One question I get a lot is, “What inkjet photo printer do you recommend?” I usual respond with, ”Is your monitor calibrated?” The usual response is, “No”, or simply a blank stare. If you want to print your own photos there are a couple things you must consider. First you need to understand the concepts relating to color management. Second, you need to have the basic equipment needed to handle a color managed workflow. So let’s start with the basics.
So what is color management anyway? Color management is the “language” that allows your capture device, your monitor, your printer, and the substrate you’re printing on to communicate with one another. While this can seem complicated at first it’s really pretty simple. While I mentioned several components, the most important aspect of the workflow is calibrating your monitor. Even if your not printing your own prints this needs to be done. Here’s why.
Your monitor is the main interface where you interact with your images. Many people feel that their monitor is just fine. However, your monitor has no emotional connection with your images. Only you have that. So, when you’re looking at your photographs you are seeing what you want to see. Your monitor sees things very differently, and it passes that color data along to any system that will handle your photos. For example your images look to dark, so you make them lighter in Photoshop or worse, you turn up th brightness control on the monitor. The image looks to green, so you make another adjustment in Photoshop to “correct” it. You send the file to be printed and it’s too light and either too red or magenta. You blame the lab, and they apologize and make the adjustment. They offer to email their system’s ICC profiles. At this point, it becomes clear you have no idea what they’re talking about. Why, because you don’t speak color management.
All monitors have the tendency to “drift”. This means after a time they can become either lighter or darker and colors will become unbalanced. These issues are why some monitors cost more than others. Yet, almost any monitor can be made great through color calibration. You’ll need to get some kind of monitor calibration device know as a colorimeter. It doesn’t have to be an expensive solution there are a couple solutions at about $100 or so. The main players are Datacolor and X-rite. Products from either company will do the job, saving you time and money on wasted ink and paper.
The colorimeter works with software that will control your monitor during the calibration process. This software may require you to interact with the monitor to manually set brightness, contrast, and RGB levels. Geeks love that stuff, but most solutions will do everything automatically too. All you need to do is re-set the monitor to its factory defaults by clicking a button. When the calibration process is completed, the software will place your new monitor ICC profile in the proper location for computer’s OS to use it, and remind you when to re-calibrate the display. One final note, once calibrated do not touch the monitor’s brightness and contrast controls or you’ll render the profile useless.
Now when you open up your images in your favorite editing program, it will use that profile when displaying image files. You will also need to configure the editing software’s color settings and protocols. Find out more about how to do that here. So before you start thinking about that printer remember to also think about color management. This link will help explain in greater detail the purpose, products, and procedures of monitor calibration.