When Prints Go Wrong

Everyone has experienced the frustration of making changes to an image on the monitor until it’s just right, then seeing a print emerge only to have it too light, too dark, or, for black and white images, seeing the image color go a sickly green or other color cast. It would make sense that what you see on the monitor screen matches the print, but that’s not always or, for some, often the case. While digital printing is certainly easier than darkroom printing, where you had to run a print through the baths to see that you did not burn or dodge enough in a small area and have to go through the entire sequence again, digital certainly has its share of frustrating moments.

The answer might be simple, or it may be complex. It could be inputting the wrong profile, working with heads that need cleaning or replacing, a monitor mismatch, poor calibration, working with a monitor that has no business in your printmaking workflow…or all of the above. Let’s face it—when we got involved with digital printing we never anticipated that we’d have to learn pre-press operations, something we face all the time in creating the magazine, but something that pros make a career out of learning and perfecting. In essence, Photoshop is really a pre-press software hijacked by photographers, and making your own prints requires more than just pushing the button and letting the software and printer do the rest.

When you consider how photo labs evolved in the old days you would appreciate what goes into making a good-looking print, and many labs got a C+ at best when you averaged out all the jobs that flowed through their systems. It started with testing and making color corrections on individual rolls of film, then to inserting film-type channels into the system so the analyzer could get a best bet on how the emulsion affected the color (something we see in advanced scanning software today), then proceeded on to systems that scanned each negative for color and density. As David Brooks states so well in this month’s feature on printing workflow, it all starts out today with the computer and printer being essentially blind to one another. It becomes your job to set them up so that a firm handshake exists between the two.

If you have been following David’s continuing series on print quality, much of which is available online at www.shutterbug.com, or from David directly on his CD (see his Digital Help column for information on obtaining one) you know that we have always seen print quality as an important part of our coverage of the digital deal. The promise of digital is that it allows us to take control of our images and become our own custom lab. But with that potential comes the work needed to set your system up to deliver prints that match all the effort you put into editing, manipulating, and perfecting the image in the computer. Work with David’s methods and setups and you’ll go a long way to accomplishing that goal.