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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Basic Color Management For Photographers - Part IV

Part IV - Putting It Together

Here we are in the fourth and final installment in this series about basic color management for photographers. In Parts I-III we covered why profiles are useful, how they are generated, and what part they play in a color managed workflow. In today’s post I would like to discuss how these profiles and color spaces are actually used in Photoshop and how they are used to make a print.

This can be a bit difficult to demonstrate very specifically because there are several brands of inkjet printers and within those brands there are multiple models, all of which may have different appearing printer drivers. However, all the drivers will have all the settings I talk about located somewhere within their dialogues. Likewise, there are several different types of photo editing software and even within those brands there may be different versions (ie Photoshop and Photoshop Elements) that are slightly different. Again, they all tend to have the same types of settings, albeit sometimes located in different locations within their menus. While I personally use both Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop CC for editing, I do my printing from Photoshop CC. In terms of printers, I used to use Epson printers but switched over to Canon a few years ago.


First up, let’s look at some of the the color management settings (I have added highlighting to the ones that I will be talking about) in Photoshop under Edit>Color Settings:

Photoshop Color Management Dialogue

Photoshop Color Management Dialogue

It looks a little confusing, but it really isn’t (now that we know all about color spaces). When you import an image from Lightroom to Photoshop, or when you open a photo on your hard drive, it opens (hopefully) within a specific color space to which it was assigned. That color space is typically either Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB, or sRGB, and the photo carries a color space ‘tag’ of sorts so that Photoshop ‘knows’ what color space the photo is in when it is opened. It then knows how to display the photo and how to make your edits effect the color. Of course, if you are working in a color space larger than your monitor can display then your monitor compresses it visually, but Photoshop still keeps it in the embedded color space so the actual color information is retained even if it can’t be properly displayed. The compression is only a ‘monitor thing’ and doesn’t result in lost color data. Then, when you print on a machine that can print more colors than your monitor can display, the colors that the monitor had to compress are visible and unchanged.

Lets start at the beginning. The ‘Working Space’ section of the dialogue box simply asks what color space you want to be working or editing in when you are using any specific color model. For example, in the above screen grab, when I use the RGB color model Photoshop expects me to be working on images in the ProPhotoRGB color space (when intending to print our work, the color space to work in would typically be either AdobeRGB or ProPhotoRGB , while sRGB is more appropriate when images are intended to be displayed on-line). I typically work in ProPhoto because in the future it is quite possible that devices may print in ever larger color gamuts and I want to retain all the color information I can. There are valid reasons one might choose Adobe RGB as well.

But, what happens when a photo is opened that is tagged with a color space other than what you have chosen in the dialogue box? For example, lets say I open an image that I had previously prepared for the web and it’s in the sRGB color space. Photoshop knows that this isn’t what you expected for an RGB color model image (because it isn’t chosen as the RGB working space). That’s what the section called ‘Color Management Policies’ is for.

Under ‘Color Management Policies’ one typically would want to preserve the profile that is embedded in the image (or some might say the color space the image is tagged with). But what if the color space of the image you are opening is not the one you have chosen as your RGB color space? The setting in “Profile Mismatches” tells the software what to do. My choice in this instance is to notify me and ask me what to do if that to were happen, rather than doing something behind the scenes without telling me. The choices it will give me if that happens are to either open the image in the embedded color space or to convert it over to the working color space.

That’s all fine and good, but what happens if we are converting an image from a larger color space into a smaller one, such as would occur if we were opening a ProPhotoRGB tagged image and we had our RGB Working Space set to Adobe RGB? One could ask the same question about printing. What happens if we are printing from ProPhotoRGB on an inkjet printer, as the printer can not print all the colors that are in that color space. In both these instances our software needs to decide what to do with the colors that ‘don’t fit’ or are unprintable. There are two possible choices, called rendering intents. These are the so called relative colorimetric and perceptual intents and you can choose either. In general, for color space conversions I use Relative Colorimetric and for printing I try them both and see which looks better..

When using Relative Colorimetric for making profile conversions the software will simply move the colors that lie outside the color space to the closest color that is in the new color space. For printing it will move the color to the closest color the printer can reproduce based on the icc profile for the paper you are printing to. As an example, lets say there is a very bright red in the image that the printer can’t reproduce on a specific paper (it ‘knows’ this based on the printer/paper profile you have chosen - more on this later). It will take that red and print it as a red of the exact same hue, but it will make it as ‘bright’ as the paper will allow. Essentially it just moves the red down the color space axis until it is within the gamut of colors that the printer can reproduce. The only downside is that our red that was out of gamut now looks no different than the brightest other red of that hue in the print, and the viewer can’t tell that the two reds were in any way different.

The Perceptual rendering intent takes another tact. It says that instead of moving that out of gamut, non-reproducible bright red down the axis and leaving it at that, it moves the red down the axis to the brightest level that can be printed on that paper, but then it also moves all the reds of that hue down the axis a bit, so that the original red is still a bit brighter than the other reds. At least that’s a good way to visualize what happens.

Finally, what happens if you try to open an image in Photoshop that has no color space associated with it (gasp)? You know, the one that your Uncle Joe emailed you ;) Well, if you look all the way down on the lower left under the Color Management Policies, I have asked Photoshop to tell me if that happens and let me choose what to do. If that were to happen it will present a dialogue to me and ask me if I would like to leave it untagged or move it into a color space and, if so, it will allow me to choose which one.

OK, we made it through the Photoshop tough stuff. We could also go into Photoshop soft-proofing, but that is a bit beyond the basics.

Now let’s take a look at how those printer/paper profiles we made in Part III are used. After all, at the end of the line we do want to make a print.

Driver Interface For Canon ImageProGraf 2000

Driver Interface For Canon ImageProGraf 2000

One (among many) of the reasons we had to go through the Photoshop color management settings is so we could understand what we are seeing in the printer driver. I will be demonstrating with the driver from my Canon ImagePrograf 2000, but all drivers - Epson, HP, etc - will have the same choices in their particular drivers. The trick is to find out what they call the choices and where it is buried in the driver menu. I no longer have my Epson printer so can’t easily demonstrate that driver - but it’s all in there.

What you see above is the dialogue in Photoshop that opens up when an image open and you go to File>Print. You can see at the top that the printer I am using is the Canon Pro 2000. If you have other printers they can be chosen from the drop down as well. Lets go down to the color management section. What I have labeled as #1 is simply the color space that the image you are trying to print is tagged or embedded with. Number 2 simply asks the question of what software should handle the color management - and here you want to choose Photoshop and not the printer (the exception to this may be if you want to use the printers built in system for printing in black and white, but that is a topic for another day).

Now, in #3, we come to the profiles printer/paper profiles we had discussed in Part III of this series. We have to choose what profile to print with, and all your icc profiles in the operating system’s appropriate color management folder will be listed in the drop down menuhere. You need to choose the one for the printer/paper combination you are trying to print with/on that you either downloaded or made with the profiler. If you are using the same brand paper as your printer (ie Canon paper with a Canon printer or Epson paper with an Epson printer) the Canon or Epson profiles should have been automatically loaded into your OS color profiles folder, which is to say that you won’t have to go to the Canon or Epson website to download them separately. In this instance I have applied the downloaded paper manufacturer’s profile for using Ilford Gold Fiber Silk paper in my Canon ImagePrograf 2000 printer.

Finally, in #4, we need to choose our rendering intent, as discussed earlier. Though there are more than two options to be had, there are really only two choices you should make for printing photos or artwork and that is ‘Relative Colorimetric’ or ‘Perceptual’, both using ‘Black Point Compensation’ (the other choices are for other uses, such as printing signage). I find that more times than not I use the Relative Colorimetric choice, but there are times when Perceptual fits my vision better. Frankly, I haven’t discussed soft-proofing, but making this choice is one of the things I use soft-proofing for. But go ahead, make a print using both and see the difference.

Now that we have made the choices in the Photoshop dialogue (you thought we were done, didn’t you :) we have to go into the actual printer dialogue for a few settings. We have to go up to #5 and click on ‘Print Settings’. Let’s do it!

Inside the Canon Printer Driver

Inside the Canon Printer Driver

First, up at #1 we have to choose what paper we are printing on. If you are printing on papers other than your printer’s brand (so called third party papers - like my Ilford Gold Fiber Silk) the profile you downloaded will have instructions as to what to choose here, as you will need to choose the same setting as the third party paper company used when they made the profile. So, for example, the instructions that came with my downloaded Ilford profile said to choose Canon Premium Semi-Gloss Paper 2 as my media choice in the driver (even though I am actually printing on Ilford paper, since the drop down choices will only encompass the papers manufactured by the printer brand). At #2 you need to choose the print quality, and if you are using a third party paper along with their downlaoded profile, the instructions will tell you what to choose here as well. Color mode (#3) is simple….the only choices are color or black and white printing. Now there is just one more thing to do…..but it is an important one. Remember up in the Photoshop ‘Print’ dialogue box we said we were going to let Photoshop manage the colors. Well, this is where we tell the printer driver that Photoshop is going to do the heavy lifting and it should just let things be and not apply any color management. If we forget to do this things can get very messy as two paper profiles will be applied and it’s anyone’s guess what comes out. OK, just click on #4, Color Settings, and we get this:

The color management part of the Canon Driver

The color management part of the Canon Driver

We want to go to the matching tab and click ‘OFF’ so that the driver keeps its grubby hands out of the color management. Clicking all your OK’s at the bottom will bring you back to the original Photoshop Print dialogue where you click ‘Print’ at the bottom right and very shortly you should have a masterpiece coming out of your printer!


So, you may be wondering, does all this work?? If I follow this path will my prints always look like the image on my monitor? The answer is yes……and no!

A print can never look exactly like an image on a monitor. For one thing, a literal exact match is a physical impossibility in that we see a monitor image using transmitted light and a paper print using reflected light. In addition, the colors we see in an image are very much affected by the color temperature of the light we are viewing them in. Finally, the color managed workflow itself is simply not perfect. However, it’s the best that we have and can get you reasonably close.

Reasonably close is the key word here. Expectations need to be managed. Think of it like this. If you implement a color managed workflow you are no longer ‘shooting in the dark’. You can get your first print to be a very good approximation to what you see on your monitor. Just don’t expect that your fits print is going to be exactly how you envisioned it based on the monitor appearance. Expect that you will need to do a bit of tweaking and adjusting to get the print to be exactly the way you want it. But you will be starting far, far closer to the finish line if you begin with a color managed workflow.


I do hope you enjoyed this this four part series and that it was helpful to you. As always, please feel free to leave any questions, comments, corrections, etc in the comment section below!