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Make professional prints at home!

Use ICC profiles for the best results

At the end of the day, a photo should be seen as it is meant to be, as a print! Printing your own photos is incredibly satisfying. All the time you've invested in knowledge and skills only really come into their own in the final print.
Of course you can get a print lab to print your photos, but what could be better than doing this yourself? Gaining experience with the different types of paper (your photos look different on each type of paper) and fine tuning your images for beautiful prints, without waiting.

ICC profiles

By using ICC profiles you simulate the outome of the final picture on your selected paper. I'll show you how to install them and use them correctly.

Calibrated Monitor

For this article I assume you use a calibrated monitor to softproof your images on. Without a calibrated monitor you can't be sure of the outcome.

Ingredients for a good print

Of course, you need a good photo printer. Epson and Canon make great professional printers for at home. They are not cheap, but well worth it if you want to print more often.
Before we can send the file to the printer, a few things are important. First, it is important to use a good screen to edit on. It should have good color reproduction and in addition the screen should be calibrated.
Second, you need to use the paper manufacturer’s ICC profiles that are made specifically for your printer. This ensures that the colors you see on your screen also appear as such on the paper. Each paper type has a different white point, a different ink take-up and even the gloss level can influence the final result. That is why there is a separate ICC profile for each paper type.

ICC profiles

An ICC profile is a data set that contains the characteristics of an input or output device. In this case, the ICC profile contains the color reproduction of the printer and the paper type used. With the help of this profile you can get a representative representation of the print result on the screen, also called softproofing.
Some of the ICC profiles are already installed when you install the printer software but if you use special paper from e.g. Hahnemühle or Ilford then you will have to download the right profile from the paper manufacturer’s website.

Installing ICC profiles

If you have downloaded the correct profiles from the website, installing the profile is easy.
Windows: right click on the profile and select install
MAC: copy the file to /Library/ColorSync/Profiles
Once the profiles are installed you can start working with them in your favorite photo editing program.

Softproofing

I use Lightroom as the editing program. It can also be done in Photoshop or any other program, but personally I find Lightroom just a little more pleasant.
With soft proofing you can see on the screen what the print will look like on the selected paper. This allows you to check the contrast, recognize color shifts and check the saturation.

First, open the photo in Lightroom and go to the Develop module. Press the S or go to View -> Softproofing to enable soft proofing. By the way, it is recommended to make a ‘Proof copy’. This will make a virtual copy of your photo to which all adjustments will be applied. This way your original file is preserved!

Softproofing in Lightroom

How to work with softproofing

First, we create a Proof Copy and then we select the correct profile of the paper we are going to print on. This can be found on the right, below the histogram. If your just installed profile is not visible click on other/other and tick the desired profile.

There are 2 choices in rendering: Perceptual and Relative (see 1).
The rendering intent determines how colors are converted from one color space to another, i.e. from your photo/monitor to your printer.
Perceptual is intended to maintain the visual relationship between colors so that they appear natural to the human eye, even though the color values themselves may change. This is suitable for images with many saturated colors that are outside the color range.
With Relative, the extreme highlights of the source color space are compared to those of the target color space and all colors are shifted accordingly. Colors outside the color space shift to the closest reproducible colors in the target color space. With Relative, more original colors are preserved than with Perceptual.

At #2 we can turn on the warning if colors are outside the color range of the monitor, they will be displayed in blue.
If you want to see which colors are outside the color range of the printer you have to click the icon at nr 3. All out-of-range colors will be shown in red.
This is an important step because you want to know which colors will change when printing. If many colors are outside the rendering range of the printer, it is recommended to keep the rendering intent (at #1) on Perceptual. Then the colors will be rendered as naturally as possible.

Finally there is the possibility to simulate paper and ink. This simulates the white point of the paper and the black point of the combination of paper and printer. It gives you a nice idea of what the print will look like on this paper.

Softproofing in Lightroom

Edit using softproofing

Softproofing in Lightroom

Now that we know the options, it’s time to get the photo ready for print.
As you can see from the photo some of the colors are outside the range of the printer (showed in red). Namely the blue of my instruments and also the orange of the ceiling lights. I can leave it as is and have the software look for the colors nearby via Perceptual intent, but we don’t know exactly what it will look like then.

We are going to bring the problem areas (in red) back to values that are within the color profile of the printer.
Using the HSL panel, I moved the colors up a little bit and reduced some in saturation. Because the sky also contains blue and I do not want to reduce its color too much, I also used the radial filter to locally reduce the saturation on the instruments. I also reset the white point and black point and slightly increased the contrast.

The reason the photo still looks a little dull is because I used Hahnemühle Fine-Art Smooth as the paper type and this is a matte paper. So the software gives a very good presentation of the print.

Softproofing in Lightroom

After softproofing

Conclusion

As you can see, it is not at all difficult to make beautiful prints yourself. Sometimes it is necessary to make small adjustments to the printer profile, such as brightness and contrast. But this is basically a one-time thing. It is also great fun to discover what effect the different (high-quality) papers have on your photos.
Now all that’s left is to get a frame and frame it!

Softproofing in Lightroom
In the next part of this series I’ll be discussing paper types.
Martijn.Kort

Author Martijn.Kort

Fine art photographer focusing on architecture and cityscapes as well as capturing unique moments from the cockpit. Writing about photography techniques and sharing reviews. Ambassador for both ZEISS Netherlands and Nisi Filters. If you like my work, consider following me on Instagram!

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