Digital Print Making with Adobe Photoshop and Epson Inkjet Printers

First published on: Friday, 14 September 2007

Note:
This article on matching your prints to what you see on-screen is courtesy of Wesley Wong.

Like many others, I had to rely on photo labs to get my digital photos printed in the early days of my venture into digital photography. The problem I had to live with was for lab to get me the ‘right colors’ from my images which was more often than not a hit or miss affair. The hassle of traveling and the time wasted, not to mention the frustration and many arguments prompted me to look for alternative means.

I was introduced to ink jet photo printing in the middle of 2005. A large printout of a digital image was shown to me at a dealer’s shop and immediately, my attention was drawn to the sharpness and vibrancy of the printout, at the same time I was amazed at how close the printout was to the original image on the computer display.

Shortly thereafter, I acquired an Epson Stylus Pro 4000 large format photo inkjet printer. It took me a while to learn the art of inkjet photo printing but the learning curve is by no means steep or difficult. Having learned and understood the concept of color management, I was able to reproduce consistent colors from the printer at home. Using a color-calibrated LCD monitor, I can work on my digital images with full confidence that I will be able to get the same colors in print. Most photo editing software including the commonly used Adobe Photoshop support color management, so color control is easily managed. Color calibration can be done with devices like Gretag Macbeth Eye-One or Pantone Huey.

Why is colour management important for photo printing?

There are at least three color interpretations at different stages; image acquisition (in camera, as seen by the sensor, CMOS or CCD), image viewing on CRT/LCD monitors as seen by our eyes, and image printing on the print media.

The major difference between the latter two interpretations as seen by our human eyes is we are seeing transmitted light from the monitor, while from the media, reflected light. The ICC profile hence acts as a reference for color information to be calibrated accordingly so that we see consistent colors throughout the process.

The choice of sRGB over Adobe RGB in the camera is just a matter of preference as the best of inkjet technology today has yet to reach the limits of the Adobe RGB color gamut, which simply means some of the color at the extreme ends of the color gamut will not be reproducible.

On the other hand, the sRGB color gamut is good enough to accommodate most colors we see with our naked eye, so it works best in inkjet printing. Working in Adobe RGB however, does provide a better headroom for color adjustments and image editing.

The Printing Process Using Adobe Photoshop

I shall illustrate the typical process I use when printing an image via Adobe Photoshop CS2 … only 5 simple steps are required.

Step 1- Import or assign working profile:

You can use ‘Assign Profile’ to manually assign a working profile (either sRGB or Adobe RGB (1998)) to your photo.
Photoshop: Assign Profile
In this case, I have selected Adobe RGB as my working profile. Noticed that you can also assign the working RGB to the calibrated monitor/LCD profile.

Step 2 — Postprocess the image

Perform the desired post processing on digital image such as Levels, color adjustments, special effects, sharpening, etc.

Step 3 — Resize the image:

Photoshop: Select the image size
The important parameter here is the Resolution which is set to 300 pixel/inch for best quality. In this example, I have setup an image size of 16x24 inches, which is a relative large portrait sized print. Note that the Resample Image is retained at ‘Bicubic’ which does a decent job for image resizing. Bicubic is a form of interpolation method, a mathematical calculation to upsize/downsize an image. There are far more superior methods including Pyramid, Lanchoz and Vector, which are able to retain minute details even upon a large upsizing process.

Step 4 — To print, I shall convert from monitor profile to print media profile

Photoshop: Print

One of the main consideration for professional inkjet photo printing is the choice of media. It’s not just the thickness and paper type (gloss or pearl), but rather the availability and accuracy of the ICC profile, which essentially determines how colors are reproduced in prints. Most of the high-end papers from Epson and Canon are excellent choices for photo printing such as Epson Premium Luster, Canon Photo Paper Pro PR-101, etc. Other third party make such as Ilford is also also suitable choices. ICC profiles can be conveniently downloaded from each of the manufacturers’ websites. In this example, I have chosen to use the Epson Premium Luster 250g paper, which is a semi-gloss, pearl effect photo paper.

Remember to set the printer driver to ‘No adjustment’ in the color management option to avoid double color conversion process.
Photoshop: Select Off (No color adjustment)

Step 5 — Select the desired print quality

The final setting involves the printing quality which in this case is set to 1440dpi on the printer. Bear in mind that this dpi is not to be confused with the earlier 300 pixel/inch settings in Adobe Photoshop. Print resolution on the printer is determined by the number and size of the print nozzles on the print head.
Photoshop: Select Print Quality

Summary and conclusion

Having the Epson printer has allowed me to print in custom sizes, which is important for my work in producing event and wedding collage albums. With its 17”-wide format, I can print up to a photography size of 16” x 24”. The printer utilizes a pigment-based 8-ink system which guarantees a much longer archival lifespan.

The ability to print from home has given me the flexibility to print at any time of the day, hence improving my response time to my customers. With a wide selection of inkjet media (including canvas), it gives me the flexibility to offer a variety of choices to meet customer demands.

The inkjet photo printing concept has revolutionized the way I work, just like how digital photography has taken over film. With a good understanding of color management, printing techniques and the right choice of inkjet media, even a low cost, decent photo printer can yield stunning results.

Author’s Profile
Wesley Wong
A freelance photographer and printmaker
He uses the Epson Stylus Pro 4000 photo printer for collage printing.
His clientele includes Samsung Malaysia, Riche Monde (Hennessy VSOP, Moët & Chandon), Harvard Club Malaysia, and other business organizations.
His work can be viewed at http://wesley.2buddybiz.com

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