Nervous about sending your work off to a commercial press? Scott Martin, a print workflow expert, explains how you can use Photoshop and smart paper selection to simulate a four-color press look and proof your prints at home with a printer like the Epson 3880.
- Converting your image to SWOP
- Black point compensation – matching a four-color press’s capabilities
- The necessity of trial and error
- Papers designed specifically for proofing
- Ordering proofs from print vendors instead
- SWOP 5 vs. SWOP 3 vs. GRACoL – Three quality tiers
- How does this process change for digital presses?
- Printing to match a printer that doesn’t allow custom ICC profiles – a tricky situation
- Much more!
Listen in to learn about sending work to a commercial press
- To learn about Scott Martin and his services as a workflow consultant, check out his website.
- Listeners featured in this episode include Ed and Adam.
- Quick reference: printer specifications mentioned in the episode include SWOP 5, SWOP 3, and GRACoL
- Follow Scott’s instructions for simulating a four-color press at home by downloading our Proofing Walkthrough
- Love the show? Have some feedback for us? Leave us a review on iTunes
Prefer to read over listen? Want to save this conversation for reference later? We transcribe all of our shows for these reasons! Download this episode’s transcription below:
Or, to view a web version of the transcript:
Announcer 1: You are listening to the AskBC podcast – your printmaking questions, answered by the experts!
Justin: Hey guys, it’s your host Justin, welcome to episode 21 of the AskBC podcast! We have a special guest back with us here today – Scott Martin joins us to answer a listener’s question about how to use an Epson printer to proof for a print job that will be sent out to a traditional four color press, or a digital press. Scott, thanks again for joining us, if you wouldn’t mind, could you give our listeners a little bit of context – tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Scott: Hey, I’m Scott Martin, I am a color management consultant. I have been travelling around the world helping people with color management and print quality issues for the last 21 years. I’m also a fine art photographer that shows work in galleries and contemporary art museums, and I’m kind of a geek when it comes to making the exquisite print.
Justin: Perfect, thanks Scott! Let’s go ahead and jump in to Ed’s question.
Announcer 2: Ed asks, “What’s the best way to use an Epson Stylus Pro 3880 to proof images for a photo book that will be printed on a commercial, four-color press – in terms of color matching, assuring good shadow detail, etc.?
Scott: Well, conceptually what we want to do is pretty simple. On a color management level, what we want to do is convert the image (or images) from whatever color space they’re in to the press space, like SWOP or GRACoL, and then print to the 3880 using the right 3880 paper profile with the relative colorimetric intent without black point compensation.
So conceptually, that’s what we want to do, and we can do that a number of ways. We can do it with a RIP, we can do it a couple of different ways in Photoshop, or a few other applications. But it’s also important to think about what paper choice we’re using. You want to use a paper that’s very similar to the press stock that’ll be used in the press in terms of lightness, you know. We don’t want to print on a super bright white paper on the inkjet printer, and then go to press with a natural white paper. The effect on the highlights of the image will be considerably different, so the paper choice is important.
The other super-tricky thing here, any time we’re talking about matching a printing press, is figuring out what the condition the press is actually in. Are they calibrating their press? You know, a lot of places don’t calibrate their press, they just run with it the way it comes. And if they are calibrating it – to what specification are they calibrating to? Are they calibrating to SWOP 5, SWOP 3, GRACoL, [unintelligible], or something else?
And how accurately are they calibrating to that specification? So these are the tricky things that we have to ask ourselves, you know.
Justin: How would you go about figuring that stuff out? I mean, maybe that’s something they typically list on their website – hopefully. Or if you can contact, you know, the places doing the printing, obviously that would be ideal.
Scott: Yeah, well, you know a little bit of trial and error is required to get a level of confidence with a printmaker, you know?
Scott: And a lot of designers I know that are constantly sending out jobs to different print vendors, you know, they find print vendors that are really well calibrated to SWOP or GRACoL, and they stick to them because they know they’re going to get a reliable product time after time.
But the best place to start here when you want to start doing pres proofing, is just to proof to the SWOP 3 specification. So, again, if we’re talking about working in Photoshop – you can take your images, and you can convert to the SWOP 3 specification, and you may see your image change a little bit during that process, it’s gonna change any out of gamut colors it’s gonna put them within the gamut of that printing specification, SWOP 3, and then when you print it to your Epson 3800, use the appropriate profile for the paper you’re printing on, and use the relative colorimetric intent without black point compensation.
And that bit about excluding black point compensation is important because chances are your 3880 with your paper is capable of a super-rich dark black – probably a black that is much darker than what you’ll get on press. So when we print with Rogue colorimetric, without black point compensation, you see the more gentle black that you’re gonna get on press.
Justin: Ah, that’s a good note.
Scott: Yeah, and, you know, it’s also worth mentioning that there are certain papers out there that are designed for press proofing, you know. Epson has their commercial proofing papers. There’s one in particular called White Semi-Matte that’s really good and used a lot in the market place.
Justin: And how are those different than just picking up like a matte photo paper from anybody? I don’t know if you know how they’re designed differently from something like that.
Scott: These different press specifications like SWOP and GRACoL – part of the specification defines a certain paper white color of whites and brightness values, so some of these inkjet proofing papers on the market are specifically designed and manufactured to that – the whiteness that a specification like SWOP requires.
Justin: Gotcha, okay. Well that makes it simpler. I mean you mention how important the white point is, so having the paper specifically designed for that makes sense.
Scott: Yeah, so if you were to convert your images to SWOP 3 and print to your printer in that way with relative colorimetric and without black point compensation, that’s essentially a SWOP proof. And, you know, if you really want to get geeky, there’s a procedure you can do to certify your SWOP proofs, to see if they’re good enough to meet the specifications of the SWOP committee, but that’s what most design agencies do, is they create SWOP proofs.
Now, when you send that off to a print vendor, if their press is calibrated to SWOP, they should be able to match those SWOP proofs pretty well. However, you know, sometimes people don’t calibrate their presses very well (or at all), and they may not be able to match your proofs at all. And that’s a difficult situation to be in. That’s an unfortunate situation to be in – but, you know, one that you should expect.
So again, doing a little trial and error, and trying out a few different print vendors and discovering which ones are calibrated is an important part of picking a print vendor.
Justin: And you mentioned SWOP 3 versus SWOP 5, etc. I mean, is that gonna cause a pretty big difference if you’re setting your image in the space of SWOP 3 and the vendor is actually using 5? Is that gonna be a big deal?
Scott: It’s relatively small. It’s not huge. SWOP 5 is for the less expensive grade 5 papers, you know, that can only hold so much saturation and the d-max isn’t as rich as a higher quality paper. SWOP 3 is for grade 3 papers – that’s the most common press specification used in the world today. And GRACoL is the new print specification for grade 1 papers.
Scott: If that makes sense. For the highest quality papers out there.
Justin: Take the most ink, etcetera…
Scott: Yeah, you know, and it’s also worth saying that print vendors usually are a proofing service as well. Where you send your files to them, they’ll make a proof that they mail back to you, and you would hope that those proofs are very accurate. You would hope that those proofs give you a really good idea of how it’s gonna look when it actually goes to press. But again, your results may vary.
Justin: Is this what they’re normally doing? Is this how they’re normally handling it? Printing it on like one of these aqueous wide format machines? The proof I mean?
Scott: That’s become the way to proof these days, yes. If it’s calibrated properly, it’s extremely accurate.
Justin: Okay, awesome.
Scott: And very affordable, and very fast.
Justin: So for this guy, Ed, I don’t know how familiar he is with all the details. You mention converting the image to a SWOP space, and by that you just mean taking it from its original – I don’t know if it’s a photo or what that he’s working with here – but taking it from its original color space and simply just changing it, like in Photoshop or Lightroom, to this SWOP space, yeah?
Scott: Right, right. Yeah, and unfortunately you can’t do that in Lightroom yet, but yeah, so that would be a Photoshop thing.
Justin: Gotcha. Easy enough.
Scott: [unintelligible] bunch of images in perhaps Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB that might have a lot of saturated color that the print vendor won’t be able to hold when they go to a four-color press, so yeah that’s the task he’s got there. And creating SWOP proofs is one way of doing it. Asking your print vendor for their proofs is another way of doing it.
And, you know, it’s important to note that a lot of these photo book companies aren’t actually using four color presses. A lot of them are using photo-based machines. Basically glorified, really big xerox-laser copiers.
Justin: Yeah, they’re calling them digital presses, right?
Scott: Right. And those machines have gotten pretty good, and they are usually calibrated to SWOP 3 as well.
Justin: Okay, so you can use the same process to proof for one of those, then, generally?
Scott: Yes, yes. But, you know, as to whether or not they’re calibrated on their end, and how well are they calibrating on their end, and how well are they staying on top of their quality control and recalibrating their presses, you know, that remains to be seen.
And from my experience, if you take a book and send it to 20 different print vendors, there will be some amount of variation there. So you can’t just make your own proofs and expect the print vendor to nail your proofs perfectly.
Justin: Gotcha – trial and error. Couldn’t be that easy, of course.
Scott: We almost have to calibrate our expectations, and, if this was a really important book that you’re having printed, either develop your relationship with your print vendor really well, and consider adding [unintelligible] proofs or having them print one book that you may pay more for, but that might be what you need to do to have confidence in that print vendor before you have 50 made or 500 made.
Justin: Yeah, that makes sense. So little bit of trial and error, so maybe send some out to four or five different guys and see what you get back. Well it’s good to have that workflow laid out, and hopefully that answers all of Ed’s questions.
What I’ll normally do for things that are kind of this complicated is included on the show notes page, I’ll include like a PDF that lays these steps out. Again, I’m not sure how familiar Ed is with converting the image or anything else that goes into this process, so I’ll tack on a PDF in the show notes so the listeners can check that out afterward.
Justin: Adam asks, “We have a Fuji DX100 that we use to print 4×6” to 8×10” prints. For 11×14” and larger, we use the Epson 9900. What is the best way to go about matching the Fuji prints to the one from the Epson 9900?”
Scott: Excellent question there. I’d be curious to know which Fuji machine they’re talking about. With Fuji, many labs these days are made by Noritsu – they’re repackaged printers that sometimes use the same front end and sometimes use a different software front end. And then front end software determines whether or not we can color mange that printing process or not.
And unfortunately, in recent years, with the quote-unquote “dry minilab” inkjet systems that Noritsu makes and Fuji resells, they have made it such that we can’t implement our own ICC profiles into their printers.
Justin: Oh, wow.
Scott: It’s just really frustrating and disappointing, so you’re gonna get the color that you get, and you’re not really gonna be able to simulate that on another printer.
Justin: Ah man, that’s tough. This doesn’t say anything specific about dry lab but they call it a DX100. Just says Piezo electro-inkjet system. So yeah, that should be, you should be able to color manage that.
Scott: So that’s a modified Epson printer basically. You know, Epson makes the logic board, the printhead, the carriage, and Noritsu wraps a machine around it and makes software for it that Fuji then puts their name on and resells.
And, yeah, I don’t know why they decided not to let us implement our own ICC profiles into those systems. The color is a little bit wacky, and unfortunately our hands are tied on those.
Justin: Wow, that’s tough.
Scott: Yeah, it is tough. It’s not what you expect to see in 2015.
Justin: So I guess what, you’re limited to printing what you can off of the DX100 and just like manually color adjusting the file that you need to replicate on the 9900, or something like that? Is that kind of like the best solution, or you just hope you don’t have to print the same image?
Scott: Yeah, right. Most people that have those printers are event photographers where they’re taking them out into the field and they’re taking pictures and printing them like within the hour and handing them to people before they leave the event.
Justin: Ah, it’s a speed thing.
Scott: It’s over after that. So in terms of quality and consistency, they don’t have the bar set very high there. And that’s going to be a real challenge to replicate that on the 9900 in a larger format. You know, in that situation I would just do high quality printing on the 9900 with custom ICC profiles and properly color manage that printing process and consider that your higher quality print process. The little 4×6” printer would probably be considered a lower quality, cheap printer that is gonna give you the color that you’re gonna get. You’re not gonna really be able to perfect it anymore than that.
Justin: Gotcha, just trying to make sure it’s kind of an education piece for the customer, more or less.
Scott: Boy, I wish there was a better solution.
Justin: [laughs] Yeah, it’s a tough one.
Alright, well that’s actually the last question that I have for ya for this episode. So, man, I really appreciate you taking the time out of what I’m sure is an extremely busy day to come answer these listener questions, and I hope we have you back on the show very soon.
If somebody wants to find out more about you, where should they go to do that?
Scott: They can go to on-sight.com.
Justin: Awesome, thanks Scott. Thanks again for taking the time, I appreciate it.
Scott: Hey, thanks so much.
Justin: Well guys, that’s it for today’s episode. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you enjoyed it, and for the show notes for today’s episode, you can grab those by visiting ask-bc.com/episode21. Thank you so much for submitting your questions and for being a part of the show.
As always, I will send out free Breathing Color t-shirts to each one of you whose questions made it to today’s show.
If you would like to ask a question for the show, it’s really simple! You just visit ask-bc.com, and if we choose your question, we will mention your business name at the top of the episode, and we’ll also send you a free Breathing Color t-shirt.
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