Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow

Soft proofing and configuring your print settings for optimal output
Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
An image from Indonesia’s Komodo National Park that’s on deck for printing in Lightroom’s Print Module. Photo by Jason Bradley.

In the second installment of this four-part series regarding photo printing, I talked about creating consistency through calibrating our devices and introduced you to concepts on how to practice ICC color management. The goal was to provide a foundation for printing with a sense of control, by incorporating ICC profiles into your workflow. In this article, I’ll focus more on the how-to of it by covering the important steps and objectives of a typical printing workflow, the keyword here being important.

A typical printing workflow is less about the printer and software you choose or whether you use the manufacturer’s print driver versus a third-party RIP (Raster Image Processor; see the sidebar for more on this topic). Instead, the steps I’m referring to are more universal, and they should be noted regardless of the aforementioned. Most importantly, both the location of, and the configuration of, the settings as you print will vary depending on the platform, the printer and the software used. So, here, I’ll concentrate on the issues that I deem to be “important stuff” and that remain the same from one printing workflow to another.

Step 1: Soft Proofing
After a file has been developed and is ready to print, don’t hit the print button—yet. I suggest that you soft-proof first. A hard proof is a print we can hold and look at to see if what we’ve made works, while soft proofs are something we can look at before hitting “Print”. Specifically, a soft proof can tell us whether we have color out of gamut and, thus, offers the opportunity to make any adjustments before printing.

Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 1: Here’s a screenshot of a printer profile set inside of a display or monitor profile. As you can see, they’re different. Color from your file to your monitor to your print is different and can’t always be reproduced when converting to a printer profile.

When referring to out-of-gamut colors, I’m referring to colors in your file that your printer can’t reproduce (Figure 1). In my last article, I talked about how devices in our workflow chain reproduce color differently. Even though your display can show you a particular shade of blue, that doesn’t mean your printer can make that same blue. Soft proofing allows us to ascertain if such a discrepancy exists between file and print. It tells us what colors are “out of gamut,” and it shows where in our images the out-of-gamut colors are, providing us with the road map we need to correct the problem. Here’s how it works when working in Lightroom.

Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 2: Check the Soft Proofing box to inspect your image file for out-of-gamut color.

1. While in the Develop Module in Lightroom, look for and check the Soft Proofing box in the toolbar (Figure 2).

Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 3: Choose the printer profile for your printer and the photo paper you’re using.

2. Look for the Soft Proofing Panel in the upper right of your user interface. Then select the correct printer profile for the printer and photo paper you’re using (Figure 3). If you’re looking for your printer profile for the first time, click on Other and find your profile from a selection larger than the one sampled in Figure 3.

3. Choose a Perceptual or Relative Intent, located below where you chose your profile. Without getting too technical, rendering intents are different methods for moving color from the computer to the printer. For the most part, Perceptual is where you’ll want to be, but you can switch back and forth to see which looks better. Ideally, you’ll see no change at all.

Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 4: Activate the Show Destination Gamut Warning to identify your out-of-gamut color.

4. Click on the small Show Destination Gamut Warning icon. Colors that are out of gamut will then show as red (Figure 4).

TIP: Check out the previous article in this series to read more about printer profiles and how to load them.

Step 2: Correcting Out-of-Gamut Color
Needless to say, you can print without soft proofing. The thing is, if you print a file with out-of-gamut color, that color will be interpreted—which is a fancy word for guessing. Soft proofing, thus, provides control, consistency and predictability.

When fixing out-of-gamut color, the goal, regardless of approach, is to change the color to something that’s printable without the need for interpolation. The trick to doing this is to steer clear of global adjustments, meaning, don’t use, say, the Saturation slider in Lightroom, as it will shift the saturation of all the colors in your file, not just your out-of-gamut ones. Thus, think in terms of performing localized adjustments.

Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 5

1. One way to change color is to change its hue. While in Lightroom’s Develop Module, open the HSL Panel, and click on the Hue section. Next, select the Targeted Adjustment tool, which turns your cursor into a crosshair. You then can click directly on your out-of-gamut color and click-and-drag your mouse up or down to change the hue of that color (Figure 5). Of course, keep your out-of-gamut clipping warnings active to see the red gamut warning fade or disappear as you go.

2. You also can change a color by changing its level of saturation. With this approach, do everything almost exactly the same as in the last step, but instead of selecting the Hue section, select Saturation. Then, focus on desaturating your out-of-gamut color, which I’ve found to be the more effective way to bring color into gamut. Alternatively, you can desaturate a specific zone by using your Adjustment brush. Activate the brush, move your Saturation slider to the left and begin brushing over the area with out-of-gamut color.

Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 5 & 5a: Use the Targeted Adjustment tool to easily select and change your out-of-gamut color.

NOTE: As you adjust an image while soft proofing, Lightroom will ask you after your first adjustment if you’d like to create a virtual copy of your soft proof. You can choose to Create Proof, or to Make This a Proof. Making the virtual copy creates a copy that’s dedicated to the changes made for print output only (Figure 5a).

Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 6: Click the Page Setup button to choose the printer and paper you’re using.

Step 3: Page Setup
After your soft proof, it’s time to go to Lightroom’s Print Module to begin configuring the settings for your print. In the lower-left corner of the Print Module, you’ll find the Page Setup button, which launches the Page Setup dialog box when clicked (Figure 6). Your two goals for this step are simple: Select the printer you’re going to use and the paper size you’re printing on, be it roll paper or a cut sheet.

Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 7: The Print dialog is where we configure settings such as the media type we’re using, where we turn on 16-bit output and turn off color management, and where we set the print resolution.

Step 4: Print Settings
Just to the right of the Page Setup button is the Print Settings button, which launches the Print dialog box for you to configure. Again, setting locations may vary, but my goal is locating the Printer settings as shown in Figure 7. The objectives for Printer settings are to set the media type, turn color management off, make sure I’m printing with 16-bit output, and set the output resolution. Next, you’ll want to find where you can set your Platen Gap.

Printer Settings: Here, the media type is set to Premium Luster Paper (260), but knowing the right setting for your media type likely will be a mystery to those printing for the first time. The easiest way to know is to go to your paper manufacturer’s website, and find a data specification sheet or a “Read Me” file that provides their recommendation. You always can call the manufacturer if you find the information difficult to locate. Next, make sure you’re printing with 16-bit output. Note that this setting is of no use if you’re printing JPEGs, which are inherently 8-bit.

Color management should be turned off because we don’t want the printer managing the color. The whole point of covering the use of ICC profiles in the last article was to gain control and consistency of our printing. So turn color management off, and in another workflow step, we’ll point to the ICC printer profile. Lastly, I suggest using an output resolution of 2880 dpi. Most printers can be set higher, but it’s not needed for photo prints and can greatly slow things down.

Platen Gap: While many photographers get away without worrying about the Platen Gap, it becomes important with two scenarios: if you get into using thick or heavy-weighted papers, or if you ever experience what’s called a “head strike.” A head strike is when your print head (the thing that spits the ink out onto the paper) makes contact with the paper as it moves back and forth along the paper. The results are usually ink splotches or streaks left on your print—usually on the edge of the paper. Head strikes happen, and the best way to fix the problem is by setting your Platen Gap accordingly.

Modern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 8: We also need to configure settings around the thickness and density of the paper we’re using through these settings.

The goal when configuring your Platen Gap is to have the print head as close to the paper as possible without touching or striking the paper. It’s best to refer to your printer’s manual for their recommendations on how to set the paper thickness. Options are usually to play with increasing your Paper Thickness settings, your Paper Suction settings (many printers have vacuums pulling the paper into the printer body to keep them flat as they run through the printer), Platen Gap settings and Roll Paper Back Tension settings (Figure 8).

odern Printmaking Part Three: Workflow
Figure 9: In addition to configuring settings with the print driver as in the last couple of figure references, we also need to configure settings for how Lightroom exports our image in the Print Job panel.

Step 5: Setting Your Printer Profile and Output Sharpening

Next, go to Lightroom’s Print Job panel found in the lower right of the Print Module (Figure 9). Essentially, this panel controls the settings Lightroom uses to export a file before it goes to print. First, set the Print Resolution. I suggest setting Canon printers to 300, and to 360 for Epson; each of those will match the dpi capability of the Canon and Epson print heads. Next, set Print Sharpening, then 16 Bit Output, and then for Color Management, set the printer profile for your specific printer model and for the specific paper you’re printing on.

Workflow Summary
To borrow again from my last article in this series, I suggest that you begin creating consistency and control of your printing by incorporating ICC color management into your routine. Calibrate your display, get your printer profiles from your paper manufacturer and install them. Then, once your image is developed to your liking, go through the following steps:

Soft-proof your image to make sure all your colors are in gamut
Make any corrections needed to bring out-of-gamut color in gamut
Choose the paper size you’re printing on, and the printer
Print settings
Printer settings
Set your media type
Set your output to 16-bit
Turn off color management
Set your resolution to 2880 dpi
Set the Platen Gap
Tell your printer the paper thickness you’re using
Set the amount of paper suction
Set the roll paper back tension (not needed if printing on cut sheets)
Set your printer profile and output sharpening

Digital printing is admittedly a technical endeavor. The days of printing creatively, with dodging and burning, with contrast masks and other techniques, are out the window with digital; all those creative steps are done in the Develop Module of Lightroom today. Once you’ve gone through these steps a few times, I promise you, printing digitally is easy. It will make you faster than ever, more consistent than ever and, ultimately, more productive than ever.

Native Print Drivers Versus RIPs
The examples given here for configuring the printer settings are by way of using the Epson Print Driver. However, you may have heard of the option of using something called a RIP, or Raster Image Processor. In a nutshell, a RIP is a printer driver on steroids. In theory, it does everything better and faster than the native print driver, including giving you better overall print quality. There are many RIPs on the market, however, and not all are created equal or worth the buy. In fact, unless you’re a professional printer, I would suggest not even looking into RIPs as an option. The gap between the qualities of the best RIPs versus using native print drivers has shrunk dramatically in recent years. Personally, I use a RIP called ImagePrint some of the time, but a lot of my printing is done straight through Lightroom and my printer’s native print driver. The quality is great, and unless I need to gang-run many images at once, Lightroom printing handles things pretty well.

Read Part 4: Choosing Materials of this article series.

Jason Bradley has a unique set of skills. He specializes in nature and wildlife photography both underwater and above; he’s the owner and operator of Bradley Photographic Print Services, a fine art print lab; he leads photographic expeditions around the world, and is the author of the book Creative Workflow in Lightroom, published by Focal Press. Visit BradleyPhotographic.com to see more of his work and find info on his upcoming workshops and expeditions, and BradleyPrintServices.com to learn about his fine art printing services.

4 Comments

    Jason, an excellent summary of print workflow, though I would have appreciated spending more time on optimization of image contrast, dynamic range, and sharpening for output. Also another tip is to print “proof” images on smaller sheets of paper thus saving printing costs and paper. Enjoying the series and keep up the good work.

    I’ve been wondering how accurate the output out of gamut warnings in LR’s soft proofing really is, as I’ve seen a number of examples where:
    1) a side-by-side view of the edited photo and the soft proofed showed clear differences (less saturation in greens, shift in reds) while no out of gamut warning was shown
    2) with no out of gamut warning, it still made a difference which rendering intend was chosen. Since rendering intend is supposed to fix out of gamut colors, I suppose there would not be anything to fix, or change when nothing was out of gamut..
    I’m working with a calibrated eizo color edge. Comments, anyone?

    Jason, in new version of LR I have no Print Settings button. Figures 6 and 7 will be different. Step 4 will be now different. Is it possible to see new version of this section of printmaking. or may be you have a book? Please help me.

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