FAQ’s: Print Quality, Nozzle Checks, ICC Profiles & More

top 5 printmaking tips, tricks, techniques

1. The Importance of Using Accurate Print Settings, especially when Testing a New Canvas or Fine Art Paper:

In order to create a perfect print every time, the settings used to print are very important. When using the printer driver on an Epson for example, you basically have 2 crucial areas that need to be done right. First, the Color Handling needs to be set properly. When using a profile, this needs to be set to “Photoshop Manages Color” and the correct ICC Profile needs to be selected under “Output Profile”. Just as important, the correct media type that corresponds with both the media loaded and the ICC profile needs to be selected. The media type in the Epson driver controls the amount of ink that is output on a particular media. If too much ink (or not enough ink) is applied, this will seriously compromise the results of the profile. Typically, the media type is listed in the profile name so this should not be an issue. In looking at the example, the left side of the image shows output with the correct ICC profile, but the wrong media type selected. Notice how the image looks washed out and dull. The color may not be far off but this is not an accurate representation of how the image SHOULD print. The right side of the image shows the same file with the same ICC profile used, but with the correct media type. Notice that the image is more vibrant and the colors are respresented correctly when compared to the monitor (which is calibrated). When creating your own custom ICC profiles, it is best to test comparable media types to what you are printing to find the best results. Our Vibrance Luster, for example, most closely resembles Epson’s Premium Luster Photo Paper in both white point and ink capacity.

color management print settings

2. Optimizing Your Platen Gap (Head Height) Setting for Specific Types of Media:

This is one of the most commonly overlooked settings, but it does serve an important purpose. The Platen Gap refers to the print head height in correlation with the Platen (long, narrow reflective strip which runs across the width of the printer at the point ink is fired). Many common printing problems can be solved by appropriately adjusting the platen gap to accommodate the thickness of media that is being printed (see how by clicking here). For example, if the platen gap is set too wide when running a thinner substrate, this can result in poor resolution or sharpness in your image and banding as the ink is drying in the air on the way to the media surface. If you experience banding, try lowering your platen gap to the standard or narrow setting. Other problems, such as head strikes and overspray can occur when the platen gap is too narrow for a heavy substrate like canvas or a heavy fine art paper. This is caused by the print heads being too close to the surface of your media. A less obvious though more long term problem can also be created by running thick media using too narrow of a platen gap setting. While you may not see any headstrikes or immediate issues on your prints, your print heads may be quietly collecting debris by gently dragging along the surface of the paper or canvas. This can cause major problems of flaking down the road when this debris begins to fall off onto your media before the ink is laid down, causing white flakes (loose debris) to lift off after the print is finished, leaving white voids on the surface. It is always recommended to check with the media manufacturers recommended platen gap settings to avoid these issues. For example, our Lyve Canvas and Elegance Velvet Fine Art Paper work best on the “Wider” setting. Please refer to the chart for Epson Platen Gap settings.

3. Proper Ongoing Upkeep of Your Printer: Nozzle Check/Maintenance Suggestions

All printers will encounter normal wear and tear when printing day in and day out. In order to consistently print at the highest quality your printer can produce, it is important to keep the print heads in top condition. The easiest way to do this is by simply running a nozzle check (test print) every morning before printing. Not only does this show the current state of your print head, it also shows you if a cleaning is needed. Water-based printers (aqueous, pigment ink) have automated cleanings every 4-6 hours depending on the make and model, but you can also perform these cleanings at any time. Clogged nozzles or misfiring nozzles can cause many print issues including banding, inaccurate color output, decline in sharpness/detail, washed out colors, etc. Printing a nozzle check daily insures that you are always aware of the current state of your printer’s performance and makes it that much easier to maintain consistency. It is especially important to have a good nozzle check BEFORE creating ICC profiles. If any nozzles are missing, this will drastically alter the accuracy of the profile and consistency. Taking 60 seconds every morning to perform this simple procedure will keep your printer running in “like-new” shape and extend its life significantly.

4. Generic ICC Profiles vs. Custom ICC Profiles:  The Differences in Print Quality you will see

While most generic ICC profiles generated on another printer will work, in some cases this will not produce 100% accurate results. This is because every printer tends to “drift” from its factory standard overtime. Most new printers out on the market today allow you to recalibrate/re-linearize your printer to bring it back to “home”, but older models don’t have this capability. Custom ICC profiles are specific to your printer, ink and media you are printing on. This means that if your printer drifts over time, you can re-profile and get back the accurate color and consistency you originally started with. This also means that if you have multiple printers, you can profile each to get a match between them. The example shows the difference of using a generic ICC profile vs a custom ICC profile specifically built on the printer being used. When looking at one on it’s own, the generic profile may seem acceptable. But upon closer examination, you will find that there is a slight magenta cast to the overall image. This contributes to the cutting board having a slightly unnatural look and causes the fruit to appear darker and over saturated than they really are, most notably the apple. With a custom ICC profile (and a calibrated monitor), the image on the right accurately represents the fruit as they exist, as well as the cutting board appearing it’s natural wood finish. At the end of the day, it is best to invest in a color management device that will enable you to manage your own color and output professionally. The Eye-One Pro (X-Rite) has always been an industry standard, but the ColorMunki has proven to be an effective, low cost alternative to the Eye-One Pro. The ColorMunki is comparable to the Eye-One in terms of color accuracy, but is even easier to use (especially for novices to color management).  Ultimately, if color output and consistency is important to you and your business, a color management device like the ColorMunki will insure that you get just that. And since that will also cut down on the proofing process, you will cut down on waste/reprints and lower your overall cost. Not a bad investment.

custom icc profile

5. How Temperature/Humidity Can Affect Fine Art Printmaking, & What You Can Do About It:

Fine Art Giclee prints are almost always displayed in a temperature controlled environment, and your printer should be kept in one as well. Since humidity affects the way ink dries and the way certain media react, it is very important to have your printer in a controlled environment. The optimal printing environment is about 70 degrees F and 30-70% relative humidity. When the temperature is too hot or too cold, printer performance/quality can be compromised. To be more specific, ink may have a harder time drying when too cold, and when too hot ink may be susceptible to cracking. When printing and stretching canvas, low or high humidity levels can affect the end result drastically (from brittle, cracking edges to a stretched canvas that loosens over time). In other words, if you can avoid setting up your printer in a basement/warehouse definitely do so. Humidifiers/De-Humidifiers can be added to a troublesome room, but in an office setting running the air conditioning works wonders. An example would be setting it around 72 degrees. Since the air coming from the AC vents dry the air inside your room, it naturally lowers the humidity to a more manageable range. Getting a thermometer with a humidity reading is an essential, low cost item that should be found in every print room. The unit pictured was under $10 at the Home Depot.

What about you?

Have some ninja printer techniques/tips that you utilize? What do you think of these five? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned for future posts on the subject.


About Breathing Color
Breathing Color® is a leading designer and supplier of award-winning inkjet canvas, inkjet fine art paper, photo paper and print varnish. Breathing Color is focused on the fine art and photographic markets with products for Epson®, Canon®, HP® and Roland® Printers that lead the industry in color and longevity. Breathing Color’s customers benefit from the highest quality at competitive prices by buying direct.

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  • Nick Friend

    Nice work Paul. This is very helpful. I look forward to your monthly posts!

  • Filmbank

    Would it be ok if I posted the section on “Optimising the Platen Gap setting on the EpsonWideFormat Forum.
    I had this problem and could not figure it.
    Would be good for others to know.

    • BC Admin

      Thank you very much for asking. Yes, you can post it, all we require is that you post a link to this page and reference that you found this information on Breathing Color’s blog. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Top 5 Printmaking Tips,Tricks,Techniques – February ’11()

  • http://www.printhead911.com Bulk Ink

    Thanks for the tips., its look easy and everyone can understand. Sure it will be useful for new users. the tips for creating snappy, eye catching headlines or titles never fail to catch reader ideas are very interesting.

  • Coppola08

     I have a question that I can’t seem to figure out.  With my Epson 9880 I always loose 1/4″off the length when printing on Canvas.  What can I do?

    • SBRambo

      I’m not as sure about the 9880, but the GS6000 allows me to set up a custom media channel for each media and one of the settings is a length and width test. Looking at the manual for the 9880 it doesn’t look like it adjusts that setting but getting the other settings correct might help. I use the Onyx ProductionHouse RIP and it also has a print length setting in the media setup.

      If none of that works for you you might want to print a long test and see exactly what the percentage of shortening you get is and adjust image sizes in Photoshop with the Constrain Proportion box unchecked to compensate.

      • http://www.breathingcolor.com Paul Morales

        Hi Scott,

        Great tips! The GS6000 is great because it gives you the option to control and adjust everything. The aqueous counter-parts like the 9880 have less control because they’re dialed in at the factory. But creating a custom paper type on the printer is a similar method to how you would approach it on the GS6000. One thing I forgot to mention is users typically will select “Watercolor Paper” as the media type when printing on canvas, which is our recommendation. However, Epson has added a newer Canvas setting which alleviates canvas shrinkage. The downside is the Canvas media setting outputs more ink then necessary so the canvas can be a little over-saturated. If the 9880 were used through a RIP like Onyx Production House, this would easily be adjusted and corrected. However, in the Epson driver there are only 2 ways to lower your overall ink load:

        1. Selecting a different media type that outputs less ink (testing required, and measuring each sample print with a densitometer will help you find the ideal range).

        2. Lowering the Color Density in the driver. This will output less ink, but at a certain point it will take away more in then is necessary and will cause your prints to become washed out in appearance.

        This is why we try to avoid that route as it leaves more room for error. But the custom paper type will let you save this information. At that point it is important to remember the custom setting you created and that you use it each time you are printing on the canvas.

        Your input is always appreciated. Hope everything is going well at the shop. Do you guys still have the Roland?

    • http://www.breathingcolor.com Paul Morales

      Hello Coppola,

       If you are referring to the canvas shrinkage when printing, there are a few ways you can approach this. To better understand what you are doing, it’s important to understand why the shrinkage occurs. What happens is the tension created with the media flanges and the pinch rollers tend to slightly “stretch” the canvas when it is being fed through the printer (while printing of course). After the print is finished, there is no longer tension and the canvas is allowed to relax. This is when you notice the prints being smaller. I’ve done numerous tests on this and found that the average shrinkage was about 1.25%, depending on the canvas that is used. While you can compensate for this in Photoshop by adding additional bleed to your images, I think a better approach would be to create a custom paper type on the printer. This will enable you to run a set feed adjustment for the canvas, and the prints should come out the exact size every time. This process is relatively easy and is outlined step-by-step in the Epson owner’s manual. If you do not have that manual saved, it can be downloaded from Epson’s site HERE

      I hope this info has been helpful for you. If you have any further questions, please feel free to post below.

      • david

        hello paul, i have a epson 9880. my canvas prints are coming out too dark. where grey should appear that area is just straight black. does this have anything to do with the icc profiles of this page article?

  • Samaila

    “”Our Vibrance Luster, for example, most closely resembles Epson’s Premium Luster Photo Paper in both white point and ink capacity.” Good tip for epson users! What about us Z3100 guys? I have virtually ransacked this site trying to find a similar comparison for the Z3100 and BC Chromata white Canvas with no luck.

    • http://www.breathingcolor.com Paul Morales

      Hello Samailia,

      Thank you for the comment. The Z3100 is a great printer with the added bonus of being able to custom create each profile and media type. For the Chromata White I’ve found that using the Professional Matte Canvas setting with less ink seems to work the best overall with our users. Pay close attention to the ink amount as a lower amount with yield the best results without sacrificing density/saturation.

      Stayed tuned for future posts that will have a Z3100/6100 profile walk-through.

  • Kbecca

    Need Advice Please — I own a print shop that is located close to an art studio.   I have had several request for archival print services.  I have just purchased an Epson 9700 to print posters — could this printer be used for basic posters and the archival prints or would I need two printers?  What educational resources would you recommend for a novice with this printer?  Thanks for any information you can share. 

    • http://www.breathingcolor.com Paul Morales

      Thanks for the comment Kbecca! The Epson 9700 is a 4 color printer that Epson designed for the display signage market. It does offer the Ultrachrome K3 ink found in various Epson printer models. In terms of archivability, the ink will certainly hold up.

      The important factor for creating archival prints is to be sure you are printing on an archival product. Our Lyve canvas is OBA free, acid and lignin free and is certified archival for 100+ years (when protected with our Timeless varnish).

      For more information on these products, please visit the product pages by clicking on the following links: Lyve Canvas and Timeless Giclee Varnish.

  • http://www.dptok.com/ Banner printing oklahoma city

    Organized content is the best way to display or post an article, thank you for making it easy to digest your post.

    • Justin Bodin

      Thanks for reading!

  • Alok Upadhyay

    Need advice Please : dear sir i want to know that how to take glossy shining Print on canvas
    recently my company buy a printer Epson GS6000. we will  make replica of old paintings
    how to make glossy and shining print on canvas who look always fresh & contras colour

    • Justin Bodin

      Hi Alok,

      The GS6000 is a great printer for glossy canvas. You should give us a call to discuss your media options. 866-722-6567

  • Nick Donohue

    What kind of ink yield per 960ml cartridge do you get with Epson GS6000 cartridges in 8 pass and 6 pass