Like any working partnership, the one between your display and your printer will be more successful if both partners work from an agreed-upon set of assumptions. The previous chapter showed you how to specify the proper settings your monitor; now it's the printer's turn.
Most printers include a number of profiles for the papers made by the manufacturer. These profiles range from acceptable to excellent, but don't help your prints much unless you properly select and use them.
Photo printers have a number of options available to assist with getting top-notch photo prints, but they don't always make the choices clear. This chapter covers how to select the correct options in your printer driver. If you've ever been frustrated trying to figure out your printer driver options or you just couldn't get a print that looked right, this chapter is for you.
Printer Profile Basics
The printing process is perhaps one of the most complicated steps of the digital workflow. After all, you're going from a completely different medium—pixels on your screen lit by an electric charge—to ink on a page viewed by light reflecting off the paper. Not only is the light source completely different, but the method of creating the color is too (Figure 4.1). Consider this—your monitor uses only three colors to create the image on your screen: red, green, and blue. Your printer, on the other hand, uses at least four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. That's right; none of the printer colors are the same as your monitor colors. See why this conversion process is so complicated? Not only does your printer need to know how to make a particular shade of, say, green, it usually needs to know how to make that green with no green ink!
Figure 4.1 Monitors work with colors in the RGB model, but printers typically work in the CMYK model. As you can see, the two approaches are very different; when you mix all the RGB colors they become white, but mixing all CMYK colors produces black.
In Chapter 3, "Keeping an Eye on Color," I talked about how monitor profiles interact with printer profiles to create the closest match possible, sort of like using an English-to-Spanish translation dictionary.
Your monitor only needs one profile to be accurate but because of the way ink is absorbed and reflected on paper, printers need a different profile for each and every paper that you print on. And, to take it one step further, for the best results, each paper should have a different profile for each lighting condition it will be displayed in. The same photograph printed on a luster finish paper will look very different under daylight conditions than it will under tungsten or fluorescent lighting.
Depending on the model printer you have, multiple versions of the same paper profile may be available too. It's common for manufacturers to provide profiles for the various print modes, such as Normal and Best, because these modes use different densities of ink. It's all sounding pretty complicated, isn't it? The good news is that once you know the major pieces of printer color management, it becomes a simple matter to select the right settings and get the results you want. Going beyond that does require some effort on your part, and later in this chapter I'll show you how to create your own printer profiles for use with special lighting conditions, or new paper types that aren't supported by the manufacturer.
Because Macs and Windows systems handle printing so differently, I've broken their printer settings into two separate sections. If you use only one of these computers, feel free to skip over to that section unless you have a burning curiosity about how the other half lives.
Through Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements and their Print With Preview dialog boxes, you have the most control over which printer profiles are used and how they are used. Other applications give you access to some color management, but it will be more limited or only echo what you can do within the printer driver itself. So, although Photoshop isn't a requirement for good prints, if you're serious about image quality, I recommend upgrading to the full version of Photoshop.