Tuesday, November 10, 2009


To make consistent prints, a proofing regimen is a good idea

Proofing: Evaluating an image printed on a particular substrate, making adjustments, reprinting, reevaluating the image, and repeating until optimum results are achieved. Some think it’s a lost art. It’s not. Some aren’t aware that they’re doing it. You probably are. If you’re not proofing, it’s highly likely that you could make even better prints. If you are proofing, you’ll find that structuring and refining your proofing process will have many beneficial effects on the print quality you achieve.

Proofing Isn’t A Substitute For Color Management
The fact that we still make proofs doesn’t mean color management and soft proofing don’t work. It’s amazing that they work as well as they do, and they’re getting better all the time. It means there are limits. And it helps to know the limits. Proofing isn’t a substitute for good color management practices. Good color management will save you time, materials and money. Good color management will improve print quality. There are certain things you can’t solve with proofing if color management is poor. Good color management will get you the best first proof possible. Good color management policies will allow you to trade in subtleties when proofing. Properly implemented, color management will get you 90% of the way there. To get the last 10%, you need to proof. It’s the last 10% that separates good prints from great prints.

Here’s a set of practices that will help you structure your proofing process and identify important print characteristics to monitor along with compensations to make. By its nature, proofing is media-specific so proof with the materials you’ll use to make the final print (printer, media, driver and profile).

Take Notes
It’s a good idea to make notes of the kinds of adjustments you make while proofing. This will help you structure your problem-solving when facing a challenge. It also will help you make sense of a number of similar pieces of paper. Working with adjustment layers and layer sets not only will provide you flexibility, but it also will keep a record of the type of adjustments you make and the order in which you make them. Make adjustments as adjustment layers filed in a layer set.

Appropriately label each adjustment layer. The layer set title should include the printer, paper, profile, rendering intent and any other pertinent information affecting printing conditions. You may wish to take screenshots of your printer driver settings and nest these images as layers in the appropriate set. You also can use the Text tool in Photoshop to make print notes on the proofs. The Notes tool in Photoshop also can be used, but won’t print, so they’re best used for notations that you don’t want seen on proofs. If you’re printing the same image to multiple substrates or on multiple printers, you’ll want to have separate layer sets for separate printing conditions. Turn them on only for printing with that specific set of conditions, otherwise leave them turned off.

Survey And Select Substrate
It’s essential to evaluate the effects of the surface on images. Print the same image or images on a wide variety of substrates and evaluate the proofs side-by-side. You’ll need a unique profile for each substrate you test. Once you’ve done this testing, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about your choice of substrate for future images and bodies of work.

Compensate For Viewing Light
The color of light matters. While the vast majority of output profiles are optimized for the cooler 5000K light, the vast majority of prints are viewed under warmer light temperatures, typically around 3500K. (Galleries use halogen 3800K, homes use tungsten 2800K, daylight varies between 2000K to 8000K.)

If a proof/print is evaluated under 5000K and later displayed under 3500K light, it will look too warm. To compensate for this, adjust the file by making it look cooler. Evaluate proofs under the light temperature under which the prints will be viewed. (If you can control the light under which your prints will be viewed, consider full-spectrum lights.)


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