Step-by-step: Matching Monitor to Print
The Holy Grail for many photographers is to have their images looking the same when printed as they did on their monitor. It is something that is very hard to achieve, but is possible. The ideal scenario would be to have a set up similar to the image below. A high quality monitor, such as an EIZO ColorEdge, a proper light booth and dim ambient lighting. However, not everybody can afford such a set up but it is still possible to achieve a good monitor to print match on a tighter budget. You do though have to have the following; a good monitor, an accurate screen calibrator, accurate printer profiles and a good spectrally even light and preferably consistent light source.
One thing to keep in mind though is that the print is usually what you are aiming for. The print is the thing you are selling or exhibiting. The monitor is just an intermediary stage. So you shouldn’t aim or expect to make the print like the monitor, but instead make the monitor like the print. Monitors usually have wider gamuts than the average inkjet printer. This means they are able to display more colours than you can print. Colour management ensures that the transition from monitor to print is as accurate as possible but there will always be very bright or saturated colours that you can’t print.
Also the choice of paper to print on is a factor as well. The paper white, the colour gamut and the reflectivity all differ from paper to paper. It may not be possible to get your monitor very close to your print on both a matt art paper and a photo gloss, so always target your most important media. If you are using a lab to print your images then most of the steps are still valid, but of course you wont have any control over the print and will have to hope their colour management is spot on.
Consider your viewing conditions. Prints look best in good daylight or an artificial light that tries to emulate daylight. Monitors look best in dimmer light. You can’t really get a light level that easily suits both. Some people expect to be able to hold their print next to the monitor and get a perfect match. It isn’t going to happen. There are two very different light sources involved – the monitor and daylight. Your eye needs time to adjust from one light source to another so flicking your eye from print to monitor isn’t giving the eye that time to adjust. Make the area around the monitor quite dim, and then choose a separate area, like a window sill or table, to view your prints. Let’s face it you won’t be displaying your prints next to the monitor will you?
Daylight is free and spectrally even, but of course it does vary with intensity and colour temperature depending on weather, season and time of day. A more consistent light source would be better, but they can be expensive. The best would be a full adjustable viewing booth (click for more info) but cheaper products such as the Grafilite (click for more info) are at least better than a standard desk lamp. I find that if I use a bit of common sense and don’t look at my prints at sunset or in the middle of a thunder storm I can get quite a good match just using daylight.
Calibrate your monitor. I would suggest calibration target values of 6500K, 2.2 gamma and 120 candelas as a starting point. These settings suit most users. If you don’t own a monitor calibrator then I’d recommend the i1 Display Pro from X-Rite (click).
Output a good test image on your inkjet printer, making sure that you use an accurate printer profile. If you haven’t got a printer profile then use our profiling service (click). You can download our Colour Collective Test Form from here (click). A good test image contains a range of colours and tones that make it ideal for judging colour matches.
With the the test image open in Photoshop activate the soft proofing function by going to View/Proof Setup/Custom and loading the same printer profile you just used to print the test image. Set the rendering intent to the same as you used when you printed and check the Simulate Paper Colour option. You should see the image on screen change slightly.
Place the test image print in the window or some other place where you’ve got good daylight without contamination from other light sources. Look at the print for a good couple of minutes noting the level of highlight and shadow detail, the skin tones etc. Then walk back to the monitor and examine the on-screen image, letting your eyes have some time to adjust to the new light source before making any judgements. Look at the same things you did on the print and consider how the two differ. Is the print warmer or cooler than the monitor? Brighter or darker? Try switching the Simulate Paper Colour option off in the soft proof, it sometimes helps to get a match but sometimes not.
With your evaluation of the monitor to print match in mind quit Photoshop (it’s important to quit so Photoshop picks up a new monitor profile) and reopen your monitor calibration software. If the print was warmer choose a lower colour temperature target for your screen, say 6000K or 5800K. If the print was darker then try 100 candelas instead of 120. Adjusting the target gamma to a value lower than 2.2 can sometimes help as well but resort to that last. Adjust one factor at a time. Recalibrate. Re-open the test image in Photoshop and evaluate again. Keep on adjusting your targets until you get a match that you are happy with, but I wouldn’t recommend going lower that 5500K, 80 candelas or 1.8 gamma. If you don’t find a good match before hitting those limits I’d suggest there is something wrong with your printer profile, lighting or calibrator.
Try the same monitor to print evaluation with a range of your own images, and if you use different papers try those to to see how much variation you get with the matching. Remember to do a new soft proof though with each printer profile.
The above seven steps should get most users to a level where they are happy with monitor to print agreement. Some users still find the prints look best with perhaps an adjustment layer to brighten them very slightly, and that’s fine. You do have to consider that monitors are an emissive light source and prints a reflective one so even with the best colour management it is very difficult to get an exact match. At the end of the day the print is the most important thing to get right and colour management will still ensure that your results are consistent, even if aesthetically you feel the need for your prints to be a tad brighter.
Please share your own experiences of trying to match monitor to print by commenting on this blog. I’ll try and address any issues you’ve come across.