Calibration for printing

Discussion in 'Digital Discussion & Q&A' started by adamhiram, Sep 28, 2018.

  1. adamhiram

    adamhiram No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Please pardon the lengthy post - I think my questions are fairly simple, but first a bit of background information.

    I edit all of my photos on a calibrated display in a room with moderately low ambient light and very limited direct sunlight, so I am relatively confident my images will look the way I want on other calibrated displays. Printing is another story though, and I’ve gone through various printing services before finding one I liked. Some came out okay with no additional work, others required working with their printer ICC profiles to tweak images to get them to print correctly. And some, of course, just never seem to come out right.

    I have been happy with prints from Mpix for a few years, and don’t seem to have these issues with them most of the time. A friend recommended leaving color correction on in case there were any color matching issues with their printers, and for the most part, my prints from them have been beautiful. There were 2 exceptions though.

    I noticed the first issue when I printed some very high key photos, such as an image containing snow or that was strongly backlit - sometimes to the point of having highlights being completely blown out (intentionally). Those prints seemed to come back underexposed, which I assumed was their color correction process trying to correct for the blown out highlights. They were always willing to reprint these at no cost, and I was happy with the results.

    The other issue that got me thinking was when some very low key photos also came out too dark. One was a studio portrait with a darker background, that came out nearly pure black in the print. The other was a group photo with several individuals with darker complexions, whose faces had all but disappeared in the print. If the high key photos were underexposed due to the printing service's exposure compensation, surely the low key photos would have been overexposed as a result, instead of also being underexposed.

    Here is where it gets interesting. I reached out to Mpix support, and they were able to tell me what adjustments had been made to each image before printing. For all of them, it was a slight increase in brightness. This suggests that all images I’ve been sending to them likely start out as slightly underexposed, and I probably just didn’t notice it except in extreme examples.

    We also talked about monitor calibration, and it turns out the target values I am calibrating to are different from the ones they use and recommend. Where I get confused is that my brightness and white balance targets are the default values used by my Spyder 4 Pro, and can’t be manually changed. I can still calibrate to different values, but it takes some trial and error. This leaves me wondering if I should change my calibration to match their recommended values, or just have a separate export preset for any images I send to them for printing.

    Here are the target settings I calibrate to:
    • Ambient light: Moderately low
    • Gamma: 2.2
    • Brightness: 120 cd/m^2
    • White point: 5800K
    And here are the target settings they recommend:
    • Gamma: 2.2
    • Luminance: 100 cd/m^2
    • White point: 5000K

    In short, my monitor is calibrated to be about 20% brighter than theirs (assuming luminance is a linear scale), and my white point is a bit warmer than theirs. This should mean that on their end, my images should be a bit too dark, and possibly too cool. I haven’t noticed any white balance issues, but they definitely seem to be coming out too dark.

    Questions:
    1. Should I change my calibration targets to match the ones they recommended, or will that result in my images being overexposed everywhere else, since I have to assume most people that calibrate their displays use the default or vendor recommended settings?
    2. Can I fix my issue by simply adding a 20% boost to exposure (Exposure + 0.2) when exporting to print through them?



     
  2. adamhiram

    adamhiram No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Bump... Anyone?

    Is this just a matter of my monitor being calibrated too bright (compared to what they expect), so my images appear too dark on their end? They provided an ICC printer profile to use for proofing, but if the issue is I am just editing on too bright of a monitor (again, just in comparison to theirs), it would seem the fix is to just bump the exposure by +0.2 before sending to them to print.
     
  3. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    @adamhiram Maybe it isn't your problem. I've been very happy with Nations, price and delivery is great, only a couple of issue which they went above and beyond too correct, not only reprinting the photo, but sending it next day air without me even asking. Let me say I have NEVER used their color correction, and have always had consistent WYSIG results. So I was reluctant to try Mpix, but my daughter gave me a $50 gift certificate so what the heck. What a PITA that was. The first test order came back okay on color, which tempted me to try another, that came back horrible color. Because I didn't use their "color correction" they wouldn't replace. When I asked why my first order came back fine, without color correction, but the second in the set came back wonky, the CS became rude and obnoxious. Long story short, I reordered them from Nations (without correction), and they came back great as always. Just my experience, but I won't ever do business with them again.
     
  4. adamhiram

    adamhiram No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Thank you for the recommendation, I think I will order some test prints and see how they compare. I understand that to get full control over the output, I need to use soft proofing with their ICC profile, but I've always been under the impression that photos edited on a properly calibrated display should result in prints pretty close to what I sent them without much extra work. My experiences with Mpix over the years have been pretty positive, especially with their customer service willing to make things right, but they never seem to be able to provide a long-term fix. Bonus points that Nations uses lustre paper instead of charging extra for a lustre coating - that always seemed strange to me.

    Thanks, and I will let you know how I make out!
     
  5. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    Not only the difference in the paper, but I think Nations may be a little cheaper overall, especially if you hit one of their sale deals. I calibrate my monitor monthly with X-rite and never used their proprietary profile. I've never been disappointed. I told you wrong on color correction, I did try it once, and frankly couldn't tell any difference.
     
  6. ac12

    ac12 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    In theory, if you use their printer profile, you should be able to send them a file that they do ZERO manipulation to.
    That is the idea of using their printer profile.

    If they are doing color correction, then why even bother with monitor and printer calibration. Because you don't know what their color correction will do to the image that you send to them.

    BTW, the color of your shirt could also affect how the monitor looks, if any light reflects off your shirt onto the monitor.
     
  7. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    Good point. The color/intensity of the ambient light in the room can as well, especially if it changes from your last screen calibration. I came across something else recently, now that my vision is better. Windows 10 has a nighttime viewing setting that will automatically dim the monitor for a preset time if checked. Prior to the cataract surgery it wasn't noticeable, now I see a big difference. I had to uncheck that feature.
     
  8. ac12

    ac12 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Not only does it dim the monitor, but the color shifts to red/orange.
    Because of that, I cannot view photos when "night light" goes on.
     
  9. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    That's right, I'd forgotten it bypasses your profile and warms the screen. :icon_pissedoff:
     
  10. adamhiram

    adamhiram No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Excellent tips guys, thank you. However in my case there aren't any issues with colors; prints are just coming out too dark, and their recommendation is to calibrate my monitor's brightness to a dimmer target setting so when I edit photos they end up brighter, and therefor print brighter. It makes sense, but also seems like a bit of a backwards solution. I ordered some test prints from Nations with color correction turned off, so we'll see how those turn out.
     
  11. SquarePeg

    SquarePeg hear me roar Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Following. Please let us know your results.
     
  12. adamhiram

    adamhiram No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I received my prints from Nations today, and they were... different. Better in some ways, but had some other minor issues. I compared them to the prints I got from Mpix, both color corrected and uncorrected, and then with the original digital files. Soft proofing showed some subtle differences, but didn't really explain everything.
    • The new prints from Nations were brighter than the uncorrected ones from Mpix, and about the same as the corrected ones. However they were still not as bright as I would have expected. It sounds like calibrating my monitor a little dimmer might help here.
    • I definitely noticed more contrast in the Nations prints, especially in darker areas that got a bit muddled in the Mpix ones, so that's a win.
    • Some of the colors were a bit off, which wasn't represented in soft proofing. The most noticeable was that yellows had a visible orange tint to them. Greens seemed a bit off too, being darker and more brownish, which may be a side effect of the yellows being off.
    • One test image with a neutral gray background seemed to have a slight pinkish tint to it - no clue where that came from. I wasn't too obvious unless I was comparing 2 images side by side, but it still shouldn't be there.
    • Lastly, most prints seemed a little bit warmer, although this was reflected in soft proofing, so no concerns there.
    I think my next steps are to reach out to Nations and see if they can provide some feedback on the color casts, and possibly calibrate my monitor to a dimmer setting per Mpix recommendations. After some research, it sounds like their recommended setting of 100 cd/m2 may be more appropriate than the 120 cd/m2 setting I've been using for a dimly lit office.
     

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