Calibrate Your Printer

WYSIWYG Printing: why and how to calibrate your printer

by_nicholas / E+

Have you ever printed a graphic that looked "Christmas" red and green on screen but when printed you ended up with purple and lime green? Even if the differences were not quite so dramatic, the way images look on screen differs from the way they look in print. Calibrating your monitor provides a screen display that simulates what prints on paper. Calibrating your printer ensures that what you print is consistent with what you see on-screen. The two go hand in hand.

There are many reasons why and ways that monitor displays and printed output are dissimilar including:

  • Monitors use additive RGB color while printing uses subtractive CMYK pigments, each a different way of reproducing color.
  • In print, ink layering and overlapping causes subtle shifts in color not found in the individual pixels that make up a screen image.
  • Printed images don't have the same range, saturation, and contrast as a monitor making the colors typically darker and less vibrant than on screen. Paper texture and brightness also affect — and change — the printed image.

How to Calibrate

The first step in printer calibration is to calibrate your monitor. Then, make sure you use the correct printer driver for your printer. Within the printer driver, you will find controls for fine tuning the overall appearance of color from your printer. Depending on your needs, this may be sufficient to get the color you want.

Two general methods for additional printer calibration: visual and mechanical. The sometimes more expensive and accurate option is to use a hardware device that can read the output from your printer and make adjustments as necessary. For most typical users, visual calibration or the use of generic color profiles for your hardware is adequate.

Basic Visual Calibration

Using test images with a wide range of tonal values — ideally consisting of a number of color bars, photographs, and blocks of colors — and your eyes you can visually match up the screen and print colors. You would display and print a test image then compare and adjust grayscale and color output in whatever controls provided for your printer.

Obtain digital test images from the Web and from some software or hardware manufacturers.

Targets and Test Images
Whether visually or with color management software, target images provide a range of color and grayscale for calibrating monitors, printers, scanners, and digital cameras. Find free and commercial scanner targets, their reference files, and other test images.

Norman Koren describes one way to use these test images for monitor and printer calibration without using color management system software.

    Color Calibration with ICC Profiles

    ICC profiles provide a way to ensure consistent color. These files are specific to each device on your system and contain information about how that device produces color. With printers, the ideal situation is to create separate profiles based on various combinations of ink and paper because this affects the appearance of the printed material. However, the stock or default profiles for your printer model (available with your software, from your printer manufacturer, or from other Web sites) are often adequate for most desktop printing.

    For more precise color management needs, you can use color management software to develop custom ICC profiles for any device. Additionally, some online sources that create custom profiles for you. One such vendor is

    ICC profiles
    Get an ICC profile for your printer as well as your monitor, scanner, digital camera or other equipment.

      Calibration Tools

      Color Management Systems include tools for calibrating monitors, scanners, printers, and digital cameras so they all "speak the same color." These tools often include a variety of generic profiles as well as the means to customize profiles for any or all of your devices.

      Color Management Systems
      Choose the calibration tools that match your pocketbook and your needs for accurate representation of color on screen and in print.

        Don't stop with your printer. Calibrate all your color devices: Monitor | Scanner | Digital Camera