There are at least two ways to print with a color profile, both of which should give the same result. One of them is slightly non-standard, but espoused by People Who Should Know. Here we step you through the whole printing process for both methods.
With both methods you’ll start by assigning a profile. Choose Proof Setup: Custom… from the View menu. Set the Device to Simulate to the profile for the paper and printer you want to use. Do not check Preserve RGB Numbers: you want to use the profile to map the RGB numbers onto the gamut offered by the profile. You do this through a Rendering Intent, which is essentially a process for determining the colors that will print, based on the actual pixel values and the profile. Use the Perceptual intent with Black Point Compensation checked. (Note that the Perceptual intent actually does the compensation for you, making this check box redundant; however, it seems it should be checked as a precaution.) Set the Display Options to simulate the paper color and click OK. The image on screen will now approximate the printed image for the current profile, provided your monitor is calibrated. Ideally, the image should be viewed in light of the same white point as the monitor, typically 5000K. Toggle Proof Colors (on the View menu) on and off to see the effects of the profile.
Print as Document
When you’re ready to print, choose Print… from the File menu. The Print Settings dialog will appear. This dialog is managed by Photoshop. We’ll show the standard printing method first. Set up the printer, page size, orientation and scaled print size as appropriate. In the right column of the dialog, in the Color Management settings, check the Document radio button. Set Color Handling to Photoshop Manages Colors and for the Printer Profile select the same profile you used for soft proofing: the profile for your printer and the paper you will use. Set the Rendering Intent to Perceptual, with Black Point Compensation. Click the Print… button.
Print as Proof
This time, under Color Management check the Proof radio button. Under the Proof button you should see the current soft-proofing profile. For Color Handling, indicate No Color Management–do not let Photoshop manage colors and definitely don’t let the printer manage colors. For Proof setup, choose Current Custom Setup and do not check Simulate Paper Color or Simulate Black Ink. These settings are effectively directing Photoshop to use the settings in the Custom Proof Setup dialog for determining colors, which is what you were also requesting with the Print as Document settings. Click the Print… button.
Puzzled by these two distinct ways of printing with a color profile in Photoshop, I called a technical expert at the company I bought my printer from (Spectraflow). He reflected on the matter and said it should have exactly the same results as the Print to Document method, at least in theory. It may have the advantage of appearing less redundant and offering fewer opportunities to make mistakes–judge for yourself. It’s the method I learned at Cone Editions.
I called Jon Cone to get his opinion on the matter. He graciously spent some time discussing the two ways of printing with me. He also thought they should be equivalent, in theory—though it would be hard to know exactly what Photoshop would do, under the hood. He recalled that early versions of Photoshop had more limited possibilities for printing with a color profile. See an example here.
Last Stop: The Printer Settings
The final print dialog is managed by the system software and your printer drivers. It will be the same whether you select Print as Document or Print as Proof. Up to this point, the dialog boxes for Photoshop for Windows and Photoshop for Mac should be more or less the same. I can only show you the Mac settings–I don’t currently have a PC set up to print to my Epson 9900. PC users will probably find the same settings in a dialog that looks rather different.
Choose Printer Settings from the popup menu in the center of the dialog. The two things to keep in mind here are that the printer should do NO color management and the media type is appropriate for the paper you’re using. If you created your own profiles, the selected media type should be the media type you used in printing the test swatches. Select the media type from the Media Type menu and select Off (No Color Management) from the Print Mode menu. I keep these settings in presets, selected in the Presets menu, but I always verify that they have been applied. In the Printer Settings you can also choose sheet or roll page setup. Now go ahead and click Print.
My conclusions about the virtues of these different methods are provisional: they both seem to work equally well. After all, Photoshop often provides multiple ways to do the same thing. I intend to experiment and report back with further, more specific conclusions. If the two methods don’t yield the same results, I’ll have choose one or the other and stick with it, or at least document very carefully which one I use. There are two points in the workflow where I can see issues. The first is in the proofing: if the two methods are slightly different, how does that influence the adjustments I make to my image. The second is a subjective question: which printed image better fits my conception of the image. For photography this can be particularly important; it may matter less for wholly computer-generated images.
Provisionally, the two methods seem to me to give very slightly different results. I’ve printed two photos, both with a wide contrast range, one predominantly warm, the other cool. It looks to me as if the Print as Document settings have delivered a somewhat more saturated image (in the greens in particular) and have mapped luminosity with slightly different results. In one instance, Print as Document looks darker in the mid to dark tones. In the other photo, I find it hard to tell the difference. The Print as Proof may have a denser black, resulting in minimally better definition of detail in the darks, but it is hard to be sure.
I’ll just have to continue experimenting.
I have found a minor bug (don’t think it’s a feature) when printing with the Print as Proof method. After I print for the first time, the color profile that shows up under the Proof radio button is always the same one I used for printing, even if I change the profile in the Custom Proof Setup dialog. I have to quit and relaunch Photoshop to change the profile under the Proof radio button. Since I don’t change papers all that often, this is a minor nuisance, but I can see where it could become a major irritation.
A PDF version of this tutorial with high resolution images (suitable for printing) is available here.
Comments about the virtues or defects of these methods are welcome.
This blog post and its PDF version are distributed under a Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 unported License. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/.