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A Computer Darkroom Tutorial

 

This tutorial is intended to help simplify the process of printing from within Photoshop. It also compliments my Photoshop Color Management essay, which can be found here.

 

Before I get into describing the various Photoshop and Print Driver configurations I need to clarify two aspects of print making that still seem to confuse a lot of Photoshop users:

  1. Desktop inkjet printers from Epson, Canon, Hewlett Packard, et al may use CMYK or multiple shades of CMYK coloured inks. However, this doesn't make them CMYK printers. Occasionally you'll see this type of printer referred to as Non-Postscript printers. The reason I stress this point so much is that the device drivers supplied with these printers are not designed to print CMYK mode documents. So be warned, any attempt to produce a CMYK document directly  from a desktop inkjet printer will result in disappointment.

  2. Unless you're using a monitor intended for photographic or video editing, the colour gamut of an image displayed cannot be fully reproduced in print. We can often get close, but never an exact match, that is unless we manipulate the image such that the colour gamut is significantly reduced.

Note that while the initial screenshots used for this tutorial use the macOS version of Photoshop they should still be useful to those of you using either Windows 10. The print driver screenshots are based on the Epson SureColor SC-P700, but should be compatible with most other recent models from Epson.

Note: While all Epson print drivers install a set of ICC media profiles they are usually contained within an installer package that Lightroom Classic and Photoshop may not have direct access to. This tutorial from Conrad Chavez provides detailed instruction on how to make the ICC printer profiles visible - Printer profiles missing on macOS: A permanent solution

 

Producing a Print

The following screenshot shows the Printer Setup and Color Management sections within Photoshop Print Settings dialog box. In particular, the Color Management section enables you to define the Color Handling and Printer Profile options along with the Rendering Intent used to convert the document between the document profile and printer profile.

Figure 1 - Photoshop Print Settings

To the right of the preview image and reading from top to bottom we have a Print Setup, which gives access to the printer driver along with options for positioning and scaling prints. Pressing the Print Settings button will open your printer driver dialog thus giving you access to the various settings for color management, page layout, etc. The actual appearance of dialog will differ according to your OS and printer vendor.

Color Management is the default view for the Print dialog. The preview window is fully color managed and includes the ability to soft-proof images.  The soft-proofing is controlled by the three checkboxes below the preview image. These are labelled Match Print Colors, Gamut Warning and Show Paper White. To keep things simple I will focus on only those settings that fall within the Color Management section in figure 1 above. I will also give a brief summary of each option and hopefully give you better idea which combinations are best suited to particular print tasks:

  • Color Handling  - this is the pop-up menu from which you choose the preferred method of managing color when printing from Photoshop. By adopting this approach Adobe have separated the workflow aspects of printing from the media choices. There are three color handling options, and each has its own associated preset configuration within the Print Settings dialog, thereby helping the user avoid erroneous settings.

  1. Printer Manage Colors - with this option Photoshop instructs the printer to carry out the conversion between the document color space and the printer vendors preferred color space. Photoshop will not change (convert) the document if this option is selected. This is the most appropriate option when you don't have ICC media profiles for your particular printer/media combination.

  2. Photoshop Manages Colors - with this option Photoshop will convert the document to the printer/media profile that you have selected in the Printer Profile pop-up. Many desktop printers are now supplied with generic media profiles, but much more color accurate prints can be obtained if custom profiles are used. However, as the yellow alert badge warns, for this option to work correctly color management must be switched off in the printer driver.

  3. Separations - this option is used when printing CMYK documents where each channel is handled separately. If your document is RGB the option will be greyed out.

  • Printer Profile - as its name implies this is the pop-up menu from which you choose the ICC profile associated with the printer/media combination you'll be using. This pop-up will only be active when Photoshop Manages Colors is selected in the Color Handling pop-up. By default, it will actually show the document color space, so make sure that you don't forget to choose the appropriate printer/media profile before hitting the Print button.

Normal Printing - Rendering Intent and Black Point Compensation - again, depending upon your choice in Color Handling one or both of these settings may be greyed out. Irrespective of whether it's greyed out or not, most desktop photo printers (inkjets) will ignore these two settings when Printer Manages Colors is selected from the Color Handling pop-up.

 

The Description box is a useful feature within the Print dialog in so far as it provides short explanations for each of the settings and options. The description itself is triggered when you hover the mouse over the various buttons and pop-up menus (e.g. Color Handling, Rendering Intent, Black Point Compensation, etc).

 

Position and Size is where you can position the document on the page and enabling scaling to fit the page, etc.

 

The reaming sections (i.e. Print Marks, Functions, and Postscript Options) can be ignored.

It's all about Workflow

As outlined above there are three choices or more accurately workflow options contained within the Color Handling pop-up. However, this tutorial will only discuss two of them, leaving the third (i.e. Separations) for others to explain.

Print Workflow 1

The default configuration for the Print dialog is shown below as Figure 2. Notice that Color Handling is set to Printer Manages Colors. For the purpose of this tutorial we'll call this setting Print Workflow 1.

When you choose Printer Manages Colors you're informing Photoshop that the document should be passed directly to printer driver with instructions on how to convert the document colors into the printer optimised equivalent. Photoshop will not convert the document nor will it take any account of the media specified in your printer driver. Using this option Photoshop tags the document  so that the printer driver has all of the information needed to ensure accurate color rendering of the print. The document color management is handled solely by the printer driver.

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Figure 2 - Print Workflow 1

Tip: Depending upon your printer model it is possible that Rendering Intent may not be active for this workflow. Even if it is active there is every possibility that the printer driver will ignore your choice and use Perceptual, but don't worry either way.

Print Workflow 2

This workflow, which is often referred to as application color management, is really intended for the more advanced/demanding Photoshop worker who needs total control of how their documents are rendered to print. With Color Handling set to Photoshop Manages Colors you are able to choose: specific ICC media profiles, the Rendering Intent, and whether or not Black Point Compensation is to be used.

When Photoshop Handles Colors is selected you'll immediately be given access to the Printer Profile pop-up. By default the profile shown in this pop-up is the Working RGB profile (defined in Photoshop Color Settings), but you'll very seldom want to leave it at Working RGB. As mentioned above it's important that your actual choice of Printer Profile matches the media and printer model that you'll be using, otherwise poor quality prints are a virtual certainty. The best quality will be obtained when you use an ICC media profile that has been created for your specific printer. These can be created by you using specialist software/hardware or purchased from a third party.

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Figure 3 - Print Workflow 2

Notice that once a printer profile is selected both Rendering Intent and Black Point Compensation" (BPC) are activated. Generally you'll want to use Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric, and have BPC checked. It's worth noting that with many of the newer models from Epson it is probable that choosing Relative Colorimetric will produce the more pleasing prints.

Tip: The important point to note about this workflow is that your printer driver MUST be configured so that ALL color management features are disabled. Often you'll see this workflow referred to as the No Color Adjustment (NCA) or Application Color Management workflow.

When the Print dialog has been configured to suit your requirements it's time to press the Print button.

Each operating system has it's own unique printer driver configuration and in some case the drivers differ from printer to printer. Given this variation it's not possible for me to provide specific settings for every case, but the following should give a good indication of how the respective OS/driver combination should be configured.

Print Workflow 1 (Contd.)

When you press the Print Settings button (i.e. top right hand corner of Photoshop Print Settings dialog) the "System" Print dialog as shown in Figure 4 should appear. The System Print dialog might appear quite complicated in so far as it includes multiple menu options. Fortunately, you'll not need to access options such as: Layout, Color Matching, Paper Handling, Cover Page and Scheduler. Also, I really can't emphasise enough how important it is that you configure the printer driver in the sequence that I describe otherwise there is a good chance that one of the settings will revert to the Epson default.

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Figure 4 - "System" Print dialog

Press the popup labelled Layout.  Next, choose Print Settings from the list of options. The Printer Settings panel (figure 5) will appear.

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Figure 5 - Epson Printer Dialog - Main Window

For the purposes of this tutorial I will concentrate on the type of Media Type (1), Color Settings (2), Print Quality (3) and printer specific options (4) such as speed and detail.

For best results you should make sure that the settings Media Type (1) is set to match the paper that you'll be printing with and Print Quality (3) should normally be set to the highest available resolution that is compatible with the printer/media combination you're using. Generally,  High Speed (4) should be enabled for fastest (bidirectional Finest Detail should be enabled for best quality.

The remainder of this page discusses the options available for Color Settings (2) and is separated into two parts, the first deals with Print Workflow 1 and the second Print Workflow 2.

Color Settings (2) has four options: Epson Standard (sRGB), Adobe RGB, PhotoEnhance and Off (No Color Adjustment)Workflow 2 uses the Off (No Color Adjustment) option. Also, remember that when this option is selected the Photoshop Print dialog should be configured as shown in figure 2 above.

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Figure 6 - Epson Print Driver: Print Workflow 1

Of the four sub-options available under Color Settings, I think Epson Standard (sRGB) and Adobe RGB are the best choice for printing photographic images.

I don't recommend the use of the Advanced Color Settings, which lists a set of adjustment sliders. Nevertheless,  I have shown the panel for information. Leaving it at the default settings and fixing tonal or color issues within Photoshop is more likely to produced better results because you have a live preview the adjustments. Using the Epson adjustment sliders usually requires multiple iterations of adjustment and print before everything is correct.

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Figure 6 - Advanced Color Control Panel

Print Workflow 2 (Contd.)

The Color Settings option referred to as Off (No Color Adjustment) is ONLY appropriate when you're using application color management (i.e. you have selected ICC media profile in Photoshop Printer Profile pop-up (Figure 3). In other words, you should only use this setting if you have chosen to configure Photoshop Print dialog as shown in Print Workflow 2 (Figure 3). This option produces by far the best print quality. It's also worth mentioning that if you find your final prints are light and magenta in appearance then there's a very good chance that you chose Color Controls by mistake.

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Figure 7 - Epson Print Driver: Print Workflow 2

With the printer driver configured for your preferred media, print quality and color management settings it's a good idea to save them for future use. This is achieved by opening the Presets popup and choosing Save Current Settings as Preset... - do be sure to choose a meaningful name. Next time you need to make a print you can simply choose this preset from the list of Presets.

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Figure 8 - Saving your settings as Presets

 

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