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Let's explore profiles a little more. Really, what exactly is a profile? Well, a profile, and you can say ICC profile, if you wish to be technically accurate, is a file that contains information about how an output device reproduces color. More easily stated, an ICC profile contains all the colors that can be reproduced on a certain output device, in our case, we're talking about an inkjet printer. All of the colors together make up the color space or gamut of the device. In essence, and as I've used that term before, how many crayons are in my box? ICC profiles can be created for three types of devices that we've run into.
We've talked about monitors and cameras. And of course printers are more accurately, a printer paper combination. As our image takes its digital journey from capture, to edit, to print, it travels through devices that have different capabilities of displaying and outputting color. Simply put, profiles translate color from one device to another according to each devices color and tonal capabilities. Printer paper profiles, in fact, I'm just going to call them paper profiles, characterize how a specific printer paper combination produces color.
Every printer does this differently. And every paper absorbs and reflects these colors differently. The first question is, well, why should you bother to use profiles at all? I mean, the printer driver asks if I want to have the printer manage colors. It all comes down to how important accurate color is to you. If you let the printer manage color, a lot of times you're going to get contrasty, saturated results. That may work for some images, but other images are going to look at best cartoonish and at worst, well, horrendous. What a profile does is it understands exactly what your printer is capable of.
It also understands how to translate color from the image you see on the screen to that printer. A paper profile for your specific paper combination translates color from your digital image into the best match possible on that printer. For example, if your image contains a deep dark red that is beyond the ink and paper's capabilities to produce, the profile will move that color to the closest possible tone that is printable. In addition, since many colors and tones are sampled when a profile is created, an accurate tonal curve is also generated.
This means that you'll get the smoothest distribution of gradations from light to dark. Even if you're printing in black and white. Understanding the importance of using a paper profile, well why would you want to create your own? Why not just use the profiles made available from the printer manufacturer, or the paper maker? Well, using factory supplied profiles is certainly much better than not using a profile at all. I found that factory profiles for glossy and pearl, or luster surfaces are usually pretty good and closely match what I've created using my tools.
Fine art papers, however, are frequently a different story. The limitation of factory profiles is that they're generic by nature. They're created using assumptions about temperature, humidity, altitude, and how a certain printer delivers ink to the paper. Fine art papers seem to be much more sensitive to variations, but because of the need to be safe for every printer of a specific model, they end up being very conservative. The result is you're probably not getting all of the color and tonal range out of your printer that your paper is capable of.
So now that you have a basic understanding of what our paper profiles are going to do, later in this chapter, we're going to explore creating and putting custom profiles to use.
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