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When most people print for the first time, they're usually shocked to see how much their print mismatches what they see on their monitor. Hopefully by now though you understand why getting a match between your monitor and the printed page is so difficult. Still it seems like it should be possible for your screen and prints to match. Fortunately, a lot of really smart people agree with that thought, a lot of work and engineering has gone into technologies that will allow you to get a better match between your monitor and your printer. In this chapter we're going to look at these color management technologies, I'm going to show you how they work and show you what you need to do to build a color-managed printing workflow.
Before we get started though I want to issue the disclaimer that what you see me doing here may not work with the monitor that you already have. Unfortunately, to get a color-managed workflow that works you've got to spend some money. You might need to buy a new monitor, and you'll definitely need to buy some calibration hardware of some kind. If you've been following along with the techniques that I've already shown you then you should already be getting good prints with very few, if any, test prints. You could probably pay for a lot of test prints with what you'd spend on a new monitor and calibration hardware, so you may or may not find color management to be a worthwhile goal.
Color management technology is simply a combination of some special hardware and some agreed-upon standards. You use this hardware and these standards to ensure that your monitor and printer are in agreement about what a particular color looks like. What makes color management work are small files called profiles or more specifically ICC profiles, these are little text files that get stored on your computer. The ICC or International Color Consortium is a group of companies that have agreed upon a specification for describing the color capabilities of a particular device.
Monitors can be profiled as can specific printer paper combinations. What an ICC profile does is describe how a particular device differs from a set standard. So, for example, an ICC profile for your monitor might indicate that your particular monitor displays certain blue tones with a little bit of green cast, and meanwhile an ICC profile for a specific printer and paper might indicate that those same blue tones print a little bit darker on paper than the accepted standard. Both Photoshop and probably the OS you're using include a color management engine that knows how to take advantage of this profile information.
So, when you print, the color management engine would look at the monitor profile and realize that what you're considering to be blue is actually a little greener than the accepted standard, and then it would look at the printer profile and figure out what hues and tones the paper can actually hold. It would then shift the colors in your image on the way to the printer in an attempt to make the printed output match your expectation, your original image is never actually altered. Now this might sound like a fairly straightforward idea on paper, but in reality it's a really difficult thing to pull off.
First of all, for color management to work, you have to have very accurate profiles of your various devices, and throughout the rest of this chapter we'll talk about how to get those. Further complicating all of this are viewing conditions. If your profiles are built under particular lighting then they may not be accurate if you switch to different lighting or if the lighting in your workspace changes. This is why we have come to this windowless studio where we can control all of our lighting. Finally, you need to manage your expectations. Your printed image is never going to exactly match what's on your monitor.
For the simple reason that your monitor is shining transmissive light directly into your eyes and a print is showing reflected light. The qualities of the light and color between these two technologies is fundamentally different, so a printed image is always going to look different than an image on your monitor. As I mentioned earlier a good color management system can be expensive and can take a long time to set up. The goal with color management is to reduce the number of test prints that you need to make, but as we've seen careful work with the Histogram can go a long way toward getting you better prints straight out of the printer.
So, before you run out to buy a color management gear I'd recommend watching this entire chapter, so you can see exactly what's involved with color management and then decide if you think it's worth the time and money.
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