Calling all folks who print fairly often - question

Hi everyone,

My first post here on NPN. Excited to get to know you all.

Anyways, I’m here because I’m often battling printing my work. I shoot and edit darker/moodier scenes most of the time, so as you can imagine dealing with dark areas and printing is a point of contention for me.

A quick history of my print workflow, I’ll make it short (and btw, I don’t often soft proof because I find it very misleading, I tend to just test print on a small paper) -

  1. Calibrated monitor, check.

  2. Edit a master copy for the web. This is how I wish the image to look under ideal conditions. I save it as a PSB most of the time (I edit with lots of layers :-p )

  3. Duplicate the master copy.

  4. Flatten the Image

  5. Convert profile to adobe RGB or sRGB depending on where it’s being printed.

  6. Crop and Size the Image to exact specs

  7. Then finally brighten the image and make final adjustments (possibly saturation, contrast, etc).

Step 6 is where things often get extremely frustrating to me. I find myself under a common scenario creating a brightness/contrast layer and bumping it to about 30, contrast to maybe say 10. If it’s a darker than normal image, I’ll create a darks 4 luminosity mask, sometimes darks 3, and put it in screen mode and then add a little contrast back via the middle levels slider. This will result in the image looking fairly flat on my screen but I know that when I print, it will come out much darker and with quite a bit more contrast.

And often I need to create a lights 4 mask (or so) and mask OUT the brightness changes to the brightest areas of my image as to not clip them. Even if they look clipped on screen, they do often end up ok in print.

However, even with significant bumps to brightness, or exposure, or levels, I still find the images come out with more contrast than my original master file. I can get them fairly close, and they look ok. But often I’m having to do a whole other round of editing just get it even close to my original intention.

When printing it seems like you lose the bottom 10% of your histogram, it becomes nearly invisible unless under DIRECT sunlight.

I guess my question is how do you all manage your printing workflow? What works for you? How often are you test printing, and what edits in Photoshop do you make before printing? And lastly, how do you best manage your darks and shadows when printing darker images? Just bumping exposure a whole stop or so for print can throw off the highlights, so I don’t think that’s the solution, but is it? It’s impossible to trust what you see on screen until it’s in print.

Anyways, you get the point by now. Thanks to anyone who stuck with this post and can help out. I’m mostly happy with my prints but I just want a more obvious workflow. I don’t understand why so much contrast gets added when printing. And soft proofing just doesn’t work right since it’s backlit, vs front lit in a print.

Thank you all, and sorry to drop such a huge ass bomb for my first post. But I hope this will help other folks who love to print at home. BTW, I’m using a Pixma Pro 100 at home. Everything calibrated, it’s just a matter of all the additional adjustments I have to make from my original master file.

I’m sharing two images, the first is my original intention, the 2nd is with the edits I had to make to get it to look like image 1, but in print. Hope this all makes sense.

1 Like

Hi Jesse,

Sorry to hear about your printing issues. You didn’t mention the printer profiles you are using. Are they the canned ones that came with the printer? It might be worth looking into getting some custom profiles made for your particular printer/ink/paper combos.

I use Epson wide format printers for my work (Epson 7600 in the past and Epson SureColor P7000 these days) and in both cases I did not like how the canned profiles worked with my favorites papers. After getting custom profiles made my prints look almost identical to what I see on the monitor.

Hi there! Yeah I’m currently using canson infinity 310 luster, and have the correct profile installed.

I edit with my monitor brightness way way down to almost 0.

Most of my images histograms are largely in the first 30% of the histogram (lots of shadows). I think it’s why they appear so dark, even if I bump exposure a full stop.

Under direct daylight I’d say they pretty much match. But I definitely lose a little shadow detail under my house lights.

On darker images I have to not only bump exposure a full stop, but I’ll have to take a darks 3 mask and bump shadows specifically as well. This ends up looking washed out on screen, but I notice printing almost always comes out with more contrast.

I can eventually get to where I need to be. I just feel like I have to crank the brightness of the image far more than I’d expect. The image on screen is always a bit exaggerated compared to what comes out of the printer. In my image example, the 2nd image looks silly on screen. It’s too bright and not contrasted enough. But when printed it does match image 1, as it’s supposed to.

I’d love to just look over the shoulder of someone trying to print my photos on their own setup to see how they do it.

I appreciate your time to respond and read my post.


Hi Jesse,

I was actually referring to custom profiles. Even profiles from paper manufacturers are often not up to the task. You should get a profile specially made for your printer/inkset/paper combination. I have found it to make a huge difference.

One other thing. If you are using ordinary house lights to view your prints then it is expected that darker prints will not show the full range of shadow detail. I therefore don’t adjust for that. Correcting for that may not be the right thing since the same print will be too light (washed out) when seen in daylight.

I think your first image (darker) should print correctly.

1 Like

I see what you mean now. I’ll look into custom profiles. I think you’re right about the house lights however. In broad daylight my prints look just like I want and expect. I get that I can’t adjust for everyone’s home condition. Perhaps I’m over thinking it.

Thank you so much for your time and input!

  1. Your editing workflow is backwards. Edit for print, darken for web. That will solve a lot of the problems you are running into. You wont have to apply nearly as many tonal adjustments to hit your goal web output. Much easier to darken for web than to brighten for print. When you edit your master file for web your highlights are already clipping or near clipping. You cant make those whites any brighter for printing, so you end up having to edit for relative brightness by doing exactly what you are doing… Brightening, shadow adjustments, contrast, etc. Its not good for the file. Very hard to make it look right.

With a print master file all you really need to do is darken, maybe push the whites and contrast a tad.

  1. We need to know what software you are using to calibrate your monitor. I personally recommend DisplayCal over OEM software. I have had very weird results with the Spyder and X-Rite software. Overly warm profiles, weird contrast levels, etc.

  2. What is your monitors brightness measurement? This is usually measured with cd/m3. I stick with 80 cd/m3 or so in a moderately lit room. Some monitors cant get this dim.

The other thing that you need to keep in mind is that unless you are using a newer OLED display, your monitor cannot display true black. There is a backlight, so your blacks in your print file will always look a bit grey compared to the print output. This can be simulated with soft proofing and custom profiles.

  1. Custom profiles are… Finicky. But they can help if created properly. I use an i1 Studio but I dont like the X-Rite software. I have been looking into using it with the Argyll.cms cmd based profiler, but I have no idea where to get started. I would rather just pay someone to do it with a better device, such and an eye one pro. YMMV.

  2. Lighting is everything. It is downright impossible to create a print that looks good under all lighting conditions. Your ideal lighting is going to be gallery style spotlights hitting the print at 45 degrees. They should be bright enough to react with the papers whites and while illuminating the deep shadows. This is uncommon.

If you create a print for typical house lighting it will look sub-optimal under spotlights. And the other way around. Isn’t that fun?

I think the majority of your problem is coming from your backwards workflow. Edit for print output, make sure you are at 60-80 cd/m3, compensate for your backlit blacks, and get back to us with the results.

Good luck!


Hey Colin! Good to see you here brother!

Oh man, so much of what you just said makes sense. Particularly point #1. I think I’ll take that advice and edit for print first every time. You’re spot on about the highlights, because as soon as I brighten for print I’m masking out highlights and it throws off my whole look and feel of the photo.

I’m also going to start paying more attention to keeping my shadows “dark with detail” - I think I get too hooked on tonal contrast but I’ve recently realized many of my favorite photographers have their blacks much brighter than I do, yet still maintain that vivid crisp and clean look I’m after. I always though it had to do with heavy contrast but that’s not it at all. That’s beside the point however.

I’m using x-rite colormunki software on a tpn 1440 monitor and an ips 4K monitor as my 2nd monitor. I have to use gamma 1.8 on my ips otherwise it just crushes blacks so hard, it’s weird. That said, I feel good about where they are calibrated.

I’m at 80cd/m which is like 7/100 on both of my monitors.

I use 3x 5k 1000 lumen bulbs in my office for my main lighting. It’s impossible to balance a print for everything so that is what it is.

I just printed 25 different images of mine and I’m overall happy with them. I just found myself having to really crank up the levels, and even when it looked silly on my monitor (flat, maybe even blown it looking highlights, but with histogram still not clipping) it tends to print like it should.

Essentially I got there with trial and error but I want a cleaner process. So next time I edit I’ll do as you say and edit with my monitor brightness way down, and edit as though I’ll be printing first. That comment makes a lot of sense for me.

I’m just frustrated that web and print are so different and it’s so difficult to nail darker images. But with a print in hand I can far more easily match the web version. And that will benefit my customers that buy prints as they’ll likely be a more accurate representation to what they are seeing in the web.

Thanks so much for all your time man. I owe ya a beer one of these days for that one. I could use one now anyways, this shit stresses me out haha.

One of these days I want to bother someone to print two of my files, like I shared here, and see if maybe my setup is wrong. Basically Curious if maybe my setup is off. I trust I’m doing everything right, but maybe not.

Ideally I need to watch someone else, in person and see how they do it all while seeing their screen and results.

Thanks again!