PLEASE NOTE: this article is not yet complete and is a work in progress. The text has not been fully checked and edited. In addition, there is no visible link to it yet from the articles page on our website, but linking to it directly should keep working for now. We are publishing this early since there is already a fair bit of useful information that people wanting to print can utilize. Once the article is in its final form, this note will be removed. (Updated: Feb 28, 2020)
This step-by-step tutorial is going to cover the most important aspects of printing on the Canon printers we have for our printing workstation, with screenshots of the various relevant dialog boxes. While you can print from Adobe Lightroom as well, this tutorial specifically covers printing from Photoshop, which does give more flexibility and proofing options. That said, most of the printing and colour management dialog boxes are also relevant for Lightroom albeit do look somewhat different.
At the end of this article, there will be a point-form overview of the main steps, which you can more easily refer to in the future without needing to slog through this entire article!
- Do a smaller test print! Before I even go into other details, if you are just starting out with printing, I would suggest always doing a smaller test print of an image, before doing a large print. That way, you are not wasting money on a large print that you potentially aren’t going to be happy with! Unless one of our printers ruins a print due to a head-clog or some other issue beyond your control, you will need to pay for every one of your prints, even ones you are not happy with. This is especially important when using a paper with a limited dynamic range, like a matte fine art paper, or with particularly difficult images that have very saturated colours, or are predominantly low-key or high-key images that have their main subject in the darkest or lightest regions. Once you have done a fair bit of printing, you will get to know which images print well and which ones are a challenge, and also which papers are easy to use and which ones aren’t. However, to start with, err on the side of caution and test things first.What I do, is temporarily size an image so it fits in one quadrant of an 8.5×11 sheet, then when printing from Photoshop, I just un-check the centered layout option and drag the the smaller image to a corner of the sheet. That way I can fit four small test prints on the 8.5×11 sheet. It goes without saying (I hope) that you should use the same settings for the test print, and of course the same paper, as will be used for your intended large print! Since modern, pigment-based prints are instantly dry on pretty much any type of paper, there is no issue with feeding the paper through multiple times.
Ensuring your images have embedded profiles: Make sure that your images are colour-managed and have embedded ICC profiles. If you are unsure, you can go to the “Assign Profile” dialog box, accessed from Photoshop’s “Edit” menu. If your image is not colour managed, you will see the following with “Don’t Color Manage…” selected. In this case, you may very well get unpredictable results when printing, so printing an image without a profile is not really recommended. In other words, you don’t want to see the following…
If your image has an embedded ICC profile that matches your current ICC working space in Photoshop, you will see the following (in this example, the working space is set to sRGB), which is generally okay for printing…
If your image’s ICC profile does not match the working space, you will see the following (in this example, the image’s embedded ICC profile is AdobeRGB and the working space is sRGB) but this is still fine for printing and you will still get predictable results since Adobe’s colour management engine knows what colour space the image was originally edited in…
Note that the computer I took these screenshots from is set up to work on images for our website, hence the default sRGB colour space. Since modern printers, like the Canon ones we have, are capable of printing even slightly beyond the AdobeRGB colour space for some hues, I would generally suggest that you work in AdobeRGB when printing, otherwise you might be limiting the tonality and saturation if you are printing a vibrant image.
Sizing your image for printing: Before running a print job, make sure your image is sized to the exact dimensions you want. The image’s Pixels/Inch (ppi) resolution is not all that important, so in Photoshop, uncheck the “resample” checkbox in the Image Size dialog like this…
In the above example, the image is being sized to be 10 inches tall and resampling is off, so the width and resolution will automatically be adjusted to maintain the original aspect ratio and file size. If you are planning on a specific size of print, for example let’s say a 16×20 inch, then be aware that if your source is a regular DSLR, or even a film scan from a 35mm slide or negative, the aspect ratio of the print means you will need to crop your original. In Photoshop, you can type in a preset ratio, like 16×20 in this case, then drag the crop rectangle across your image to see the resulting crop and fine-tune the position of the crop. As far as the resolution goes, I would suggest that for most prints, 120 pixels/inch (ppi) or higher will result in a perfectly acceptable print. Only if you are making smaller prints, say a 4×6 or 5×7 for example, prints that will be examined very closely, would it be preferable to have your resolution closer to 300 ppi. For larger images, where you won’t be scrutinizing them at “nose-to-print” distances, a lower resolution will be absolutely fine. Note that unlike what many people seem to think, not everything needs to be at 300 ppi for printing! Also, there is generally no harm in letting the image ppi go a lot higher, when making a small print from a large, high-resolution file.
It is almost always preferable to avoid resizing images either up or down, since scaling an image can introduce artifacts and possibly slight to severe reductions in sharpness, depending on which direction you are scaling and by how much. That said, if your ppi climbs to up over 800, you may need to contemplate resizing down, or if an image has a ppi lower than 100 once you size it for printing, you should try to start off with a higher resolution version of your image if possible. If needed, the latest version of Photoshop has a fairly impressive image scaling algorithm which they call “Preserve Details 2.0” and I would suggest using that if you need to upsample. It is an “AI” based algorithm which is image-content aware and it not only does a good job of maintaining edge detail and sharpness, but also seems to do a much better job with textures than many older, fractal-based algorithms. The only drawback to having an image with a ppi that is very high, is that it becomes a little more difficult to judge the appropriate level of sharpening for a print. A higher resolution, higher ppi image will potentially need more sharpening with a larger radius than a lower ppi image for a given size print. Mainly for that reason, it might be preferable to downsize an image to 300 or 400 ppi for printing, before judging your final level of output sharpening. Also note that modern, high-DPI computer monitors, can make it a little more challenging to judge an image’s sharpness level before printing. I am personally used to old-school, low-DPI displays and can easily judge whether or not a given image needs more sharpening before making a print, or if it may be over-sharpened. I find it challenging to do so on a modern 4K or 5K display, although with practice, I’m sure I’d get the hang of that too. If you haven’t done much printing, then you will likely need some experience, regardless of which display you are using, before being able to accurately judge your sharpening levels. For our “old-school” iMac we have at our printing station, if an image falls in the 240 to 400 ppi range for a print, I find that generally, viewing an image at 50% zoom in Photoshop will give me a very good idea on how the print will look from a sharpness standpoint. If you are printing with a ppi that is significantly lower, let’s say 120 ppi, then 100% zoom would give you a better idea, and if your ppi is very high, say around 600 or so, then possibly being at 25% zoom would be preferable. Those are general “rule of thumb” guidelines that I find work well for me, but depending on what you are used to, YMMV…
Image borders and fine-art paper: First off, we generally discourage making borderless prints, both on our printing station or on your own printer! The ink overspray at the edges of a print can make for messy insides of the printer and if you are wanting to do double-sided prints, the overspray residue can sometimes smudge the backside and ruin your double-sided printing effort! As far as margin sizes, note that for some very heavyweight art papers, you may need to use the rear feed slot, which doesn’t bend the paper as much as the top stack feeder, but when using that feed slot, you are required to use very large margins on your print, which can be especially frustrating on smaller paper, like 8.5×11 for example, since your maximum image height is only 9 inches, with a one inch border at the top and bottom of the page.
The reason for the large borders is the way in which the paper is held, where there may be flatness issues with heavy paper near the leading and trailing edges of the print. Some manufacturers actually create their ICC profile using a lighter weight paper as a “source” paper, which then allows one to use the top feed slot. I would suggest that Canon, and Epson too for that matter, are overly cautious when it comes to requiring the use of the heavy-paper rear feed slot. In any case, make sure you plan your print sizes appropriately, if you are going to use a heavyweight art paper!
Custom paper sizes: For our Canon PRO-1000 printer, any normal sheet paper sizes you’ll be printing on are already defined in the driver. However, if you are using our 24″ wide roll-feed printer, the PRO-2000, then for the best results, you will often be defining your own paper sizes. The following screenshot shows the custom paper size dialog box for the Canon…
In the above example, we have have created a 24×26 inch print size, with the default borders (Non-Printable Area) for the Canon PRO-2000. So, in order to create a custom size, click the “+” button below the custom size list and name it the size of print you will be defining. Then choose the printer from the popup non-printable area list, which will automatically fill in the top/left/right/bottom numbers. Then make sure you actually enter the paper width and height at the upper right of the window! Our rolls are all 24″ wide, so always make the width 24 in, regardless of whether your image is a vertically or a horizontally oriented. If you are bringing in your own narrower rolls, like 17 inch wide for example, in that case make the width 17 in. The maximum height (length of print) can be very large, so you can make large panoramic prints should you want to. The driver actually allows you to make a crazy huge print, something over 40 feet long (480 inches) if I recall, but so far we haven’t had anyone try anything quite that big! In any case, after defining your custom size and ensuring the width and height are what you want, at that point click “OK” and then ensure you have the newly defined custom size selected for the print job.
Paper Roll Curl: While the print costs per square foot are a little less for the PRO-2000, due to larger ink cartridges than are less expensive per millilitre of ink, if your print can fit on a standard size sheet paper that is 17×22 inches or smaller, I would always suggest printing with the PRO-1000. Dealing with curl on roll paper, while necessary for larger prints, is best avoided when possible! If you print on a paper like Ilford Smooth Pearl, which more or less feels like a sheet of plastic, then the curl you get, especially when nearing the roll’s end, can be irritating and can be near impossible to get rid of. It also makes it a bit more challenging to matte and frame a print. With a fibre-based paper however, like Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta, the ink’s humidity serves to relax the paper fibres slightly, and the curl is far more manageable, so for fine-art papers made with cotton rag, Hahnemuhle Photo Rag for example, or alpha cellulose like the Photo Silk Bartya, the curl is certainly not as much of an issue.
Sheet Paper Curl: Wait, what? Curl on sheet paper? Well sadly yes, that can be an issue too if the humidity levels are particularly high or low. With the HVAC system, our store’s humidity levels are often extremely low, result in curl with some papers. The space is too large for any smaller, standalone humidifier to have an impact, so we have to live with it. Paper sheets can sometimes curl slightly in either direction, although usually not the fully “plastic” ones like Ilford Smooth Pearl for example. The papers that can have an issue are the otherwise very nice Baryta, or gloss and semi-gloss fibre-based papers, since they are comprised of several different layers that each may have different expansion properties with differing levels of humidity. If you are loading paper that has a slight downward edge curl away from the printable surface, then that’s generally not an issue, but if the paper edges or corners have an upwards curl and you don’t do anything about that, then you risk getting print-head strikes on the edges. That can not only ruin a print by leaving ink smudges, but if it happens frequently, can also cause damage to the print head, which is rather expensive to replace!
Before loading a sheet that has upwards curl, gently bend all four corners backwards being careful not to crease the paper, keeping your fingers as close to the edges of the paper as possible. Also make sure you have clean hands and try to avoid touching the paper where you will be printing, since fingerprints on the paper can affect its ink absorption. You may need to do this several times before the corners set and stay curled slightly backwards. If you are using really flat paper, like the Ilford Smooth Pearl, then feel free to load in multiple sheets in the feed tray if you are doing lots of printing, but for paper that suffers from some curl, I usually suggest only loading one sheet at a time after dealing with its curl.
ICC profiles: You want to always ensure that you are using the appropriate ICC profile for the printer and paper combination that you’re printing on. If you are wondering, ICC stands for International Colour Consortium. In short, an ICC profile “tells” a colour-managed program like Photoshop or Lightroom how a given printer and paper combination reproduces colour. If your monitor is calibrated as well, there is a system level ICC profile which describes how the monitor reproduces colour. With these two profiles, Photoshop’s colour management system can predict how a given image will translate from an emissive additive colour representation with RGB primaries (your monitor), to a reflective subtractive colour representation with CMYK primaries (your print), ensuring that your print comes out as closely as possible to the image you see on your display. Photoshop uses the monitor ICC profile and the image’s embedded ICC profile working space to alter the colours as needed on the fly, to ensure an accurate display of your image. It then again uses the image’s ICC profile and the printer output ICC profile, in order to alter the image’s colours so that the print matches the monitor as closely as possible. We have links for paper ICC profile downloads here:
Now there are a few points to keep in mind…
First off, viewing an image on a calibrated display compared to a non-calibrated one can make a huge difference in accuracy, but the act of calibrating the monitor will have no direct effect on your print. In other words, if an image prints too dark and too yellow before calibration, that same image will still print too dark and too yellow after you’ve calibrated your monitor! However… once your monitor is calibrated properly, you will be able to see that the image will print too dark and too yellow and you’ll then be able to make adjustments to make it lighter and less yellow. With a calibrated monitor, you’ll know that the adjustments you make to an image are the correct ones, which is rather important don’t you think?
Secondly, no two monitors will ever be exactly the same after calibration. Your eyes/brain are exceptionally sensitive to differences in colour, especially when looking at something you know should be neutral. You can have the same model of monitor, calibrated to the same exact settings with the same calibration puck and connected to the same computer and bring up a neutral gray patch and generally, no two monitors will actually look identical to you. That said, bring up two colour images on the two identical monitors, and you very well might not be able to tell them apart. Calibrating a monitor is indeed crucial, but is still a somewhat imperfect technology. Even with two identical high-end hardware calibrated wide-gamut displays, like two NEC SpectraView monitors for example, a slight neutral tone difference after calibration will likely still be visible.
Thirdly, if the monitor is not a wide-gamut display, then even with everything calibrated as well as can be, there will be some images where you’ll never get an accurate print preview. Many older laptops for example, had a truly horrid colour gamut and were absolutely not suitable for any sort of print proofing work. That brings me to the older Apple iMac we have at our printing station here. While better than many laptops, it is most definitely not a wide-gamut display, so if you are preparing an image with very bright and vibrant colours, no matter what you do, you may never get an accurate preview of what the print will actually look like. That is why the very first point in this article suggests always doing a smaller test print first…
Lastly, for this section at least, it would be a good idea to make a reference print on our printer, on the same paper you will be using, in order to take that print home to help verify your monitor calibration. Here is a good source to download an industry standard printer test target, one that we use here as well, and the site has some good points as to what to look for when viewing a “good” print from the image too: https://imagescience.com.au/knowledge/pdi-printer-test-image
Print Settings: So now the big question probably is “What settings do I use in the Photoshop print dialog, and in the printer settings, to make sure I am using the ICC profiles correctly?” and that would be a good question to ask! Firstly, let’s go over the Photoshop print dialog. Following is an example, where we have chosen our PRO-1000 printer…
For now, ignore the “Print Settings…” button, since that will take you to the printer drivers settings. The important things to get right here first are in the “Color Management” section. Often, by default, beside “Color Handling:” you see “Printer Manages Colors” and that would generally be the wrong setting, with the exception being if you are using a Canon branded inkjet paper with a name that is exactly listed in the printer driver’s paper type menu. Since we are generally using third-party papers, as many customers do anyway (much greater selection of papers), you’ll want to change that to “Photoshop Manages Colors” as you see above. Before choosing the printer profile, I’m going to skip below that section, to the “Rendering Intent:” setting. There are four different rendering intents but there are only two that you should ever use for printing photos, “Relative Colorimetric” and “Perceptual”. As a general rule, I would normally use Relative Colorimetric for glossy or semi-gloss papers, and Perceptual for matte fine-art papers, or any paper with a low contrast. The main reason for that, is that Perceptual often gives a little more contrast and “pop” but Relative will often give slightly more open shadows and smoother tonality, which on a high contrast paper, can make the print look better. However depending on the ICC profile, those differences can be minimal or sometimes even be reversed. In the above screenshot, you can see under the preview image, that I’ve selected “Match Print Colors” and “Show Paper White” and when I toggle between Relative (which is selected above) and Perceptual, I can see the difference in the preview image. I will go over proofing for a print in Photoshop in another section below. Next, and this is very important, is to ensure that “Black Point Compensation” is checked. This basically ensures that something that is black on the image is rendered as black as possible on the paper too. It is extremely rare for any ICC profile to require this to be unchecked (I have not seen one in a very long time) so for normal printing, always have that on. Paper almost always has less contrast than your monitor, so getting the best black possible is generally always desirable. Now let’s skip back up to choosing a “Printer Profile” and refer the the screenshot below…
- If you have more than one printer driver installed and if you have a bunch of added paper profiles, the list of profiles becomes the big, long, unwieldy scrolling mess you see above. There’s not much you can easily do about it, since many of the profiles are integral to the printer driver(s) and might be hard to root out and delete. Personally, I’ve just gotten used to scrolling though the list to find the correct profile. As you can see, some of the names are so long that you have to pop up the list in order to see which profile is actually selected! If you look at the example above, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether you had the Photo Gloss Baryta or the Photo Silk Baryta 310 (the currently chosen one) selected, as in the screenshot prior to the one immediately above. Every manufacturer has different naming conventions for their profiles. For the one selected above, “HFA” stands for “Hahnemühle Fine Art”, “CanPro1000” (you guessed it) stands for Canon PRO-1000, “PK” stands for “photo black” ink where the “K” follows the CMYK naming convention where the K stands for black, and then you have the actual name of the paper, “Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta”. Lastly, the 310 refers to the weight of the paper, so 310 gsm. Sometime a company will have different thicknesses of the same paper and will also create specific profiles for each, so in that case, the profiles are tagged with a gsm (grams per square meter) value. Ilford actually includes some coded letters in their profile names that can remind you which paper settings to use in the driver and at the end of this article, I will have a cheat sheet for those.
- Since it generally makes more sense to print from Photoshop at our printing station, I won’t go into many details on printing from Lightroom, but one welcome feature of Adobe Lightroom, is that you can actually choose to just switch on the profiles that you use on a regular basis, so it is much easier when switching between paper types and profiles. You are only presented with the huge list when you make those selections initially, or install a new ICC profile and then want access to it in Lightroom. I did make one screenshot of Lightroom to demonstrate this, although it was was done on a different computer. Below you can see the nice, concise ICC profile selection menu, with only four profiles chosen to be in the list. If you were to choose “Other…”, then you’d be presented with a scrolling window listing all the profiles installed on the computer. From there you just select the check-box beside each profile that you want visible on the menu…
Much easier, right?! Anyway, I won’t explain printing from Lightroom here. That will be a subject for a future article perhaps? So, after choosing the appropriate ICC profile for the paper you are using, it is then important to precisely match the print driver settings with the ones that the paper manufacturer used when they created the ICC profile in the first place. This applies to printing from Lightroom or Photoshop, but once again, the continuing focus of this article will be Photoshop. Often, when you download an ICC profile, there will be a “read me” file that covers the appropriate driver settings. Sometimes, you may need to reference a different link on the manufacture’s website to get at the driver settings info. Also, once in a while a printer manufacturer will change the name of an existing paper type, or on occasion delete it entirely, so your ICC profile “read me” might no longer be valid. In many cases, a manufacturer will replace the discontinued paper with something very similar, and since pigment-ink based printers are not all that sensitive to slight differences in paper, often those older profiles can still be used.The key things to remember then when setting up the printer driver for a particular paper, is to set the paper type and quality settings (provided in a profile’s documentation) and ensure that printer driver colour management is off and/or colour fine-tuning adjustments are zeroed out. That will ensure that your printer prints the same way as the one the manufacturer used when generating the ICC profile in the first place.