Output Options; “Soft” Proofing; See How The Print Will Look, Before Printing

OK, you've done all the right things--you've calibrated your display using one of the hardware devices such as the X-Rite i1Display 2, Pantone huey, or ColorVision Spyder2. You've set your Photoshop work space up correctly, using Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB as the color space for your documents, and you've made all the right selections in the printer driver to get the most accurate prints your system is capable of. So, why do the prints still not look right?

Sure, you can often get a print that is a very close match to what you see on screen, particularly when using an RC photo paper like gloss or luster. But with some images, you just don't get the same results you expect. Especially when printing to fine art papers, colors often seem washed out when compared to what you see on screen. This isn't something you're doing wrong, it's just the reality of paper and ink combinations. Photoshop and your printer are still giving you the best match possible, it's just that best isn't always good enough. So, what to do?

Well, if you use the full version of Photoshop (sorry, but Elements doesn't work here), there's a great feature called soft proofing that can save you time, money, and frustration. Time is saved because you no longer have to wait until the print is done to see what the results will be, money because you don't need to do multiple prints on expensive paper to get the image you envision, and frustration because you haven't wasted the first two items!

Let's take a look at how soft proofing can work for you. To get started, choose View>Proof Setup as shown in #1. From the list of options, select Custom to display the Customize Proof Condition dialog.


This dialog contains everything you need to simulate how your image will look on paper. The first step is to select the right printer and paper combination from the Device to Simulate list. This list contains all the installed profiles on your system (you'll recognize these as the same ones displayed when selecting a printer profile). So, if I wanted to see how my image would look when printed on glossy paper to a Canon iPF6100, I'd select that profile from the list.

The other options to set in this dialog are the Rendering Intent, which should be either Relative Colorimetric or Perceptual, and Simulate Paper Color. Black Point Compensation should also be checked, and be sure that you do not check the Preserve Numbers option, as it will throw everything off for our purposes. Finally, unless you want to play with different settings here to see what type of paper to use, turn off the Preview check box.


Image 2 shows how my print would look if I choose to use glossy paper. For a stark contrast, you can see how different the print looks when choosing a fine art paper in #3. Same printer, same ink, different paper properties. This is where most people see the output and wonder what went wrong. In fact, nothing went wrong at all, you're just expecting more than is possible for the media you selected.


So, the first step in getting a print that matches your vision is selecting the appropriate paper for the image. In the examples shown earlier, a fine art paper is clearly not the best option. For the highly saturated hues in this floral shot, a gloss or luster paper is the only choice if I want to get that color to pop.