In this article we will be discussing the proper color management workflow for the Epson Stylus Pro 9900 to ensure that you maximize the quality of your prints. Color management involves more than just an ICC profile, so it takes a firm understanding for how color actually works. A color profile determines how a color’s numeric values map to its visual appearance, either on screen or off a printer. The very first step to managing your color is to insure that you are viewing your color accurately. In order to accurately view how a printer profile will output a particular file, you must calibrate your monitor. The Eye-One Display2 is the industry standard for monitor calibration, but you can also use devices like the ColorMunki Photo, the Spyder-3 Pro, or the PANTONE Huey Pro. Each device is equipped with the necessary software to calibrate your monitor and maintain consistency in color representation. If you do not own one of these devices though, you can still complete the rest of the profiling process (without the ability to soft-proof on screen). To start, let’s go through the process beginning with the color settings in Adobe Photoshop.
How to Manage the Embedded ICC Profiles
To access your color settings in Photoshop, click on the Edit pull-down menu and locate Color Settings near the bottom of the list. Your working space specifies the color profile that is to be used for either a CMYK or RGB workflow. The profiles you choose as your working space can be whatever you specify as there is no right or wrong setting. The most commonly used working spaces are Adobe RGB (1998) and U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2. These are selected due to their relatively wide color gamut and consistency with the vast majority of reproducible colors. Looking in the bottom portion of the window you will find the Color Management Policies. These policies determine what action Photoshop takes when you have files that have a different embedded profile to what your working space is set at. Normally, these settings are set to “Preserve Embedded Profiles” but changing that to “Convert to Working” will keep all of your files in the same color space. This is important if color consistency is what you strive for. Last but not least, Profile Mismatches and Missing Profiles should be “checked” to activate “Ask When Opening”. This way, any time you open a new file you will be notified if the file you are opening is embedded with a profile other than your working space. It is always best to convert to your working space.
The Importance of Using the Correct Black Ink
Now that you have your color settings complete, let’s go through the process of creating a custom ICC Profile. These settings are universal regardless of the device being used for profiling. In the following example, we will be profiling our Lyve Canvas. To start, you want to make sure that the Epson 9900 is using the correct black. The 9900 is equipped with Matte Black and Photo Black, and it is very important to use the black that best suites the media you are printing on. Photo Black is used for any photo papers that have a gloss, satin, or luster sheen. But Photo Black is also used on glossy canvases, such as our Crystalline Gloss or Satin Canvas. Photo Black has sheen to it so printing with it on the media types mentioned will produce blacks that match the sheen of the paper. If you were to use Matte Black on a photo paper, you will experience gloss differential in the blacks or any colors that are combined with black. Gloss differential (not to be confused with bronzing) mainly happens with black since the black inks in the 9900 have very different properties. Using Photo Black on a matte paper will result in the image looking somewhat washed out and less vibrant. On the flip side, using Matte Black on a photo paper will have a noticeably dull look in any dark areas due to the Matte Black’s dense properties and lack of sheen. Please see the images below to have a better understanding of what this looks like. Lyve Canvas is a Matte canvas so we will use Matte Black to achieve the best possible results. Be sure to set your printer to Matte Black if it is not already using it. Switching Photo Black to Matte Black uses about 1.13ml of ink and Matte Black to Photo Black uses about 3.34ml of ink. This is because the black inks share a line in the ink delivery system so the ink currently in the line is purged to allow the opposite ink to be used. The entire process takes about 2-3 minutes.
Printing Targets and Creating Your Own ICC Profile
Now that you are using Matte Black, let’s begin our profile creation. First, locate the target file your profiling device (spectrophotometer) requires to build a profile. The Eye-One Pro or ColorMunki Photo (X-Rite products) produces the best, most accurate results in minimal time. In this example, we will be using the Eye-One iO scanning table equipped with the Eye-One Pro. While there are many target files that will produce great results, I find that Bill Atkinson’s 1728 target seems to produce the best results overall. Open the target file, and do not embed any profile or working space. Target files are untagged RGB files so applying a profile to it may affect the end results of the profile. With the target file open, go to File>Print. On the first print dialog box you have Color Handling options on the right. Prior to Adobe CS5, you have 3 options: Printer Manages Color, Photoshop Manages Color, or No Color Management. When printing targets for a custom ICC profile, it is vital that this be set to No Color Management (Printer Manages Colors in Adobe CS5). This is because the profile you are building will manage the color. If you print targets with an ICC Profile (or any other type of color management) you will drastically affect the end result of the profile. Having set the Color Handling to No Color Management, you can now proceed to Page Setup (Printer Settings in Adobe CS5).
Choose the Right Media type to Maximize Your Ink Capacity
The Epson 9900 has lots of standard media types that are used for printing. Many people wonder what the correct setting is for a particular media. The short answer is to match the media type in the driver with what most closely resembles the media you are printing on. But sometimes you can achieve better results through experimentation. The media types in the Epson driver have set ink loads that will differ depending on what you are printing on. Canvas, for example, can absorb more ink than a typical photo paper so it’s important to use a media type that outputs more ink. If you do not utilize the maximum capability of your media, the prints can appear washed out and dull. However, outputting more ink than the media can handle will result in over-saturation, mottling, pooling, ink bleeding, and lack of sharpness in the overall print. To find the right balance, it’s best to do a small test print of solid colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) and visually check if any of these instances occur. For Lyve Canvas, Epson’s Watercolor paper setting produces just the right amount of ink to push the output and color gamut to its threshold without any problems. Depending on your print room temperature/humidity, your results may vary slightly so it is best to test multiple media types before determining which is best to use. As long as you do not see any of the artifacts described above and the color looks vibrant, you are ready to proceed.
Resolution – How Much Do You Actually Need?
The Print Quality is best determined by what media you are printing on. Under Quality Options, you will find various resolution/print modes. 1440x720dpi offers great resolution without sacrificing speed. 2880x1440dpi may be considered “over-the-top” since you will not notice additional resolution sharpness on canvas due to its texture and porous look. 2880 will also slow your printer down considerably and use slightly more ink overall. Of course, these resolution settings are moot if the file you are printing is relatively low in pixel depth (also referred to as low resolution). High Speed mode should be left on as this utilizes bi-directional printing (print head fires ink in both directions of travel). If you are not sure how a particular image will print, click on the View menu and select Actual Pixels in Photoshop. This will accurately show the resolution of your image at 100% (the size the image will be printed at). While canvas tends to be more forgiving in terms of output (in regards to a low resolution file), a typical photo paper will not be as forgiving.
Below Print Quality, you have a Color Mode. When set to Automatic, the Epson driver will apply a color mode to the print. Usually this will raise the overall saturation of the image being printed, especially in the Reds and Blues. This should not be applied to building a profile due to color shifts that may occur. These settings can be experimented with during the printing process, but for profiling they should be turned off. To do so, change the Color Mode from Automatic to Custom. When Custom has been selected, click on the pull-down menu below and select Off (No Color Adjustment). This will leave the target file unaffected. Now that all of these settings have been made, you are ready to print out the targets for profiling.
Using Your new ICC Profile
When the targets have been printed, allow them to dry for 15-20 minutes prior to scanning with your spectrophotometer. After scanning and building your new ICC Profile, you are now ready to use it for your next print. Please watch the video below to see the correct print settings when using an ICC Profile you’ve created.