Soft Proofing

This series of articles has covered color management and printer profiles so far. That brings us to the final step – actually printing. But wait, wouldn’t you like to know how the print will look without wasting paper and ink? Well, you can. That’s where softproofing comes in.

Softproofing simulates a print on your monitor.

Soft Proof Dialog - Photoshop CS3
Soft Proof Dialog - Photoshop CS3

It’s not exact but gives a very good idea of how the print will look. To use soft proofing in Photoshop, select View>Proof Setup>Custom… This opens the soft proof dialog. What options should you use? It depends upon your intentions.

The first selection is the “Device to Simulate.” This, assuming you are testing a possible print, should be the paper profile to be used. Clicking on the drop-down menu should show all the possible profiles. This is a great way to see the differences between different papers without actually printing.

Make sure the box labeled “Preserve RGB Numbers” is not checked. This uses the same color numbers as the processing color space which is not what you want.

The next choice is the “Rendering Intent.” Rendering intent is a rule for how colors will be converted between color spaces. There are four choices in rendering intent: Perceptual, Saturation, Relative Colorimetric, and Absolute Colorimetric. Only two of these selections are of interest here: perceptual and relative colorimetric.

Perceptual rendering attempts to maintain the relationships between colors. So, for out of gamut colors, perceptual shifts the colors into colors that are within the chosen color space. Different out-of-gamut colors will be shifted into different in-gamut colors.

Relative rendering maps all out-of-gamut colors into the closest in-gamut color. Adobe states that relative colorimetric preserves more of the original colors than perceptual but goes on to say perceptual is suitable for photographic images.

It might seem, in that case, that you should use perceptual. But, in fact, you should choose the one that best reflects your intent. Switch back and forth between options – make sure Preview is checked – and see which of the intents best realizes what you would like to do with the print. When you print the photo, choose the same rendering intent in the print dialog.

The other options in the dialog are “Black Point Compensation,” “Simulate White Paper” and “Simulate Black Ink.” Black Point Compensation preserves shadow detail in the simulated output. Leave it on.

“Simulate White Paper” attempts to make the white more like the paper you are simulating; Monitors have brighter whites than papers. Different print shops specify different settings for these; make sure you find out which ones should be on. For at home printing, turn this on.

“Simulate Black Ink” takes into account that ink will not be as black as your monitor. Generally, your proof will look worse when you select these last two options but you want to see reality here.

Now, assuming you have set everything, you will have a reasonable depiction of what the print will look like. If you want, you can use Photoshop to make adjustments in the softproof version to adjust the print. Close the Soft Proof dialog – click “OK” – and the image will be shown in the selected color space. Edit as desired to achieve the result you want.

A final word. After printing your image on paper, do not hold it up next to your monitor. Say this three times: Monitors are not Paper. That is, you will never see quite the same thing because monitors transmit light and paper reflects light. To review the print, you should place it where you can’t see your monitor. It will not the same. And no one, other than you, will ever be able to see what was on the monitor.