Techniques

Getting Started With Inkjet Printing

by Eric Chan | July 1, 2007

© Eric ChanInkjet printers have made significant progress over the last few years: contrast is higher, colors are more saturated, and print longevity is better than ever. On the other hand, finding all the right settings to make a great print can be an exercise in frustration. At times, the world of inkjet printing seems like alchemy: if you twist this knob, flip that switch, and check the phase of the moon before feeding the paper to the printer, then you might—just might—get a print that matches what you saw on your display!

Introduction

Epson 3800 © Eric Chan

Epson 3800 prints on Epson Velvet Fine Art paper

Luckily, there is some method to the madness. That’s what this article is about: a primer on inkjet printing with an emphasis on practical and tried-and-true methods. It’s intended for newcomers thinking about making their own inkjet prints, but I hope that even experienced users may pick up a nugget or two of new information.

Here’s an overview of the topics covered:

  1. How to choose an inkjet printer and paper
  2. Color management basics (calibrating and profiling your display and printer)
  3. Setting up your RGB working space in Photoshop
  4. Soft-proofing
  5. Resizing and sharpening your images for output
  6. Printing with printer profiles

My aim is to provide you with just enough practical information on each of these topics to help get you going. While some topics may be covered in greater depth in future articles, the new printing discussion forum at NatureScapes.net is a great place to ask questions if you want more details in the interim.

To keep this article from turning into a book, it’s necessary to leave out some topics and also to make some assumptions. Let’s concentrate on color images (as opposed to neutral or toned black and white images) and assume that you’ll be printing from a recent version of Photoshop (CS, CS2, or CS3). Some of my illustrative images are from Photoshop CS2, since that’s what I currently use.

How to Choose an Inkjet Printer

Choosing a printer is like choosing a camera: there are too many choices! Since everybody’s needs are different, I can’t tell you exactly which printer is best for you, but I can offer an overview and rough guide. The NatureScapes.Net printing discussion forum is a good place to ask about specific printer models.

The big three players today in the photographic inkjet printing world are Epson, Canon, and Hewlett Packard (HP). Epson has long been the king but now Canon and HP have very competitive offerings that in many areas exceed Epson’s own offerings. That’s good news for us photographers – competition ultimately gives us better options at lower prices!

Current inkjet systems fall broadly into two categories: dye-based inks and pigment-based inks. The traditional view is that dyes are more vivid and have higher contrast but aren’t stable (fading quickly within a few years or even a few months), whereas pigments are less vivid and have lower contrast but are significantly more stable (typically lasting for decades or even hundreds of years before noticeable fading). Consequently, the pigment ink printer market has really picked up recently and pigment printers have become the de facto choice for both amateurs and professionals alike, based on longevity considerations alone.

Just like in the camera market, the inkjet market is continually making improvements: the newer dyes are more stable and the newer pigments have larger color gamuts and higher densities. Again, this is great news for photographers. As of today, I still recommend pigment printers for most photographers, because the current dye inks offer improved longevity only with a very limited selection of papers.

Retired Epson 2200 © Eric Chan

My retired Epson 2200 sitting on top of my current Epson 3800. The 2200 is a 13″ printer whereas the 3800 is a 17″ printer.

So how does one choose an inkjet printer? Here are some of the major considerations:

  • Carriage width. The carriage width determines the maximum width of the paper the printer can accept. Most of the popular printers fall into the 13″, 17″, 24″, or 44″ category. For example, the HP B9180 and Epson R2400 are 13″ printers, whereas the Canon iPF5000 and Epson 3800 are 17″ printers. Note that bigger printers also tend to use larger ink carts, which means replacing inks less often.
  • Roll paper support. Some printers (such as the Epson R2400 and the Canon iPF5000) support roll paper, whereas other printers (such as the HP B9180 and the Epson 3800) don’t. Roll paper support is very handy for printing panoramas and for unattended batch printing (especially with thick matte papers, which would otherwise need to be fed one sheet at a time with most printers).
  • Matte vs. glossy. Matte and glossy papers use different types of black ink, Matte Black and Photo Black, respectively. Some printers, such as the models from Canon and HP, can hold both of these inks at the same time and print from either one on demand, whereas the current printers from Epson require switching between the two black inks (whether doing so manually or via the printer), wasting ink and time. This isn’t a big deal if you print primarily using just one type of paper (e.g., all matte paper), but it’s worth considering if you like to switch often between paper types.
  • Price. This one is obvious: your wallet knows when it’s taking a beating. A less obvious aspect of price is the amount of ink that comes with the printer. This should be taken into consideration when comparing prices of different printer models.

There are other considerations, but I think I’ll leave it here for now. I’m sure you’ve noticed a seemingly glaring omission – a discussion of print quality! Why is that? In my opinion, all of the current offerings from Epson, Canon, and HP can produce extremely high quality prints in both color and B&W when used properly, so I feel that the major distinguishing factors boil down to other features such as the ones listed above.

How to Choose an Inkjet Paper

The inkjet paper market is very crowded these days. Once you get a printer, you’ll find that you have a lot of paper choices!

Inkjet papers © Eric Chan

Boxes of mostly third-party inkjet papers

If you’re just starting out, I recommend first trying your printer manufacturer’s own papers. They may be more expensive, but they will certainly produce good results with your printer. Furthermore, the profiles for these papers (see below to learn about printer profiles) are readily available; in fact, they are usually installed along with your printer driver software. As an example, if you have an Epson printer such as the R2400, a good first paper to try is Epson Premium Luster.

But you don’t have to limit yourself to your printer manufacturer’s own papers, especially once you become comfortable with the printing process. You can often find similar papers from third parties which work just as well and cost less. For example, InkJetArt Micro Ceramic Luster, Red River UltraPro Satin, and Ilford Smooth Pearl are all inexpensive and excellent alternatives to Epson Premium Luster.

If you are shopping for third-party papers, make sure that the paper is compatible with your inks. Some papers (such as Ilford Classic Pearl) are compatible with dye inks but not with pigment inks. A common symptom of an incompatible paper/ink combination is excessive ink smearing or smudging.

Paper and ink compatibility © Eric Chan

The labels on these boxes indicate that these papers are compatible with both dye and pigment inks.

A good way to try new papers is to buy sampler packs. Many companies offer sampler packs that contain a couple of sheets of a few different papers. These packs can help you decide which papers you like.

Inkjet papers fall broadly into two categories: reflective papers which are designed to be used with Photo Black (PK) ink and matte papers which are designed to be used with Matte Black (MK) ink. The most obvious difference between these papers is that PK papers are shiny (i.e., they have gloss in varying degrees) whereas MK papers aren’t shiny at all.

PK and MK papers convey very different impressions. PK papers are more traditional and familiar in the sense that they look like the kind of prints you would get back from a lab. Generally speaking, PK papers are less expensive, have significantly higher contrast, and provide a larger color gamut compared to MK papers. If you’re just getting started, I recommend trying PK papers first because they’re easier to work with; colors in your images are more likely to be reproduced accurately on PK papers than on MK papers. Prints on MK papers, on the other hand, tend to have more of a painterly or watercolor effect. Matte papers are generally more archival and don’t suffer from distracting reflections, which make them preferable for some applications.

Choosing an inkjet paper comes down to individual aesthetics. Some photographers prefer to work primarily with one paper, whereas others keep a handful of papers in stock, depending on the type of images they print. As an example, I love to use Innova FibaPrint White Gloss for my high-contrast B&W images, whereas I often use Epson Velvet Fine Art for my New England fall foliage color images. It’s just a matter of taste.

Color Management Concepts

Once you’ve picked a printer and a paper, you’re ready to print your images, right? Well, almost. You can certainly begin making prints, but you may not necessarily get what you’re expecting. Prints might be too dark, too light, or have undesirable color casts. In other words, WYSMNBWYG – What-You-See-May-Not-Be-What-You-Get!

This is where color management comes in. Color management is a complex topic, but fortunately you don’t need to be a color geek to get excellent results. You do need to learn some key concepts so that all of your equipment (your display and printer, in particular) will cooperate to give you predictable, consistent results.

Color management is often a source of confusion and mystery, but the underlying goal is simple and unambiguous. We want colors in our images to stay the same throughout the entire workflow: capture, editing, and printing. Color management is the process by which colors are described and translated from one system to another. As an analogy, you can think of color management as a collection of languages. Every language in the world has a word for describing an apple (e.g., “apple” in English, “pomme” in French). The meaning is the same, but the words are different. Similarly, a given shade of red may be generated differently on your display (e.g., using an LED backlight and colored filters) than on inkjet paper (e.g., using colored pigments). Same perceived color, different underlying mechanisms. Applications such as Photoshop are color-managed, meaning that they are capable of translating colors as needed to reproduce them accurately on your display and on your printer.

Two words that often come up in connection with color management are calibration and profiling. Calibration means adjusting the behavior of a device so that it meets a known standard. Profiling means measuring a device to see how it actually behaves. As a rough analogy, imagine that your kitchen oven is “calibrated” at the factory so that when you turn the temperature knob all the way up, the temperature goes up to 500 degrees. You could then “profile” the oven by turning the temperature knob to each of the Low, Medium, and High settings and using a thermometer to figure out exactly what temperature is obtained at each of those settings. In the first case, the oven is brought to a known standard (i.e., a maximum temperature of 500 degrees). In the second case, you get a description of how the oven actually performs at various settings by measuring the temperature at each of those settings.

What does this have to do with photography and inkjet printing? To make sure that the colors in your images remain consistent throughout your entire workflow from capture to print, you have to make sure that each step of your workflow is properly color-managed.

The three most important steps are:

  1. to have a properly calibrated and profiled display,
  2. to have a properly profiled printer for the paper that you want to use, and
  3. to set up your RGB working space properly in Photoshop.

Let’s cover each one of these steps in turn.

How to Calibrate and Profile Your Display

In order to get consistent and repeatable screen-to-print matches, your display must be properly calibrated and profiled, preferably using a hardware colorimeter. The device I use and recommend is the Eye-One Display 2 colorimeter, although there are other good ones, too. (Note that since the GretagMacbeth and X-Rite companies have recently merged, this colorimeter may now be repackaged under a different name.)

If you have a CRT display, I recommend setting your display calibration software options to Gamma 2.2, 6500 K for the color temperature, and 90 cd/m2 for the target luminance.

If you have a LCD display, I recommend setting your display calibration options to Gamma 2.2, “native white point” for the color temperature, and 90 cd/m2 for the target luminance. Note that many new LCDs are capable of emitting a lot of light and often are extremely bright out of the box. If you edit images on a super-bright display, your print will appear too dark and muddy by comparison. Even if your calibration software recommends setting the target luminance to a higher value (e.g., 120 cd/m2), I still suggest using a lower value such as 90 cd/m2.

Some LCDs are so bright that the only way to achieve a target luminance of 90 cd/m2 is to turn the brightness level on the display down to below 20% of full brightness. Setting the brightness level to below 20% isn’t a good idea because displays often don’t perform very well at such dim levels. If obtaining 90 cd/m2 requires turning the brightness level to below 20%, I recommend setting the brightness level to 20% instead.

Choose Calibration Settings © Eric Chan

My LCD display calibration options in GretagMacbeth’s Eye-One Match software.

If you use a hardware colorimeter to calibrate and profile your display, make sure to disable Adobe Gamma, which comes with Adobe Photoshop.

Here are two quick tests you can use to check if your monitor is properly calibrated.

  1. Visit Norman Koren’s site and scroll halfway down to the section titled Monitor Test Patterns. When viewed from a distance (i.e., a few feet away), the pattern on the left (labeled Gamma = 2.2) should appear solid gray with virtually no trace of waviness or visually distinguishable pattern. If you see a distinct pattern, something’s gone wrong and you may want to recalibrate your display.
  2. See the Dry Creek Photo site and follow the instructions to check the black levels of your display. With a good display, proper calibration, and proper ambient illumination (i.e., fairly dim) you should be able to distinguish the lowest black levels, and in the case of a very good display in a dim environment, see the difference between black level 0 and 1. If you cannot see any differences in the black levels until above 10, then something’s not right. You may need to recalibrate your display, dim your ambient lighting, or choose another display.

Not all monitor calibration packages allow you to specify a target luminance during the calibration process. I don’t recommend these packages because having the proper monitor brightness is very important to getting consistent screen-to-print matches. I strongly recommend investing in a colorimeter package where the software allows you to specify a target luminance.

New users often express the following sentiment (which I’ve certainly experienced myself before): I just invested in an expensive printer, and inks and paper aren’t cheap either—do I really need to put more money into a hardware colorimeter? Well, no, of course you don’t have to. But if you want consistent screen-to-print matches, I strongly encourage you to consider it.

Printer Profiles

Each printer, ink, and paper combination needs a profile in order to describe how colors and tones appear when printed on that paper. In general, these profiles are highly specific to printers and papers. For instance, you cannot use an Epson Velvet Fine Art profile when printing on Epson Premium Luster paper or vice versa. Nor can you use an Epson R2400 profile when printing on an HP B9180 printer. The color responses are fundamentally different in both cases.

.icm file list screenshotA list of installed printer profiles for the Epson 3800 for various Epson papers.

Good printer profiles are essential to obtaining accurate color output, smooth tonal transitions, and visible details throughout the entire tonal range from shadows to highlights.

Printer profiles for your printer manufacturer’s own papers are usually installed on your system when you install the printer driver software. Printer profiles for third-party papers can usually be downloaded for free from the paper manufacturers’ web sites. An important step to keep in mind is that profiles are built using specific printer driver settings, so you have to make sure to use the correct printer driver settings when printing your images. Usually, these settings are listed in the instructions that accompany the profile. For example, when using Moab Entrada paper on my Epson 3800, the profile instructions on Moab’s website indicate setting the Media Type to Watercolor Paper Radiant White.

RGB Working Space Setup in Photoshop

In Photoshop, make sure that the color settings are set up properly. Here are the settings that I use:

Color Settings window screenshot

Go to the Edit menu and choose Color Settings… I prefer to edit images using the ProPhoto RGB working space. Adobe RGB is also a good choice. I don’t recommend using sRGB because the color gamuts of modern inkjet printers and papers typically exceed the color gamut of sRGB in many areas. Consequently, using sRGB prevents you from accessing the full range of colors that your printer, inks, and paper are capable of producing. Presumably, you’ve invested in a good printing system, so don’t arbitrarily limit your color choices by choosing sRGB!

Note that if you choose ProPhoto RGB or Adobe RGB as your RGB working space, it’s a good idea to stay in 16-bit editing mode throughout the entire image editing process. This will help maintain smooth tonal transitions and minimize quantization (blocky) artifacts.

I recommend checking all of the checkboxes in the Color Management Policies section as shown above. You may need to click on the More Options button first to see this section at all. Checking these boxes will let Photoshop alert you to potential color problems, such as if you open an image that doesn’t have a color profile embedded.

Soft-Proofing

Let’s say you’ve purchased an inkjet printer, selected a paper, diligently calibrated and profiled your display, and edited an image to your heart’s content in Photoshop. Now you’re ready to print. But how do you know how the image will look on paper? Is there a way to preview how it will look without actually printing it? Yes there is, and the solution is called soft-proofing.

Soft-proofing is a handy feature in Photoshop (and some other applications) that allows you to preview how your images will look when printed on paper. Some colors in your image—usually the saturated colors and darker tones—may not be reproducible in the print; these colors are said to be “out of gamut.” The actual color gamut of the print depends on several factors, including the printer, ink, paper, and printer driver settings. Colors that lie out of gamut are remapped by the printer profile to other colors that lie in gamut. Soft-proofing gives you a way to check if the profile has done a good job remapping these colors (as opposed to messing up your image and giving it a nasty color cast).

To soft-proof your image in Photoshop, go to the View menu, choose Proof Setup, then Custom…

You will see a box like this appear:

Customize Proof Condition © Eric Chan

Soft-proof configuration with the Perceptual Rendering Intent and without Black Point Compensation.

Select the appropriate profile from the Device to Simulate menu. In the example above, I have chosen the Epson-supplied profile for Premium Luster for the Epson 3800 printer (Pro38 PLPP).

Important: make sure that the Preserve RGB Numbers box is unchecked and that the Simulate Paper Color box is checked (see example image above).

In most cases, you should either (1) set the Rendering Intent menu to Perceptual and uncheck Black Point Compensation (as shown in the example image above) or (2) set the Rendering Intent menu to Relative Colorimetric and check Black Point Compensation (as shown in the example image below).

Custom Proof Condition screenshot

Soft-proof configuration with the Relative Colorimetric Rendering Intent and with Black Point Compensation

How do you know which option to choose? As with most things in life, the answer is: it depends! The most practical advice I can give is to toggle between the two configurations and pick the one that gives the more pleasing visual result.

Usually, you will see a big drop in contrast when you turn on soft-proofing, especially after you check the Simulate Paper Color box. Don’t worry. The soft-proof feature attempts to simulate the contrast range of the paper with the side effect that the preview looks pretty flat. The actual print should look fine.

Here are some things to look for when soft-proofing and comparing rendering intents:

  • Hue shifts. For example, do the blues in your image stay blue when you turn on soft-proofing, or do they take on a magenta cast? Do reds stay red or do they become orange?
  • Saturation. Some loss of color saturation is normal. In most cases, you probably want to choose the rendering intent that gives you the more saturated color.
  • Muddy colors or loss of color detail. For example, when you study areas of similar colors in your image (such as the greens in the leaves of trees, the yellows in flower petals, or the blues in skies), do the colors remain distinct and maintain good color separation when you turn on soft-proofing, or do similar colors become muddy and indistinguishable?
  • Transitions. Do smooth transitions in color and tone remain smooth when you turn on soft-proofing, or do certain transitions (e.g., blends between reds and greens) become rough?
  • Shadow and highlight detail. Do the darkest and lightest areas of your image preserve good detail when you turn on soft-proofing? In my experience, images that have significant shadow detail tend to benefit more from using the Perceptual rendering intent.

It is common to use the Perceptual rendering intent for some images and to use the Relative Colorimetric rendering intent for other images. This is why it’s important to soft-proof each image so that you can make the choice on a per-image basis. Remember, printer profiles can do amazing things, but even the best profiles are “dumb” in the sense that they don’t take into account the contents of your images.

For some of your images, the differences between the Perceptual and Relative Colorimetric rendering intents may be very subtle and perhaps imperceptible. If you can’t see significant differences between these two configurations, that’s fine; just pick one and print with it.

In summary, soft-proofing is very easy to accomplish: just turn on soft-proofing as described above, compare the two rendering intent configurations, and pick the one that looks best to you. With some experience, you’ll have a good idea of which intent works well with which images.

Resizing for output

The driver software for your printer requires your image to be at a specific resolution before it can be processed for printing. This is known as the “native resolution” of the driver and it is typically measured in pixels per inch (ppi). The native resolution should not be confused with the actual dot resolution of the printer itself. For example, my Epson 3800 can print at 2880 x 1440 dots per inch (dpi) or 1440 x 720 dpi, but the native resolution of the 3800 printer driver is 360 ppi. This means that the driver expects to be fed an image that is at the resolution of 360 ppi.

What happens if you try to feed an image to the driver that isn’t at the native resolution? The driver will resample the image for you (i.e., behind your back) to the required native resolution. Depending on the care with which this resampling process is performed, you can either get great results or not-so-great results, with artifacts (blocky edges, stair-stepping artifacts, or loss of fine detail) occurring in the latter case.

To avoid these potential problems, I strongly recommend resizing your images to the native resolution of your printer driver before printing. The native resolution is printer-dependent. For example, it is 720 ppi for the Epson R2400 (unusually high), 360 ppi for the Epson 3800, and 300 ppi for the HP B9180. Sometimes the native resolution is listed in the printer specifications at the back of the printer manual, but sometimes not. If in doubt, ask in the discussion forums.

Methods for resizing images are often discussed (and sometimes hotly debated) but I have found Photoshop’s built-in methods (Bicubic and Bicubic Smoother) to work just fine.

Here is exactly how I resize my images. Once I’ve determined my final image dimensions, I go to Photoshop’s Image menu and choose Image Size. I check the Resample box and enter the desired image width and height under the Document Size section (9″ by 6″ in the top example below). I set the resolution value to my printer’s native resolution (e.g., 360 ppi). Next, I look at the Pixel Dimensions label at the top of the box: there is a size in megabytes (M) followed by another one in parentheses. This indicates whether the resized image will be bigger or smaller than the original image size. If the first number is smaller than the second one, then the image is going to be downsampled (i.e., it gets smaller); in this case, I choose Bicubic from the Resample menu as shown in the example. Otherwise, the image will be upsampled (i.e., it gets bigger), in which case I choose Bicubic Smoother from the Resample menu.

Image Size windowResizing example. The original, uncropped Canon 5D image is 4368 x 2912 pixels. I am resizing the image to 9″ wide and 6″ high at 360 ppi. Since the image is being downsampled (the original 36.4 MB image is shrinking to 20 MB), I set the Resample Image menu to Bicubic.

Image Size, Pixel Dimensions, and Document Size

From the same original, I am instead resizing to 15″ wide and 10″ high, also at 360 ppi. Since the image is being upsampled (the original 36.4 MB image is expanding to 55.6 MB), I set the Resample Image menu to Bicubic Smoother.

Some people recommend using Bicubic Sharper when downsampling, but I’ve tried this and found that it can lead to edge artifacts, so I’ve stopped using it. Instead, I prefer to leave output sharpening to a separate step, as described in the next section.

 

 

 

Sharpening for output

Sharpening is a topic that could get its own book. (In fact, it has – the late Bruce Fraser has an excellent book on this topic titled Real World Image Sharpening.) Suffice it to say that I adhere to Fraser’s strategy of a multi-pass sharpening workflow, where sharpening is done in stages to optimize the image for different goals. Since this article is about printing, let’s focus on sharpening for output.

Simply put, just because an image looks razor sharp on your display doesn’t automatically mean it’ll look sharp when printed using ink on paper. A key reason to add a final sharpening stage after resizing an image to the final output dimensions is to compensate for softness introduced during the printing process. Inkjets distribute dots on paper using so-called “error diffusion dither” methods. Furthermore, ink droplets tend to “bleed” or spread out on the paper. These two phenomena cause some softening of the image in the final print, even if the image looks sharp on screen.

To compensate for this softening, we can add some mild sharpening after resizing the image to the final output dimensions. Fraser’s rule of thumb is to aim for a sharpening halo of about 1/50th or 1/100th of an inch, where a halo includes both the dark and light pixels on either side of an edge. Many photographers cringe when they hear the term “sharpening” and “halo” in the same sentence, since halos are associated with undesirable sharpening artifacts. But in the special case of output sharpening, very tiny halos are a good thing because (1) they lead to a noticeable increase in the perceived image sharpness and (2) if done carefully, the halos will actually be invisible to the naked eye.

I prefer to err on the conservative side and personally aim for 1/100th to 1/200th of an inch (i.e., a thinner halo). What does this mean in terms of pixels? Since the native resolution of my printer is 360 ppi, a halo of 1/200th of an inch is 360/200, or about 2 pixels. There are many ways to create edge halos. An easy way is to duplicate the image layer in Photoshop, set the blending mode to Overlay, and choose Filter -> Other -> High Pass. I adjust the Radius setting until edges appear to have halos of the desired size (e.g., 2 to 4 pixels). Zooming the image to 200% or higher can be helpful in determining the size of the halo.

As with every aspect of image editing, sharpening is a matter of taste. I encourage you to experiment with test prints to find the sharpening settings that you like. There’s no substitute for using your own eyes!

Printing with Printer Profiles

After you’ve prepared your image for output (including resizing and sharpening), you’re finally ready to print!

Go to the File menu in Photoshop and choose Print with Preview…

Print Options window

In the Print box, ignore the colors and tones in the small preview window if you’re using Photoshop CS2 or earlier – they are inaccurate. You should only use the Print box to judge page layout, not colors.

In the Options section:

  1. Set the Color Handling menu to Let Photoshop Determine Colors.
  2. Set the Printer Profile menu to the appropriate printer profile for your paper. For example, if I am printing on my Epson 3800 on Epson Premium Luster paper using the Epson-supplied profile for this paper, I would choose Pro38 PLPP from this menu. Important note: Do not choose Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB, or other profiles from the Printer Profile menu! You have to specify a printer profile here, not a RGB working space profile.
  3. Set the Rendering Intent menu and Black Point Compensation checkbox appropriately, based on your soft-proofing results. In general, either you should:
    1. set the Rendering Intent menu to Perceptual and uncheck Black Point Compensation, or
    2. set the Rendering Intent menu to Relative Colorimetric and check Black Point Compensation.

Click the Print button, then the Properties button.

Advanced window screenshot

It is important to disable color management in the printer driver. An example of how to disable color management for the Epson 3800 printer driver is shown above in green. Your printer driver window may look different, so be sure to learn how to disable color management.

The box of printer driver settings comes up. Exactly what is shown here will depend on your printer. The important thing is to disable color management in the driver – this is critical. Photoshop is already performing the required color conversion to your printer’s color space, so you don’t want to have the printer driver also perform this step. Otherwise, you will be “double profiling”—a common source of problems which often manifest themselves as too-dark prints or prints with a strong green or magenta cast.

As for the other driver settings, such as the media settings, be sure to use the settings listed in the documentation associated with your printer profile. Some settings, such as the printing resolution, may not matter. Others, such as the media type, are usually very important.

That’s it! Press the OK button and enjoy your print.

Keep in mind that the colors and tones in an inkjet print usually take a while to stabilize, especially if you are printing on matte papers. Colors and tones may look muddy when the print first emerges from the printer. I encourage you to let the print dry (i.e., leave the print in a box or desk drawer and wait at least 2 hours, or even better let it dry overnight) before making evaluations.

Putting It All Together: An Example

If you made it this far through the article, congratulations! You probably feel like you’ve just been drinking out of a firehose. To help you digest this information, let me walk through my own printing workflow and setup, briefly touching on each topic covered earlier in this article. This will serve as a concrete review of all of the steps, as well as providing a real-world example.

  1. Choosing an inkjet printer. I currently use an Epson Stylus Pro 3800 with the Epson UltraChrome K3 pigment inks. I chose this printer because I was already familiar with Epson printers (I upgraded from the older 2200), wanted to use larger ink carts (the 3800 has 80 mL ink carts, whereas the 2200’s carts are less than 15 mL), wanted to be able to print 17″ wide, and only work with sheet paper (the 3800 doesn’t support roll paper). Early reports of the 3800 also suggested that it had reduced clogging, had great image quality out of the box, and was easy to use. I also considered the Canon iPF5000, but it was too big to fit on my desk.
  2. Display calibration and profiling. My 19″ Samsung LCD display is calibrated and profiled using an Eye-One Display 2 with the following settings: native white point, gamma 2.2, and 90 cd/m2. I run a calibration and profile every 2 weeks.
  3. Photoshop setup. My RGB working space setup in Photoshop is exactly as described earlier.
Indian Paintbrush, Jasper National Park, Canada © Eric Chan

Example image: Indian Paintbrush, Jasper National Park, Canada

  1. Output-independent editing. I edit an image (such as the example image shown above) to my heart’s content in 16-bit ProPhoto RGB and save the result, layers and all, to a “master file” (e.g., IndianPaintbrush-Master.psd). When saving the image, I check the option to embed the ProPhoto RGB profile into the image.
  2. Paper selection. Based on the image content and what I want to do with the print (e.g., mount, mat, and frame it vs. putting it in a portfolio box), I decide which paper to use for printing – in this case, Velvet Fine Art.
  3. Soft-proofing. I soft-proof the image using the appropriate printer profile (e.g., Pro38 VFA for Velvet Fine Art and an Epson 3800) and try both Perceptual Intent without Black Point Compensation and Relative Colorimetric with Black Point Compensation. I compare both ways, determine which one works best, and make a mental note of it.
  4. Output-dependent editing (optional). If the soft-proof is unsatisfactory (e.g., I don’t like how some of the out of gamut colors are being remapped), then I make paper-specific color adjustments as needed and save a copy of the resulting image with an appropriate name (e.g., IndianPaintbrush-VFA-Optimized.psd). I call this output-dependent editing because my adjustments are based on the specific paper that I’ll be printing to.
  5. Resizing for output. I resize the image to 360 ppi (the native resolution of my 3800) at the desired image size (e.g., 8″ x 12″). As noted earlier, when upsampling I use the Bicubic Smoother method and when downsampling I use the Bicubic method.
  6. Sharpening for output. I sharpen the resized 360 ppi image using the high-pass overlay method, aiming for a sharpening halo of about 2 to 4 pixels. I then flatten and save another copy of the file with an appropriate name (e.g. IndianPaintbrush-VFA-Optimized-8×12-360ppi.psd). Note that this image is still in 16-bit mode. I stay in 16-bit mode throughout the entire workflow, never converting the image to 8-bit.
  7. Printing. I print with Photoshop’s Color Settings set to Let Photoshop Determine Colors and select the Rendering Intent and Black Point Compensation options determined above during the soft-proofing step. In the Epson printer driver, I disable color management and choose my desired quality settings (e.g., 1440 dpi, High Speed Off), select the appropriate Media Type (e.g., Velvet Fine Art) and hit OK. After the print comes out, I let it sit in a box and dry overnight.

Notice that I now have three files sitting on disk:

  1. IndianPaintbrush-Master.psd
  2. IndianPaintbrush-VFA-Optimized.psd
  3. IndianPaintbrush-VFA-Optimized-8×12-360ppi.psd

Whenever I want to print another 8″ x 12″ version of this image on Velvet Fine Art, I just open the third file [c] and perform Step 10 again.

If I want to print the same image on Velvet Fine Art but at another size (e.g., 6″ x 9″ or 12″ x 18″), I open file [b] – which has already been optimized color-wise for Velvet Fine Art but hasn’t been resized yet – and perform Steps 8 through 10.

If I want to print the same image on another paper, or if I need to make overall adjustments to the image, I open file [a] and go back to Steps 4 or 5

Having multiple versions of these files on disk takes up additional space but saves me time. An acceptable tradeoff, in my opinion.

Wrap Up

I hope you have found this guide useful for getting started with inkjet printing. I should note that even though I have used these steps successfully to print my images, I realize there are many valid approaches and variations. If you have found other methods that work well for you, by no means feel compelled to change. Again, the new printing forum at NatureScapes.Net is a great place for further discussion and for asking questions.

About the Author

Eric Chan is a computer scientist at Adobe Systems, where he conducts research and develops software for processing digital photographs. His primary research interests include real-time rendering algorithms and graphics architectures. Eric is an enthusiastic nature photographer and spends an unusual amount of his free time peering through lenses, experimenting with papers and inks, and figuring out how to squeeze every last ounce of quality out of his printer. To learn more about Eric and to see some of his photographs, please visit http://people.csail.mit.edu/ericchan/ and http://people.csail.mit.edu/ericchan/photos/.

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