My friend has a new 27″ iMac and he is perfectly happy with the colors he’s seeing on-screen. So, when I advised that he might be happier with a Dell U2410, which shows 96% of the AdobeRGB (ARGB) color space (instead of the iMac’s approximately 80%) he wasn’t so sure. He also wasn’t too sure that using hand-tuned profiles for his printer was going to make much of a difference.
After those several comments, he concluded with:
“And also when all is said and done for fine art photographers it really does not matter how a print is made, what process is used, what ICC profile is used. It is all about the image and the impact it has on the viewer that is most important. 25 years from now, next year, even tomorrow no viewer will have much interest in how a print was made, only in what it shows and conveys.”
Here is my reply.
Let me begin by agreeing totally with your final statement. I usually express it as “It’s the print, stupid!” and it often seems we forget that fundamental fact when discussing many things photographic. It never hurts to remind ourselves that no one cares what canvas or paint da Vinci used – it’s the Mona Lisa.
That said, artisans have discussed tools for thousands of years now, with an eye to better or more efficiently expressing their vision. Today, that’s “work flow.”
The situation with color gamuts is not as simple as it may seem at first. For example, my Epson 3880′s gamut is larger than SRGB, and in some places, larger than AdobeRGB. (Generally, however, it falls short, as you noted, do all printers.) But then all that changes depending on the paper; ink; and viewing conditions.
Canson Baryta, for example, exceeds (!) the monitor/ARGB color gamut in some of the blue-green, and bits of yellow and red, but lies well within most of the rest of the ARGB gamut.
Simply stated that means that there are colors you cannot see accurately on your monitor that the final print can nonetheless produce, while, of the most part, the converse is true: you can see a lot of colors the printer will fail with. (Here, for example, is the Canson Baryta profile embedded in the (generally larger) ARGB profile. You can easily see where one exceeds the other: http://cl.ly/image/3W2Q3i0K1W0i )
In programmer-speak, the situation is “non-trivial.”
The larger issue is, of course, transmitted vs reflected light, and all the transforms the computer must jump through to make the transition. (In fact, the degree to which one can, today, succeed at getting a print that matches the monitor [and hence the artist's vision] is nothing less than remarkable.)
That, in turn, points out why one wants to view the widest possible gamut on a monitor. Compare this SRGB vs Canson Baryta plot ( http://cl.ly/image/2d1r052E0c1E ) and you can see why it’s much more difficult to guage accurate results on an SRGB (read:Apple) monitor – much more of the paper’s gamut lies outside the range you can see and work with.
(Using ColorThink Pro, as I did to get those visuals, is helpful precisely because I can then see where color will be “pushed or pulled” [depending on the rendering intent] and thus make more intelligent adjustments.)
As you’re likely expecting by now, I’d suggest that you find a chance to view a monitor with a wider color-space. When I first got mine several years ago, I was able to easily do a side-by-side because I work with a dual monitor setup. The difference was immediately apparent.)
The issue of blocked up blacks (at least on the monitor) is an adjustment issue: you want a contrast ratio somewhere closer to 300/400:1 than to 1000 or 10,000:1. (The ICC blackpoint contrast ratio is 287:1.) Contrary to expectation, higher contrast doen’t mean you can see into the blacks better!
Since ARGB is a wider space than SRGB, when using your monitor, you’ll be able to see further into the blacks as well.
And finally, there’s the whole 8-bit / 16-bit thing to remember in all of this. 8-bit color is sRGB, generally speaking.
If you send a file to a printer as 8-bit, you’re asking the printer driver to convert it to a smaller color space than ARGB.
The good thing about that is that if you’re using an Apple or other sRGB monitor, the print stands a much better chance of matching what you’re seeing on-screen.
The bad part about that is that you’re throwing away color that definitely could have been printed!
Epson Pro printers, from the 3800 on, can handle 16-bit files… which is to say more colors than sRGB allows.
If you have an Epson, try the simple experiment of sending an ARGB 16-bit file to the printer once as 16-bit and once as 8-bit. The difference should be visible.
(Tangentally, printing at 2880 instead of 1440 will also show better results, not as many expect in detail [although that's true] but in transitions. Print some wide-dynamic range clouds at 2880, and you’ll see what I mean.)
You are absolutely correct that tweaking in Photoshop “…whether it looks better on the display…” will get a better print.
That said, with better, more accurate ICC profiles, you’ll need to do less tweaking, eh?
One thing I do is find a soft-proof profile that best matches the paper / ink I’m using and do my final print-tweaks while viewing “through” that in Photoshop. (Since with color, I’m not using the Epson/Photoshop drivers to print, but instead using ImagePrint RIP (IPR), it’s not always true that I can simply choose the paper profile, but it’s a very good place to start.) This technique helps immensely.
All told, there is still ultimately what you’re using: experience. You’ll never print _exactly_ what you see on the monitor: it’s transmitted vs reflected; it’s monitor gamut vs ink gamut vs paper gamut. (Yeah: the color of the paper is going to have an effect on the percieved color range, and while no one but me uses “paper gamut” it’s still a real part of the equation.)
So, some of the colors you see on-screen will print more vibrantly; most will print less. Some colors you can’t see accurately on-screen, but will print nonetheless. These are things you learn by experience alone, one print at a time.
Does any of this mean “my way” is somehow better than “your way?” Not necessarily, since we’re both getting results we like. But I can say for sure, that I’ve been along the whole path in this thing, and arrived at this point in my workflow journey, feeling like I’ve made life easier than it used to be.
But remember: “It’s the print, stupid!” Changing horses is not necessarily wise.