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So, in parts one and two of this series of posts, I described my first forays into color management, first through monitor calibration, and then printer correction.  Attempting to print neutral black and white images turned out to be incredibly difficult.  In particular, at the end of the previous part I ended on a rather discouraging note of failure.  Just as I was about to abandon this project, I came across an article in Northlight Images (once again, a great resource).  This talks about the concept of linearization.

Linearizing Your Output
Before I talk about linearization, I should mention that I determined, after looking at the nozzle check again, that the cyan and magenta inks in monochrome are really of very similar density.  In addition, since the previous failed printout was almost totally black, I decided that I will not use the dark gray ink, and instead put the light black in both cyan and magenta cartridges (had to purge the cyan cartridge for a long time).

Cyan and magenta are almost of the same density

Next, I downloaded Quadtone Rip, which I alluded to in the first part.  It turns out there is a way to improve your printouts using the linearization process.  Basically, you print out a raw, un-managed print with 21 or 51 steps (5% or 2% steps, respectively).  Then you use a spectrometer (my Spyder3Print to the rescue!) to scan in each patch of print density, and export the results to a text file.  In the Spyder3Print software, go to the top menu, select Tools, then Measure (you can also just press Ctrl-M).  In the pop-up dialogue, select QTR export for linearization, and scan the patches in sequence.  Once done, click Done and the file will be in the export folder.

21-step linearization standard

Next, go to the Quadtone Rip folder and look for the Eyeone sub folder (“C:\Program Files (x86)\QuadToneRIP\Eye-One” on my computer).  Drag your exported linearization text file onto the QTR-Create-ICC-RGB.exe file.  This will create two files – an ICC profile that you can install, and a linearized out file, which looks like this:

21-step linearization output

While a 51-step image will give finer gradations, it is also more prone to problems.  The Create-ICC program only works if the measured density increases monotonically.  With a 2% step, we sometimes get irregularities in printed densities, which will cause the program to fail.

Results Speak for Themselves
So, how good are the results, and are they worth the effort?  To answer the first, look at the following 2 images.  The first is the original test image from Northlight, and the second is a scanned, corrected print using the new profile:

Original Test File


Scanned print output

The density is a wee bit higher, and the slightly warm tone might be an artifact of the scanner (this is a color scan), but the grays look nice and gradual, and to be honest, this is better than I expected.  So why does this work better?  It is because this profiling does away with the mapping of color patches, and instead uses only density information for printing.  I have never used this profile on a color printer before.  I wonder what the result will look like.

As for whether it is worth it, suffice it to say that the experience taught me a lot about printing and color management.  I am now fairly confident that I will be able to profile another printer of another make, and achieve usable results.  When I get some time on my hands, I may even consider playing around with warmtone inks!

Importance of Matching Ink and Paper
One last note before we go – it is critically important that a profile is created for each paper-ink combination.  In addition, you MUST disable color management in the printer software (they will override your settings, or at least mess it up).  You know how you select different types of paper in the printer settings? Well those are the ICC settings that the printer manufacturer provided.  You will have to dive deep into the printer menus to disable your printer color management, so do consult your printer manual for instructions.  Here are three images I printed using different settings.  The first is a fast-scan using the printer’s color correction profile; the second is a print using an ICC I created for another paper, and the last one is the newly created profile for the Inkpress Fine Art Matte paper.  The last image looks almost identical to what it looks like on-screen.  What a difference an ICC profile makes!

From left to right, prints created using printer canned profile, Profile for Epson semi-gloss paper, and the newly created profile for the Inkpress paper