Soft Proofing Images Before Printing

Noelle Hines of FinerWorks delivers this tutorial on soft proofing your images with Adobe Photoshop.

By Noelle Hines.

Today I'm going to show you how to soft proof your images through Photoshop. Why is soft proofing important? Simply put, soft proofing your images before having them printed is a great way to simulate how they will appear based on specific printer and paper combination. In the long run it will save you both time and money.

This tutorial is designed to give you a crash course in the process of soft proofing, but remember, soft proofing is done using a calibrated computer monitor* which has a much wider color gamut than do printers. Soft proofing can never guarantee your print will be exactly like the image your looking at on screen, but it can help you come as close to it as possible.

But before getting started, its important that you do two things. The first is to make sure your monitor is calibrated. Once you initially calibrate, be prepared to re-calibrate at least once a month. My experience with The Spyder Series by Datacolor has been excellent, but there are plenty of others to choose from. Just remember, in order to achieve proper calibration, an application like adobe gamma isn't good enough. You need a tool that will allow you to measure things like ambient light in addition to monitor color settings. Don't fall into the assumption that because you are on the latest and greates computer or even on a MAC it will be calibrated otherwise you might be ver disappointed. The newer computer screens on either a MAC or PC are especially inaccurate and will almost always indicate an image is brighter than it really is until it is properly calibrated.

The second thing you need is to obtain the correct ICC profile. Every device that captures or displays color can have its own profile. And the different papers, pigments, and inks which are used by many printers make it difficult, to determine how exactly your print will look unless you have a preset that allows you to simulate these things. Finding the correct profile is as easy as contacting your print maker. You should be able to download the profile you need directly from their website.

Ok now that your monitor is calibrated, and you have the profile you're intending to use, let's start softproofing.

At first glance, my image looks great. The colors are vibrant, nothing looks off.  Because I'm so happy with the image as it is, I'm going to duplicate it. But first I'm going to bring it up to 100%. I'll explain why this is important a little later. Now that I've duplicated the image I have one for both the soft proof and one to to refer to in case I need to adjust my soft proofed image once I've added my icc profile. You'll see exactly what I mean in a few minutes.

So duplicate your image, give it a name and this duplicate image is the one we will be working on.

I want to show you something before we apply our icc profile. Remember when I told you that our monitors are able to use  a wider  gamat to display colors than printers do? From View, go to Gamat warning, and notice how much of our image is lost. Now before you go through all your images turning on the gamat warning, it's important for you to understand that a gamat warning serves as an extremely lenient warning. In English,  that basically means to take the gamat warning with a grain of salt.  That's not to say the gamat warning is a useless tool. It actually serves it's purpose quite well. What it's telling us is that the missing colors may be difficult for a printer to simulate exactly. You can expect these areas will appear similar in color once printed, but an exact match won't be guaranteed. So the deep reds we see here, and the midnight blue background are likely going to be a bit off. 

Once we've soft proofed our image, we wont be able to turn this warning back on since it will be profiled specifically to the printer's color gamut.

I hope that little illustration gives you a better understanding of how important soft proofing really is. so lets go back up to View and then to proof set up. This is where we apply the icc profile, but because I obtained one this from the print maker it's considered a custom set up. Select Custom at the top and a new window will open up. From this window, I'm going to select the icc profile, but I 'm also able to use this window to simulate how my print will look based on the profile I've chosen.

"Device to simulate" is how photoshop asks for your preferred icc profile. I'm gonig to click the drop arrow, and select my profile from the list, and then I'm going to leave Preserve RGB numbers unchecked and move right down to rendering intent. Perceptual is what I recommend using, but if you prefer relative colorimetric, feel free to use that instead.

I also recommend checking Black Point Compensation. If you haven't got a full understanding of black points, think of it as this: The black in your image may have a brown tone to it, whereas the printer gives black a bluish tone. Black point compensation will find a happy medium for both your image and the printer its being printed with.

There's one last thing we need to do before clicking OK. We need to choose our on screen display options. Let me warn you ahead of time, this is a hard step to get through. This is also the reason I suggested bringing the image up to 100%. When we click this box, our image will instantly be transformed. Colors will appear washed out and dingy. Believe it or not, 75% of that is optical illusion. Our eyes have grown accustomed to seeing white a certain way for so long that seeing it any other way just seems wrong.

Notice that as I checked simulate paper color, simulate black ink has selected itself by default. These two go hand in hand when simulating paper color. Keep in mind that  this step does nothing to change my image, it simply simulates how it will appear on paper. And depending on the icc profile assigned to different paper types, simulating paper color may not always have the same effect. The best advice I can give about On screen display options is the same advice I gave you about gamut warnings. Take it with a grain of salt. Now, I'm going to click ok so that I can compare my two images, and see if I need to make any adjustments. Some people actually prefer to leave this off, and if you are one who tends to overcompensate when applying adjustments to images, you may want to leave it unchecked as well.

Comparing these two images, I definately want to make some adjustments. Of course I can't instruct you on this last step, since every image is different. But if you really liked the look of the original,  just try to bring your soft proofed image as close to your original image as necesary to achieve the look you want.

*Computer monitors out of the box are not calibrated regardless if it is a MAC or PC.The only way to calibrate a monitor is via a third party device like the Sypder3. Failing to properly calibrate your monitor or simply assuming your screen is calibrated without taking the proper steps will nullify any soft proofing effors.

 ** Please keep in mind that soft proof edimages should NEVER be saved with the ICC profile embedded. Make sure to save soft proofed images in the RGB version recommended by your print lab. This is usually sRGB or AdobeRGB.


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