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We Have Moved!

We are now established at our new address which is:

4 Marine Drive, Goring-By-Sea, Worthing, BN12 4QN

Our new telephone number is 01903 243909

The Joys of Digital Photography

The growth of digital imaging over the past decade, and the availability of reasonably priced digital cameras, has encouraged many more people to take up photography. If you have converted to digital imaging then you will have experienced the pleasure of instant previews of your images and of being able to edit them using your computer.

However, you may also have experienced the frustration of printing your images only to find that the colours on the print look nothing like the colours that you saw when you took the shot. You may also have found that no amount of "tweaking" in your image editing software will make the colours right every time. If you have experienced this frustration, then read on, or use the links below to go straight to the relevant section.

How accurate is your colour?
Why custom printer profiles?
Do you need a custom printer profile?
What is a custom printer profile?
How much does it cost?
How do you order a profile?
Why optimise the media setting?
What about the monitor, the projector, the scanner..?

How accurate is your colour?

If your prints look like this ...

when they should look like this ...

Bad printer profile

custom printer profile

or like this ...

when they should look like this ...

Bad printer profile

custom printer profile

..... then your problems may lie with your printer, and may be solved by a custom printer profile.

Why custom printer profiles?
Every time you print an image with your desktop printer, the driver uses data called a profile, to "translate" the colours in your image to something that should give the correct colours on the final print. However, every printer is different - even printers of the same type - and expecting to get perfect colour from a mass-produced printer, using a generic profile embedded in the printer driver, is unrealistic. This is especially true if you are using third-party inks and papers; these invariably give a different colour balance from that given by the manufacturer's ink and paper.

You can't edit a print, so if the colours are wrong, you can only tear it up, throw it in the bin, and try again. Printing is not an artistic endeavour. It is simply a process, and for your own sanity you need to get the process right, and make it consistent. An accurately profiled monitor and printer will allow you to do just that. You will be able to press "Print" knowing that what comes out of the printer will look like the image you saw on the screen. The bin stays empty.

We can provide a custom profile quickly, and at very reasonable cost. We offer full support - by phone or e-mail - to help you install and use your profile with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or other applications that support colour management. It's not a difficult process, and in the unlikely event that the printer profile doesn't improve your prints, we will give you a full refund.

Do you need a custom printer profile?
It depends on how good (or bad) your prints really are. If you want to give your printer a real work-out, don't judge it on one of your favourite images. You have probably invested too much time and money in your own image to be objective about it. Try printing the PDI test image, as shown at the top of this page, instead. Download the image file PDI-Test_Hi-Res.zip, unzip it and print it with your normal settings, but do not edit or adjust the image in any way. The image has an embedded profile (Adobe RGB) and you should leave the profile as it is.

Leave the print for a while for the ink to dry, then examine it critically - very critically. Does the print look too dark, or too light? Do the flesh tones look natural? Does the vertical grey gradient on the right look smooth, with no bands or colour shifts? Can you see all the shadow and highlight detail? If the print looks perfect, close this window and forget about custom profiles - we don't want your money.

If, on the other hand, you see any "odd" colour effects, don't blame the image file. The producers of this image have taken great care to make sure that the colours are accurate and that shadows and highlights are not clipped. Any deficiencies that you see are almost certainly caused by your printer, and the way that the ink interacts with the paper. Don't waste time trying to adjust the colour balance, curves and levels in Photoshop. Trial and error can be very expensive and the adjustments may vary from print to print! The best way to improve the quality is to use a custom printer profile.

If you're not sure about the quality of your print and would like a known good print to compare it with, we can provide a reference print. See here for details.

Food for thought.
PHOTO PRO magazine tested six A3 printers, from Canon, Epson and HP, using manufacturers' ink and papers (November 2008 issue). They found that all six gave better results when used with custom profiles! Would your printer give better results with a custom profile?

What is a custom printer profile?
A custom printer profile is based on science and measurement, not on guesswork and trial and error. Using your printer/ink/paper combination you print two special test images, containing 918 different coloured patches (see below). We then use a calibrated spectrophotometer, the industry standard Gretag Macbeth i1 Pro, to measure the colour of each individual patch in your prints.

Special software generates the profile by comparing the measured colours with the actual colours in the image file. The profile describes the way in which your printer/ink/paper combination interprets the RGB values representing the colours in an image file. The profile is unique to your printer/ink/paper combination.

The custom profile is delivered to you as a computer file, either by e-mail or on CDROM. Installing the profile takes just a few mouse clicks and you're ready to go. When you print using the profile, Photoshop uses the data in it to "correct" the colours produced by your printer/ink/paper combination. Printing with a custom profile almost always improves shadow and highlight detail, gives more pleasing flesh tones, more neutral greys, and often gives a wider colour gamut.

How much does it cost?
Prices depend on the number of profiles ordered, as follows:-
14.00 each
13.00 each for 2 - 4
11.00 each for 5 or more

Not that much when compared with the cost of throwing away prints because the colour is "off"!

Profiles are delivered by E-mail, normally within 24 hours of receipt of your printer targets. If you require profiles on CD ROM, please add 3.00 for any number of profiles (P&P included)

How do you order a profile?
All you need to do is print the two A4 printer targets (see below) and send them to us with a completed Order Form with your preferred payment method. You can pay by cheque/Postal Order, or using any credit or debit card through PayPal. If you pay by cheque we will still process your order immediately - we don't wait for cheques to clear.

Printer targets

To print the targets we now recommend the use of a special utility program produced by Adobe. It is called the "Adobe Color Printer Utility" (ACPU) and can be downloaded free of charge from the Adobe website
here (opens in a new window). It was produced in response to changes in Photoshop CS5, but works as a simple stand-alone application for printing profiling targets. Versions are available for both PC and Mac platforms (Mac OS from 10.6 onwards).

To download the printer targets and instructions on how to print them with the ACPU, click this link, or you can open  the instructions from our Downloads page. The ZIP-file contains the instructions, the printer targets files and the order form. If you want to profile a sublimation printing process see this page.

If you want to print the targets from your normal editing application (including CS5) you can click this link. You will also find the relevant instructions on our Downloads page.

CD/DVD Printing? Dye-sub 9" x 6"??
We can generate profiles for CD/DVD printing or for dye-sub printers that have a maximum print size of 8" x 6" or 9" x 6". We have special targets for these printing methods which you can find on our Downloads page. You will also find a special version of our Optimiser (see below) for CD/DVD printing.

CD/DVD Targets

IMPORTANT If you are using third-party paper with OEM inks e.g. Ilford paper with Epson ink, we recommend that you find the optimum media setting before printing the test charts. If you are using third-party paper and third-party inks e.g. Permajet paper and Lyson ink, then we strongly recommend that you find the optimum setting.

To find out why the media setting is important, and how you can find the optimum, read on.

Why optimise the media setting?
The quality of a photo print made on an inkjet printer depends on the complex relationships between the printer, the ink, and the paper (medium). Every printer offers a choice of settings to suit different media, but the choices are almost always limited to those media sold by the printer manufacturer. Each setting is intended to give the best result for the particular medium selected - that means the best compromise between colour accuracy, colour gamut, highlight and shadow detail etc.

To achieve the best compromise for each medium, the driver may change the amount of ink put down, the balance between different coloured inks, and even the dot pattern used to "mix" the different colours. If you are using ink and paper from your printer manufacturer, simply select the paper from the list and you should be onto a winner. However, if you are using third-party paper, or third-party ink then all bets are off. It is likely that a third-party paper will be quite different from an OEM paper of similar appearance, and may need a completely different media setting for best results.

We have produced a special test image that you can use to examine the effect of different media settings and to find the "best" for your printer/ink/paper combination. It will take a few minutes of your time, and the equivalent of a couple of A4 sheets of the paper being tested. The reward can be a much better profile and better prints for years to come.

Download the test image and instructions on how to use it from the link below. Alternatively, if you are unhappy about finding the optimum setting using the subjective (visual) method, we can do it for you using our colour measurement system. There is, of course, an extra charge for this but you may well get better results from your chosen ink/paper combination. If you would like more details of this service please e-mail or phone.

Optimiser V2.zip (1238kB)

If you want to see alternative methods to determine the optimum setting, Keith Cooper's excellent "Northlight Images" web site has a very useful discussion, and a real-life example of the importance of this setting. Click on this link to take a look. (Opens in a new window.)

What about the monitor, the projector, the scanner..?
Monitor calibration is probably the most important factor in producing reliable colour from your digital images. If you have downloaded the PDI test image and you have to adjust it to make it look right on your monitor, then your monitor is probably at fault. Unfortunately, it is not possible to calibrate a monitor by post, but we do offer an on-site service for photographers in the South of England.

More and more photographers are using data (digital) projectors, coupled with laptops, to show their images. Almost all camera clubs now have Projected Digital Image events. While digital projectors are capable of very good quality, the default settings are not usually optimised for colour accuracy. This is especially true of projectors aimed at the home cinema market. We can calibrate and profile your digital projector to ensure that your images are shown to their best advantage.

In one site visit we can calibrate monitors, projectors and scanners, and carry out printer profiling for multiple printer/paper/ink combinations. We can also give general advice on how to optimise your workflow, and all at a reasonable cost. Phone or e-mail to find out more.

If you want to calibrate your monitor visually, then you can use Adobe Gamma, but for a better result use Quick Gamma. However, for serious work, a hardware calibration is considered essential. Visit Norman Koren's very informative site from this link to find out more.  (Opens in a new window.)

If you are happy with the colour on your monitor but your prints look much darker or lighter than the image on your monitor, it may be your monitor brightness at fault. If you don't have a hardware calibrator to set brightness, try the checks described on this page.