Choosing the Correct Printer Settings

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One of the main problem areas for many digital photographers is getting a print that is reasonably close to what you see on screen. Assuming that you have a calibrated display (and if you don't, stop reading this article and profile your monitor!) the problem may lie in your printer settings. It's all too common to find that someone having problems is actually managing the printer settings twice - once in the print driver and once in their image editing software.

For the purposes of this article, I'll focus on Photoshop. Although the screen shots here are from Photoshop CS2, the options are similar for Photoshop 7 and CS. Photoshop Elements gives you fewer options than its big brother, but the concepts are the same.

Once you have your image edited and ready for printing, select File > Print with Preview (Figure 1). If you don't see the Options area when selecting Print with Preview, click the button labeled "More Options". With Color Management selected from the drop down list, the area we need to focus on is Options.

Figure 1

Color Handling will determine whether Photoshop, the printer, or nothing handles all color management. You'll get the best results by selecting "Let Photoshop Determine Colors", particularly if you have profiles for your printer and paper. With this setting, it's important to turn off color management in the printer driver to avoid problems. I'll get to that in just a bit.

Printer Profile contains a list of all profiles installed on your computer. Look for the one that matches your printer and the paper you are using. In this example, I'm printing to a Canon Pixma iP8500 with Canon Pro Gloss paper. If you don't have a profile for your printer and paper combination, which is likely if you use third party papers, check the website for available profiles. Paper vendors often create profiles for their products and make them available free of charge.

Rendering Intent has four options, but for photographs only two of them matter. Perceptual and Relative Colorimetric will give you the best results with photos. Perceptual is my usual choice and attempts to preserve visual relationships between colors when making adjustments. Relative Colorimetric preserves more of the original colors in the image at the expense of accuracy. It shifts colors based on the white value of the source and destinations, making adjustments only when a color is unable to be displayed by the printer (known as out of gamut).

Figure 2

Now you need to verify that printer color management is turned off. Click Page Setup and navigate to your printer driver (Figure 2). Canon and Epson handle this differently, so I'll show examples of both. First up, in the Canon driver set the paper type to the correct value for your chosen paper. Select Manual for Color Adjustment and click Set. Be sure "Enable ICM "is unchecked, and select "None" for Print Type (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Epson users will open the print driver in the same way, and select the correct paper type (Figure 4). Under Mode select "Custom" and click the Advanced button. Under Printer Color Management, select "Off (No Color Adjustment)" (Figure 5).

Figure 4

Going the Other Way
If you don't use Photoshop and your application doesn't allow you to manage color settings, you'll want the printer driver to handle the work for you. In this case, Canon users will select "Enable ICM" after navigating to the Manual Color Adjustment dialog box. Epson users will select "ICM" from the Printer Color Management options in the Advanced dialog. Using ICM insures your printer will do its best to match the colors seen on screen when printing.

Figure 5

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