Color Profiles for Inkjet Made Easy

Part 1 of the Inkjet Learning Center Article Series by Red River Paper

Chances are that if you print photos on an inkjet printer, you are looking for the best possible results. To get those results, you need to follow a short and simple checklist. Near the top of this list is learning how to use color profiles. Color profiles (or ICC profiles) have the unfortunate stigma of being difficult to comprehend and even harder to employ. Luckily for us, that is the furthest from the truth!

What Are Color Profiles?

Simply put, an ICC printer output profile is a piece of software code that defines the color space of a certain inkjet printer, inkjet paper, and ink set. They allow Photoshop (and a few other applications) to properly translate the color of your image file into an accurate representation on paper.

Finding and Installing Profiles

If you have a higher end printer, profiles for that manufacturer’s papers and inks were probably installed when you installed the printer drivers. If you are using papers or inks from a 3rd party, you’ll want to get profiles from them. Any reputable paper brand should offer custom made profiles for a wide variety of inkjet printers. Head to their site and download the proper profile.

Other options exist for getting a custom profile. You can have one made by a color profile company. Great vendors like Chromix and Cathy Profiles can make one for between $50 and $75. You simply print out a target image that they provide. With specialized hardware and software, they scan your color target and make a profile specific to your printer, ink, and paper.

Finally you can make the profile yourself. This requires equipment and software from a company like X-Rite. While this method gives you absolute control, the process can be technically challenging. In addition, the equipment will cost you $500 to $3000! If you are a true perfectionist with some time and money to spare this could be your best bet.

Putting the Profiles On Your Computer

With Vista or XP, try placing the profile on your desktop, then right click on it. You should see a menu called “INSTALL” or “INSTALL PROFILE” - click it. That will copy the profile to its proper system folder. Now quit Photoshop and restart. On a Mac, navigate to the LIBRARY > COLORSYNC > PROFILES folder and copy the profile there. For in-depth help, you can go to Red River Paper’s profile help page for in-depth assistance.

Profiles In Action

Once your image is ready for printing, click File > Print in Photoshop CS3. Older versions will use File > Print with Preview. In this dialog you need to select the paper’s profile from the Print Space (called Printer Profile in CS3) menu. Here you will also select a rendering intent - either Relative Colorimetric or Perceptual. Your paper company should make a suggestion for this setting. Also make sure to always leave “Blackpoint Compensation” checked. By the way, Photoshop Elements uses ICC profiles the same way as the full version.

Red River Paper CS3 PrintPreview

This screen grab from Photoshop CS3 shows the basics. 1) Tell Photoshop to handle color management 2) Choose the right printer profile and rendering intent 3) Make sure blackpoint compensation is checked.

Now you will open the printer’s properties menu. Here you must turn off any color correction and set the media type according to the profile instructions. Getting these two steps right is essential to a properly color managed print. You can see step-by-step guides by printer type and Photoshop version on Red River Paper’s profile help page.

Red River Paper Driver

In the printer properties you must 1) Select the recommended media type 2) Turn off color management 3) Set the recommended print quality

Once you do this process a few times, it will become second nature. A little up-front work to understand profiles and their implementation will go a long way toward prints that are consistent and that accurately represent the file you are printing.