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Archive 2013 · PP to Print Workflow

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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · PP to Print Workflow

Hi Guys,

I'm new to this and I'm a little confused about the workflow of taking a photo, post processing it and then taking it somewhere to have printed. I am an amateur here so i'm trying to figure it out all out.

So lets say I take a picture of a sunset at the beach. I would take the raw image, and put it into lightroom 4. I adjust the colors until I'm satisfied with what I see on my monitor. Then I take it to a print shop to have a large print made.

Does that sound right?

Do I need to color calibrate my monitor to make sure that what I see on my monitor is what will get printed out on a printer? If thats the case do I need to include some kind of file of the color profile with the images when they go to a printshop? Or am I overcomplicating things here?

The most I understand is that most print shops usually do CMYK printing (I think) and most monitors are SRGB?

Could someone point me in the right direction?

Jan 22, 2013 at 10:05 PM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · PP to Print Workflow

Yes you should calibrate your monitor. Chances are you will also need to adjust its brightness which is normally set way too high. Once you have done this, the profile name should be embedded into the image.

Most print labs accept only sRGB images while others accept other color spaces as well. The better ones will have soft proofing profiles depending on the print paper which you can download.

You may still need to tweak your printed image since you have gone from a luminescent version to a reflective one.

Check with the lab you want to print at what their specific requirements are.

Jan 22, 2013 at 10:32 PM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · PP to Print Workflow

Extending on Bernie's comments, Labs will tell you the color space (usually sRGB) , format (eg jpeg, TIFF) they want, compression. Many will tell you the minimum file size that is likely to produce an acceptable print.
While you can take the digital file for printing, there are many "houses" that will allow you to upload your image. Some will offer "professional color correction" for an additional fee.


Jan 23, 2013 at 12:37 AM
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · PP to Print Workflow

Monitors and prints have different maximum color saturation, brightness and contrast. What you want is for the overall impression of the photo (full range of detail and accurate neutrals) to appear the same on both.

For example if you take a photo on a clear day outdoors with sun over your shoulder with Daylight WB of a blonde in a purple dress on a red car it will be recorded with about the same range of detail and color balance seen by eye in person. When opened on the monitor, if it is well calibrated what is seen on the monitor should be a pretty good facsimile of what you saw by eye in terms of detail (there may be some loss in the deep shadows) and color balance. The red car and skin of the model will look "normal".

If you don't do anything with the file and print it the profile based color management running the printer will match the file values to the range of colors it can print and use should see a similar range of detail and similar overall color balance: car and model as you remembered them looking. In terms of detail and color balance.

But if you go back and compare the print with the monitor or lay the print on the print on the red car for direct comparison they may not match. The car may be a richer more saturated red than on the print and the dress may also be more saturated than in the print. That's just the nature of the beast-printer pigments aren't as saturated as some paints and dyes.

But that lack of an absolute match in color is not a problem in the practical sense because absent any side-by-side comparison the brain of the viewer adapts to the color gamut of whatever it is looking at. If what should be black in the photo is black (not gray) and what should be white is white (not gray) the tonal range will seem "normal" perceptually to your brain. If the grays are neutral and the color of the red car is as saturated as monitor or print can make them your brain will not see anything wrong with it. It will pass the "looks right" test.

If you start with well color balanced full range file out of camera and color doesn't look "right" on screen you either have problem with the capture WB or an out of calibration monitor. The solution is to use a gray card you can measure with the eye dropper to check camera WB and use a calibration tool for the monitor.

With a gray card in a test file when you click on the card image in the editor it is made R=G=B and it and the content of the photo SHOULD look neutral / normal if the monitor is correctly calibrated. If it doesn't it's an indication the monitor isn't well calibrated. Fix that problem before making any color editing decisions based on what the screen is displaying.

An even better starting baseline is Custom WB in camera off the gray card. Shoot the card, use that image to set Custom WB, then shoot the card again. On the monitor that second card shot and all the other files should appear normal in color SOOC. Again from that "trust the camera WB" baseline if the color looks off on the monitor the file I OK but the calibration of the monitor is off and should be recalibrated.

Once the camera capture and monitor are nominal if the color of the prints doesn't look similar in overall appearance in neutral colors the profile telling the printer how to map the file values to it's gamut is not accurate. That's usually not a problem when using the same brand OEM ink jet papers and ink cartridges or printing somewhere like Costco. The color may not be perfect but the neutrals will be correct without any color bias and the photo will pass the "looks right" test for most subjects and viewers.

If using third party paper or inks you'll want to get custom profiles made. The way that works is that you print a test target on the printer, send it to get analyzed (or DIY), which results in a new profile file you install on the computer. Then when printed files with that paper/ink you select that profile.

Jan 23, 2013 at 12:57 AM

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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · PP to Print Workflow

If you don't have your own printer, save yourself the time and hassle of calibrating your monitor, because chances are good you will spend an inordinate amount of energy to achieve the results you want.

Find a suitable test picture, like this one


or like this one


Do not adjust or modify the test pictures in any software. They are to be used as a 'viewing reference' only.

Have one or more of those images printed by the photo lab so you can use them side by side your monitor for adjusting brightness and contrast purposes.

This is to create a baseline for your visual perception. If you pull up that image on your monitor and it looks like the printed output, make your own photographs look as bright in your processing. If the software you use has a histogram, you can also use this as part of your comparison so you get a feeling how bright the image should look on screen.

Unless of course you already have a monitor calibration device, then by all means use it.

Jan 23, 2013 at 03:17 AM
Peter Figen
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · PP to Print Workflow

Okay, now this thread has gotten confusing beyond belief, especially for someone sort of starting out. To the original poster, please, please, disregard the post above with the two test images. Neither of them will do you any good and in fact, both, for very different reason, will lead you far astray.

The first image, while meaning well I'm sure, fails the first color management test. It's an untagged RGB image with no embedded profile. That means it will display differently depending on how your particular copy of Photoshop is set up. Not good for helping you judge anything at all.

The second test file is Andrew Rodney's ancient and outdated (and rather mediocre) test image. The primary problem with this test file is that it's in a color space that virtually no one is using today. In the very early days of Mac color management, Colormatch RGB was sort of a standard but sRGB has replaced Colormatch as the defacto color standard. A lot of online printers expect sRGB and if you send this file, those printer will often ignore the embedded profile and assume sRGB, which has a completely different gamma. This was an okay file a dozen years ago, but not so much today.

It doesn't matter if you're going to print or just post images online, you still absolutely need to calibrate. You want your images to be right, and the very best way to do that is with a hardware calibration device. It's the best couple of hundred dollars you can spend. The best bang for the buck is the X-Rite i1Display Pro.

Jan 23, 2013 at 03:50 AM
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · PP to Print Workflow

Agree with Peter. The best gauge for YOUR color workflow are not downloaded test files it is the files coming out of your camera. But what you need to make head/tails of what comes out of the camera AND keep it consistent is a consistent process control baseline.

Custom WB with the gray card and having it in test shots FROM YOUR CAMERA you view on monitor and print will tell you more objectively what what the monitor and printer are doing differently to the SOOC image. Also useful in test shots is a MacBeth color chart. It's easier to compare color shifts on it objectively than from content which changes subject-to-subject.

These shots illustrate the process controls I use. My process control targets consist of a plain 8 x 10 Kodak Gray card used for setting Custom WB and another with a MacBeth ColorChecker on it to better see how colors shift on the monitor and printer gamuts.

Here's an example of setting Custom WB, which is the first step in the workflow. This is a shot of the gray card taken with Daylight WB setting on camera with flash illumination. The flash is a higher color temp so from the Daylight baseline the card is recorded as blue:
Here's a shot of the card after using that frame for setting Custom WB:
The camera shifts it's color balance from the Daylight baseline to one that makes the card's RGB values equal and "technically" neutral on all files straight out of camera (SOOC). What I'm doing by setting Custom WB is "trusting" the camera's baseline as being neutral. Because all the color is known to be neutral SOOC I don't need to fiddle with it by eye on the monitor to try to fix it.

Once WB is "normalized" in whatever lighting I'm using my next concern is exposure. Can the sensor record the entire scene or not? To determine that you much "lock down" exposure on one end of the scale or the other, highlights or shadows, then examine the other end in a test shot. Since highlight detail is usually more critical than shadow detail I make nearly shots with solid white highlights below clipping. For lack of a better gauge of clipping I use the camera playback. I use a white towel as a proxy to help me gauge highlight exposure in the playback warning. Once I get exposure adjusted for the highlight detail I use a black one as a proxy for the darkest content I'm likely to include in a scene.

I also put a MacBeth color checker on the gray card. I don't make any decisions about color with it at capture, its there to help me see the way the color differs on screen vs. printer when I "soft proof" and print the file.

Do I always set-up that way? Yes, when circumstances allows because I find the 1-2 minutes spent up front getting the color neutral SOOC and capturing detail in the highlights saves a lot of time and hassle in the following steps of the workflow.

I always have flash available outdoors (two of them) to handle lighting that exceeds the range of the sensor. The flash can't fit everything to the sensor with normal detail but it can "fix" the foreground. For example here's a shot in cross light, ambient only, exposed for highlight detail in the solid whites:
Here's the same ambient lighting with flash added to "normalize" the tonal range in the foreground:
Note how the background is the same (underexposed) in the flash shot because the scene contrast exceeds sensor range, but since the more important detail is in the now correctly exposed foreground the shot seems more "normal".

Here's a backlit portrait with the same strategy and gear:
The background in that shot is just as underexposed as in the flash shot above, but because it's a sunlit river behind her the underexposure isn't noticed. That illustrates that how you select backgrounds that will make some results look more "normal" than others.

I had to do very little PP in that shot because the color balance was neutral SOOC because I'd set CustomWB and she was recorded with normal looking tonal range because I exposed the sunny parts of the white jacket under clipping and then raised the flash on my bracket to match PERCEPTUALLY. Not exactly match the strength of the sun, but just a bit less to preserve the ambience.

The point of all of this? An ounce of prevention SOOC is better than a pound of cure in Photoshop.

Getting it as close to nominal in the camera saves time and hassles in post processing AND give you a trusted baseline from which to spot problems with monitor or printing. That shot of my wife looked the same on the SOOC file on the monitor (calibrated) and print (reasonably accurate profile) because on both the white jacket looked neutral (no color casts) and the images had similar "normal" ranges of detail (no blown highlight or blocked shadows).

The look of the color in an image can be manipulated with Styles. The shot below shows what happens when different styles are applied to a RAW file. Custom WB was set with a gray card before shooting the target. Styles were changed in post processing:
Note that the white>gray>black tones stay exactly the same on the MacBeth chart. What the styles change is the saturation and hues of the colors. Why would you do that in a photo? A Ferrari would look better in Landscape mode, the skin in a portrait better with the other three less saturated modes. The patches on the card are selected to be similar to caucasian and brown skin, blue sky, red cars, green grass, etc. It's easier to see the changes objectively on the chart by comparison than if you simply compared a portraits without the target.

When I do posed studio shots I have the subject hold the target after setting Custom WB and adjusting the exposure. Then I'll try different styles and make other selective tweeks in ACR as shown below BY COMPARISON with the SOOC "Neutral" style baseline I use all the time. Sometimes the SOOC Neutral shot winds up looking the best, other times changing the style and making the colors "pop" more looks better.

That's where having a well calibrated monitor is important, so the decisions you make by eye will wind up looking the same way when printed. Once I get that card shot adjusted to taste by eye I copy the adjustments into the other RAW files and they get adjusted similarly automatically. From that point on as I edit all the other I don't need to worry about the color. That's where the up front step of setting Custom WB and carefully controlling exposure and tonal range pays huge dividends.

The best part? If you use the calibration device correctly and select the correct profile for the printer/paper/ink you are using those aspects of color management happen correctly automatically. If they don't? Your trusted SOOC Custom WB from Gray Card process control baseline will help you determine where the problem is and how to fix it.

Jan 23, 2013 at 03:34 PM

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