matching screen and printer colors

Recently, I’ve been doing some digital photography. I edit them and get the pictures just right on the screen, but the printer is slightly different. Windows has some “Color Profile” thing with .ICM files, but I can’t figure it out, and I have spent some time researching it. Also, I can’t find ICM files for either my screen or my printer.

I don’t have any kind of graphics background, but I assume this must be a problem that’s gone on since the invention of screens and printers.

Does anyone here have any experience with this? Are there special drivers or software I can get to help me match my colors?

Just to head this off at the pass, please don’t say “get a mac”; that’s not an option.

Unless you’re going to spend major bucks on a completely calibrated, closed-loop system, there’s always going to be a fair amount of difference between what you see on screen and what you see on paper. Even if you do spend the time and money, there’s still going to be some difference since in the first case you’re dealing with transmitted light from red, green, and blue phosphors glowing, while in the second you’re dealing with light reflected off of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks laid over a paper substrate of some color approaching white. Neither method can reproduce the entire range of color visible to the human eye, and there are many colors that are possible in one model and not the other.

The “.ICM” thing is an ICC (International Color Consortium) color profile, part of a desultory attempt by Microsoft to do something to help with the problem of color management on Windows systems. The Windows color management system is a bad implementation of a mediocre CMM. Generally, it’s not worth bothering with for a non-expert, particularly since for ICC profiles and the color management systems that use them to be effective, each link in the chain from creation to reproduction of the image needs to be profiled to determine its gamut (the range of colors it can reproduce accurately) and its accuracy (how closely the device comes to reproducing a specific color when directed to do so). The profile may well differ even for the same device under different circumstances; for example, changing the brand or type of paper used in the printer will certain result in different color reproduction characteristics. The canned profiles that ship with most printers describe some fictitious average printer of that model (or worse, the specific instance that the manufacturer happened to test), and will describe the actual performance of your printer only by the rarest of coincidences.

If you’re serious about this, the best free general introduction to color reproduction theory that I know of is at the web site of A to Z Color Consulting. It’s a technically detailed description of the basic issues in color reproduction that is nevertheless accessible for a layperson.

In the meantime, you can start by making sure the information you’re feeding the printer is of the highest possible quality. If the image editing program you’re using allows you to “sample” the color values at a particular point on your screen (i.e., actually see numeric values for the red, green, and blue components), find an area of the image that is close to a pure white and adjust the color balance until the values for red, green, and blue are fairly closely balanced. This will help ensure that, whatever you may see on screen, the actual color balance in the data you send to the printer is close to the actual balance in the image.

If you’re using Adobe Photoshop (and you should be if you’re going to do much of this sort of thing), instead of the above, select Image menu–>Adjust–>Levels (or just type Control-L). In the levels dialog, select each color channel (red, green, blue) in turn, and do the following. In the histogram (the sort of bar graph displayed in the levels dialog), look at each end of the range. If you note that the graph drops off to nothing or near nothing at a point before the endpoint of the graph, click on the the little triangle-shaped slider underneath the graph and pull in toward the middle of graph until it’s approximately aligned with the point in the graph at which the values begin to trend upward (I realize this is hard to describe, but it should make sense if you’re actually looking at it). Repeat for the other end of the graph. Do this for each of the three color channels. After doing this, you should have an image that has much greater color balance, better dynamic range, and that looks somewhat sharper than the original. Now, you should mess it up a litte. No ink-on-paper printer can actually reproduce values at the extreme light and dark ends of the scale, so we want to adjust the output levels of the overall image so that they’re compressed into a somewhat smaller range. Also in levels dialog, there’s another slider for output levels, with fields for directly entering values above it. For a typical ink-jet printer, you should probably set the output levels to 10 and 240-245, instead of 0 and 255. This means that the output image will have no area that is whiter than about 5% (where 0% would be pure white) and none darker than about 90% (where 100% would be solid)-- when your printer tries to print this, the ink will actually fill in some in the darkest areas, making them closer to 100%. The 5% tone in the light areas will keep the image from looking “blown out” in the very lightest areas.

As you experiment, you’ll gain a sense of how your printer actually performs, and you’ll learn never to trust what you see on your monitor. You’ll do yourself a big favor if you’ll try to ensure that the light in your work area is consistent, no matter what time of the day or night you’re working, and if you do much of this you may want to try a daylight-balanced light in this area (though it’s not worth spending a lot of money on – anything short of calibrated 5000 degree Kelvin lights are going to affect your color perception somewhat.

If you’d care to pass along what you’re using to acquire images (make and model of digital camera, scanner, etc.), the make and model of your printer, and the software you’re using for image editing, I’ll try to make some more specific recommendations.

“Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.” –Satchel Paige


Getting a Mac would help. Not because they are any better with color, just because they are better.

:ducks the flames:

Now, to seriously answer before manhattan throws my response into Great Debates…

Quoted from the National Association of Desktop Publishers Journal, March 1996:

There is much more… that is just the first paragraph of an article I found at The Pantone website.

They publish a colorguide that gives you paper samples (like you use to pick wallpaper or paint) and corresponding digital CMYK values. Basically, you need to ignore what you see on your monitor and trust the numbers to give you the right color on paper.

BTW, these guides cost close to $150 and they come out with new versions several times a year.

As the spouse of a Graphic Designer, I can tell you that this why they are in business. People who try to do this stuff on their own drives professional crazy (no offense).

Check to see if you have screen to printer color matching first. Your graphic program usually does it for you. Photoshop or Ulead.

Thanks, guys. Appreciate the help.

One thing you might encounter is that your monitor has its own display driver, your video card another, & the software [like Photoshop gamma] yet another. Thus, three display drivers all trying to do the same thing. You’ll need to choose only ONE.

sdimbert: Not because they are any better with color, just because they are better.


[wipes a tear from his eye]

How do you define “better”? The idea of programming on a Mac makes me shiver.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I actually like Macs. Used them extensively when I was on my high school newspaper. I’d definitely reccomend them for any sort of publishing task, this guy’s priting woes included.

But to say they’re “better” is just leaving out the different needs people have. The MacOS, in my experience, is pretty crashy, and that just doesn’t cut it for what I need. (I’m a computer science major.)

Kupek’s Den

One peice of Hard Ware
“Rivita TNT2”

it comes with a cool program “Colorific”

What it does is leads you through a set of tests that realy do work

it will do basic colortests liek red gren and blue

first step)
it will show you 1 rectangel at a time each with a blackback ground therectangles with have lil’ squares in them that will go from a bright red to a black (it jsuts fades teh red down to black by removing the luminesance) you do this with red green and blue.
You then adjust your britness by making a black box on the screen as dark as you can while keeping the white as white as you can.

Then you go through a few other tests and tell it what lighting your using.
For old monoters it will add th extra reds and blues needed to get rid of that tint that hasdeveloped and offer GREAT end results.

a RIVITA TNT2 card is AGP (you will need an AGP slot for it advanced graphis port) and costs about $100.

It also is a 2D-3D 32 meg vid card so its not that bad.

Remember Franklin Osis,
Father of his Clan.
Three Strengths he gave us:
The jaguar’s spring that brings an enemy down,
The jaguar’s claw’s that rend the enemy’s heart,
The jaguar’s taste for the enemy’s hot blood.

-“The Remembrance” (Clan Smoke Jaguar), Passage 104, Verse 18, Lines 5-10

HaploXL, Colorific sounds like exactly what I’m looking for. I’ve checked out their site. Before I buy though, have you (or any others out there) actually used it? Does it deliver?

I couldn’t find “Rivita TNT2” in a web search. Do you have a company name or link?


He meant Riva.

Oh and to the person who said macs are better- whatever you’re smoking, I want some. As a programmer, I definitely prefer the windows and DOS platforms. And having worked in a computer lab, the imacs here crash 4-5 times as frequently as the PCs. I could go on for days about the stupidites in the imac, but they speak for themself.

He who is truly wise is the one who knows how much he has yet to learn.

Colorific? I used it once, it was free with the monitor. I couldn’t get it to uninstall so I wrote them an email & they told me how to get it off. See, its a software solution for the display. But I didn’t need it because the video card has its own very nice driver.