How to Calibrate Your Monitor and Deal with Prints That Come Back Too Dark From A Custom Print Lab
- Oct 17th. 2012
- Posted in Tips & Tricks . videos
- @ThomasShue . custom profile . darp prints . ICC monitor Profile . Lilsamedia . lilsamedia.com . monitor profiling. . prints too dark . Thomas Shue . Thomas Shue Photography . tom shue . WHCC dark prints
- By Thomas Shue
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How Calibrate Your Monitor and Deal with Prints That Come Back Too Dark From A Custom Print Lab
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Hi and welcome to my blog. In this post I am going to share how to calibrate your monitor so it will match your prints, particularly, if they come back too dark from a lab. There are all sorts of little things that the Monitor Calibration Device building companies do not tell you. Also there are some serious things that most print labs neglect to tell you, too (this all started back with the old film labs).
Back in the day, you bought some film, loaded it in the camera, set it on Auto and let it rip. If you were like me and didn’t know much at all in the beginning(20+ years ago), but you were able to take some decent pictures, you may have thought – why? The lab was secretly fixing your shortcomings. If you blew an exposure the lab would automatically try to correct it. If they could, they did and you were none the wiser. If you blew it too badly, they tried to fix it; if they couldn’t then, you were the one at fault and the print showed it.
Today, most digital print labs work much the same way. Most of them are running a special software that automatically adjusts the brightness of your images so your prints won’t be rejected for being too dark. When I say they are running special software, I am not talking about you checking the little box that charges you extra per print to make sure the color and brightness is correct. I am talking about the software they run whether you want them to or not, that automatically adjusts output brightness. If there is a problem they fix it. Most Labs are protecting their investment by adjusting the brightness of your prints, they make sure the prints are at least saleable and won’t be returned.
If you use a custom lab like WHCC, who doesn’t do any sort of adjustment to your files, you can be assured you are getting true and untouched output. A custom lab assumes that you do not need or want anyone making any sort of adjustments to your work. They print the files as they are and you pay them. A pretty simple concept and one that will have you scratching your head the first time you have to deal your prints coming back too dark and not matching your monitor.
The reason for all these problems, is the LCD monitors. We buy (consumer grade) monitors that are just, too bright. If you ever have a chance to visit a professional image editing studio, you will see that the monitors are very dim. These editing monitors are great for editing still images, but would stink for watching a movie or playing a game, because they are very dim. This leads me to the calibration device manufacturers, that sell you devices that are supposed to be able to calibrate your monitor to a set of known and reference values; values that are industry standard. The fact is, they do and they don’t. When it comes to color accuracy, the are dead on perfect. When it comes to brightness and contrast, they fail miserably.
There appears to be no reference standard for Contrast and Brightness. The only way possible to ensure your prints match your monitor (without any extra software automatically adjusting brightness) is adjustment by inspection. You must look at a test print in the proper lighting conditions and then adjust your monitor’s brightness and contrast controls to match the test prints. It’s a WYSIWYG solution and if you use a custom lab and your prints come back too dark, it means your monitor is too bright. The only way to fix it, I mean the only way, is to turn the brightness and contrast down using the controls on the monitor. I suggest you profile the monitor with your ColorMunki, Spyder Pro, Pantone Huey, i1, ect., then adjust the brightness and contrast of the monitor until it matches your test prints from a lab.
Lightroom 4 has even added an output brightness control to fix the, my-prints-are-too-dark problem when you work at home, using your own printer. Instead of trying to actually fix your monitor’s brightness problem, Lightroom has added a feature (in the print module) that allows you to make a global brightness adjustment and apply it only on the output of the file, when you send a job to a printer (a manual version of the auto adjustment that is happening at most labs). If your prints are too dark, just increase the output brightness, and try it again until you are happy with the results. Now you have set an offset for brightness that will work on all of your files. If you are interested in that topic see what Matt Kloskowski has to say about that functionally in Lightroom, Link Here. I, for one, feel that it is a Bandaid solution.
When I work with a Lab, I prefer to know that the images on my screen will match my prints – 100% of the time - from a lab, without any extra adjustments. If a lab has properly color calibrated their hardware, and are willing to offer me test prints of my files, I can match my monitor to their output and know that I will get consistent images - with the proper color - every time.
This process of calibration is not fun at all, however, I feel it’s necessary if you want to offer professional prints that are a step above the rest of the competition. I feel that my prints are much better than most of the offerings from labs that auto correct. Because my vision, (the one that lived in my head, became a file, got edited on a screen), is exactly the same as the one that lives on a piece of paper, called a print. These prints represent me, my vision and skill. I do not want anyone else changing anything. I want it to remain exactly as I see it on my monitor.
To get my prints to match my screen (a standard 30″ LCD). I have gone through Hell to figure it out, and in the video below, I give you a summary of the steps I take to make it all to work. A side note, when working with screen capture software and monitor profiling software, you aren’t always able to record all of the menus. There is a spot from 12:53 until 14:34 that you can’t see much because the onscreen menus are not recordable with my screen capture software. You can fast forward, however, I think you should watch it through, especially if your prints are too dark and you want to fix it.
My video is not perfect, but there is some good information that I wish I had when I stated dealing with the problem of dark prints from a custom lab.