by John Walrath
In a color managed workflow, printer output is defined and corrected through paper profiles. A paper profile is a set of instructions that a printer will use for printing. It instructs the printer how color should be applied to a certain paper.
Paper profiles are used for Soft Proofing and in the print dialog when an image is sent to the printer. This paper profile defines and corrects the output of a printer. Just like an accurately calibrated display is important for an accurate view into your digital world, an accurate paper profile is important for the best quality prints.
The aim of working with ICC profiles is to get the same color results on different output devices. In most cases, the colors displayed should represent the smallest color space in the workflow.
If you are printing at home, paper profiles come in two varieties: generic paper profiles and custom paper profiles. Generic paper profiles are available for download from the paper manufacturers website. They are designed for a specific paper and printer model. These generic paper profiles can provide good results but they are made for only a specific printer model. One of the foundational principles of color management is every device renders color a little bit differently. Since a generic paper profile is not made for the specific printer you are using to print your photography, it cannot specifically account for the nuances of the way your printer prints.
The Canon Pixma-Pro-1 is a 12-color fine art inkjet printer. It is representative of this device class. Inkjet printers with 12 inks can print colors far be yond the traditional CMYK offset printing gamut, so are excellent for fine art printing.
Cyan/magenta/yellow (CMY) are subtractive colors. They are the complementary colors to the additive colors of red/green/blue. All three colors combined together filter out all wavelengths of the visible spectrum, resulting in black (K). The principle of subtractive colors is all around us. A red cherry reflects mostly red wavelengths, and so appears red. Many colors in the visible spectrum can be emulated by mixing the three subtractive base colors. Using more saturated base colors, allows a wider range of target colors to be emulated. CMYK are the standard colors in offset printing.
By referring to this Canon print driver, one gets an idea of the plethora of papers available to choose from. The naming doesn’t follow a standard. It may be necessary to do several test runs with different media type settings in order to decide on the optimal setting for the selected paper.
A custom paper profile is one that is made for a specific printer. SpyderPRINT is Datacolor’s tool that allows the printmaker to precisely account for the nuances in their printer’s output. Custom paper profiles are made by printing out a series of test pages and the SpyderPRINT sensor is used to measure each color patch. By comparing the measurement of each patch against the correct measurements, SpyderPRINT makes the custom ICC profile for the specific paper and specific printer.
The calibration tool for inks in action: SpyderPRINT compares the printed colors with the reference colors, calculates color differences, and compensates for them.
Creating a custom paper profile for a specific printer will provide the highest quality results since it account for a specific printer. The difference is perhaps more noticeable on matte papers and monotone images. We are often asked how much of a difference a custom paper profile can provide.
In my photography, I always try to do everything I can so that I am the only possible variable. I make sure I have the best equipment that I can afford, use proper technique and best practices. By using a generic paper profile, it opens up the possibility of a weak point in my workflow.
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