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Five common printing pitfalls and how to avoid them

A man presses the buttons on a Canon PROGRAF printer to adjust the settings.
Canon printing product specialist Jay Sinclair has five tips to help ensure your photo prints look exactly as you expect.

Personally printing a special image you've made gives you complete control over the final results and can be a deeply satisfying and fulfilling experience. For Jay Sinclair, a product intelligence professional at Canon UK specialising in printing products, producing the final print is the culmination of the whole photographic process.

"Making an image in-camera is one thing, but for me it only really comes to life when it's printed," he says. "It's a very different way to experience an image – apart from anything else, you can see the image at a much larger scale than you do on the back of your camera or a laptop screen. I'm passionate about encouraging people to print their images."

Getting your images to look exactly as you want them can be technically challenging. However, if you follow the correct steps in the printing process, you can soon produce images that meet or even exceed your expectations.

So what are the most common printing mistakes people make when starting to produce prints? Here, Jay identifies five issues that frequently arise and the best ways to avoid them.

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1. Uncalibrated monitor and screen brightness

To get your prints looking exactly as you want them to look, it's essential to calibrate your monitor. This ensures that colours and tones are displayed accurately and consistently, so that the prints you produce match what you see on your screen. "Some high-end monitors offer a self-calibration feature, but most need to be adjusted to the correct settings using a monitor calibration tool," says Jay. "They are not cheap, costing between £100 and £180, but they will last a lifetime.

"When you buy a screen, the brightness will usually be set at 100% and it's common for people to have their screens too bright for printing purposes. Reducing your screen luminosity to 30% will help to get your brightness to the right levels, but you still need to calibrate the screen to get the colours right.

"If you're really keen on printing your photos, it's worth recalibrating your screen every month. It takes about 10-15 minutes and it keeps everything nice and clear. If you only recalibrate once a year, the difference between what your screen and a recently-calibrated screen displays can be huge."

A man points to a monitor with a colour profile chart on the screen.
To ensure that your prints match what you see on your screen, the first step is to verify that your screen itself is displaying colours accurately, and that means calibrating it. This needn't be a lengthy or complicated process – invest in a reputable monitor calibration tool and its utility software can walk you through everything painlessly.
A man stands in front of a screen giving a presentation on printing.
Some photographic papers appear more yellow and some more blue in colour even before any ink hits the paper, so it's vital to select the correct ICC profile for the paper you're using. This adjusts the print settings to suit the characteristics of the paper, including its reflectivity and absorbency as well as its white point.

2. Selecting incorrect paper profiles

An ICC (International Color Consortium) profile contains information that allows a printer to reproduce accurate colours on a specific type of paper, so it's important to select the correct ICC profile when making a print. Jay says: "An ICC profile basically tells the printer what type of paper you're putting into it, what type of ink it needs to have and how much ink on paper you need to create your photo.

"All photographic papers have different white points. For example, two types of paper might both be white but one will be pure white and one more yellow. If you have the wrong ink going down at the wrong time, reacting with that colour paper causes problems.

"If you don't select the correct ICC profile, the image can come out looking completely different. You could calibrate your screen and do everything else right but if you select the wrong profile, your image is not going to print the way you want it to."

A Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer outputting a colourful print.

15 printer terms every pro should know

If you're interested in printing but daunted by the terminology, read our expert guide to photo printing terms, which covers everything from automatic ink switching to soft proofing.

3. Forgetting to soft proof your images

Soft proofing your images with Canon's free Professional Print & Layout (PPL) or Print Studio Pro (PSP) plug-ins means viewing a simulation of what your image will look like when it's printed on paper. "If you don't soft proof, there's a chance your images will come out flat when you're printing on fine art and matte papers," Jay says.

"Also, the programs' gamut warning will alert you if the printer is not capable of rendering a colour you've asked for. Basically, soft proofing is making sure you're profiling the paper exactly for the print, and you're seeing how it's going to come out before you print out an image."

A close-up shot of the display on a Canon PROGRAF printer showing the ink levels.
It seems obvious, but it's worth checking that your printer isn't low on ink. You might think it won't need a given colour for a given image, but all print colours are created by mixing different colours of ink on the paper, and perfect colour accuracy might depend on a subtle hint of exactly the colour it has run out of.
A selection of Canon pro photo papers.
Printing on different types of paper will require different quantities, and even different types, of inks. Your printer will use Photo Black ink, for example, when printing on glossy or satin photo paper, or on some fine-art media such as Baryta paper, but will require Matte Black inks for cotton fine-art paper and most matte-finish papers, which have completely different absorption qualities.

4. Choosing the inappropriate Rendering Intent

Printers are not capable of producing quite as wide a range of colours as your camera has captured. Within a colour-managed workflow, you can use the Rendering Intent setting in the Print dialogue to tell the printer how to deal with colours that fall outside its printable range or colour gamut.

Perceptual aims to preserve the overall visual impression of colours in an image. It will map out-of-gamut or clipped colours to the closest-match printable colours, then adjust the other colours to preserve the relationship between them. "This means many colours may change, but if your screen is correctly calibrated, you'll be able to evaluate this by comparing your soft proof image with the original," Jay says.

Relative Colorimetric maps out-of-gamut colours to the printer's nearest reproducible colours, but won't alter in-gamut colours. Generally it preserves more of the original colours in the image than Perceptual, assuming that not too many colours in the image are out of gamut. "You may get slightly less saturated colours, but brightness values will be most stable with this rendering intent," says Jay. "This makes it the ideal choice for near-neutral and black and white images."

A man looks at two versions of the same image on-screen as part of the process of soft proofing.
Soft proofing shows you an on-screen simulation of your print, which you can then compare with your original and adjust as desired. It can't be foolproof, because colour on-screen is produced by mixing light of different colours, which is additive (full intensity of all colours produces white), while colour on paper is produced by mixing inks of different colours, which is subtractive (full intensity of all colours produces an ever denser, deeper superblack). However, with a calibrated screen and the correct print settings (including ink and paper type), a soft proof will be a useful guide and help you avoid wasting valuable ink and paper on numerous test prints.

5. Issues with competing software

To get the best possible output quality on Canon's imagePROGRAF PRO-Series printers, you should use Canon's Print Studio Pro or Professional Print & Layout plug-ins. "These programs were designed by Canon to make the printing process easier," says Jay. "We provide the tools to do all your colour management, whether it's hard proofing or soft proofing.

"Printing in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop can lead to problems. It's not an issue with those software programs themselves, it's an issue with them competing with the printer driver to manage the colours. Both try to manage the colours at the same time and add their own colour processing. Because both Print Studio Pro and Professional Print & Layout were designed by Canon for Canon printers, you'll avoid that issue, so it simplifies the whole process."

Autors David Clark


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