAQ 001: My Monitor is Too Bright, Even After Calibrating and Profiling. What Do I Do?

After working with a client recently who has an Intel Core 2 Duo iMac 24″, I wrote an article about how to adjust the contrast in a way few people realize is available. The iMac 24″ does not have a specific on-screen display menu with Contrast, Brightness and specific that is common on virtually all CRT monitors and many LCD monitors. For monitors that do have adjustments, you can often tone down the display brightness with a combination of adjustments to the Contrast, Brightness and in some cases, individual RGB color controls.

Here are a few excerpts from another article I wrote on the topic:

After adjusting the contrast bar to a point nearly all the way to the left, and then calibrating and profiling, the iMac’s screen was still too bright (even at minimum brightness), so I installed a freeware application by Charcoal Design named Shades. Just a small adjustment did the trick. I recommend turning on Shades (you’ll find it in System Preferences after installing) after doing a hardware calibration with a device like the Spyder 3 Colorimeter or the X-Rite i1 Display 2 Colorimeter. It is important to only run shades after you do a hardware calibration. You can also use the built-in calibration/profiling options on your  Mac, or Adobe Gamma on Windows, but a hardware calibration is better.

I recommend using a standard image that contains a range of color images, plus a neutral gray step wedge to determine how well your monitor is displaying images. You can find one that I assembled at www.andrewdarlow.com/calib.html. If your screen is well calibrated and profiled, you should be able to distinguish individual tones in all of the 21 boxes of the step wedge.