How to Calibrate Printers and Scanners Using ICC Printer Profiles

Optimize settings to make your prints look their best

Calibrating a printer, scanner, or monitor properly ensures what you see on the screen is what the print looks like, and that the colors on the monitor are accurately represented on paper. An ICC profile helps with calibration. ICC profiles are a set of standards created by the International Color Consortium and are commonly used in color management. Each file is specific to a certain device and provides a way to ensure consistent color. In this guide, we explain how you can use ICC profiles to make your photos look their best.

If you want an overview of ICC color profiles, go to the International Color Consortium website. Their FAQ provides answers to common ICC-related questions about color management, color management systems, and ICC profiles. You'll also find a page on color terminology, color management, profiles, digital photography, and graphic arts.

A color calibration tool
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Where to Find ICC Profiles

Getting the right combination of ink plus paper plus printer settings is easier with the help of companies like Ilford and Hammermill (manufacturers of photo paper). These companies host an array of printer profiles on their official websites. You can generally find ICC profiles and other helpful things under the Support section.

These ICC profiles are geared toward photo pros rather than the average user, for whom the printer's default settings (or photo settings) are enough. Ilford, for example, assumes you use Adobe Photoshop or a similar high-end photo editing program. If you're not, you can stop here and use your printing preferences.

Canon lists ICC profiles for compatible third-party printers on its website along with an art paper printing guide. Brother uses Windows ICM printer profiles. Meanwhile, TFT Central offers an ICC profiles and monitor settings database that seems to be updated regularly.

This subject is complicated. If you're interested in the technical side of ICC profiles, there is a free, downloadable e-book available on the ICC web site that delves into ICC profiles and their use in color management. Building ICC Profiles: The Mechanics and the Engineering includes compilable C-code that can be run on Unix and Windows operating systems.

How to Use ICC Profiles

After you download an ICC profile, install it in the right place. Here's how to do it on Windows and Mac:

  1. Extract the ICC profile from the .ZIP file you downloaded and save it in a place you can easily access.

  2. On a Windows computer, right-click the extracted file and choose Install Profile. This automatically saves it in the correct location.

  3. On a Mac, manually copy and paste the extracted ICC profile into the correct folder. Go to ~/Library/Colorsync/Profiles and drop it in.

    The folder might be hidden by default. Check out our guide on viewing hidden folders on macOS if you need help.