Photo Printing – to custom profile or not, that is the question!

Getting the best quality when photo printing

Photo printing can be VERY rewarding. AND VERY frustrating!!

After reading many posts on various forums about printing and using color profiles (canned VS custom) it got me thinking. I decided to do some tests to see the difference between provided profiles from Epson and paper manufacturers and the profiles that I make.

My Photo Printing Equipment:

  • Epson 3880
  • P800
  • Epson P7000
  • Colormunki Photo running the new I1 Studio software


Adobe Photoshop CS2 (I like CS2 for printing, there are a couple benefits to CS2 that are lost on later versions for printing)

Epson Paper:

  • Gloss Ultra Premium
  • Luster Ultra Premium
  • Semi Matte Ultra Premium
  • Matte Ultra Premium


So many times when we buy something new we start using it without actually  testing it. The Colormunki was that way for me. 

I bought it started using it and never did compare the old way to the new way.  Then I would read about others that would say “this is the only way to do this” and I thought I should test to see if in fact it is true.  Well I decided to do some testing and see what the difference is when printing between the profiles provided by Epson and the ones that I make.

Side Note:

I am talking here about paper profiles when printing, NOT monitor profiles. 

A monitor profile balances how the monitor displays the image on the monitor, a paper profile is what colors the image is printed. A monitor profile is in my opinion 110% required to help control your color in your workflow if you are printing on your own equipment.

Photo Printing:

Before custom color profiles I printed using AdobeRGB 1998 as the only color space. I switched to using the Epson paper profiles that were supplied by Epson and I was really happy with the results from both of these.  I then bought a Colormunki to profile my monitor, and as it also does paper profiles, I switched to custom paper profiles.

After buying my latest printer the Epson P7000 I did some tests with the Epson profiles and with just using a basic Adobe RGB 1998. I have to say I was shocked at how good the Adobe RGB 1998 was on all papers so I switched my workflow back to Adobe RGB 1998. 

But with time on my hands thanks to the never ending delayed spring I thought that it would be good if I did some actual scientific tests to see if there was a difference.

The test process – Photo prints

To start the test I have a test file that I use to test printers.  This file can test 99% of the printing situations that I encounter daily. It allows me to look at things like flesh tone, shadows, highlights and midtones.   I printed a 8×10 of this file on each of the printers and on each of the papers using Adobe1998 as the paper profile.

Adobe Photoshop print screen
Adobe Photoshop print screen

On the print screen I also selected Adobe RGB 1998 as the print mode

Epson 3880 Printer Print Screen
Epson 3880 Printer Print Screen

I then used the Colormunki software to generate a test page of colors and I read that page to enter the colors into the program.  I then made a second set of test colors, read them and then saved the profile.

Then I printed my original test page but this time applied the custom printer profile when printing.  Then I compared the images side by side.

Printer profile set to the new profile that I just made,

Adobe Photoshop Printing Screen with custom profile
Adobe Photoshop Printing Screen with custom profile

and set the Epson print screen to No color adjustment

Epson 3880 Printer printing screen - No color adjustment
Epson 3880 Printer printing screen – No color adjustment

Then as a final test I printed the test using the Epson Paper Profile

Adobe Photoshop Printing Screen with Epson profile
Adobe Photoshop Print Screen with Epson profile

On the printer screen I also selected no color adjustment for this final test image.

Epson 3880 Printer printing screen - No color adjustment
Epson 3880 Printer print screen – No color adjustment

Photo printing test Results:

So when I put the three sample prints side by side I was very happy to see that my way of printing using Adobe RGB 1998 or using the supplied profiles from Epson were 99.9999% perfect.

This is how I see the image on the monitor and comparing the printed images using the new custom profile.

Using Matte paper the difference was a lot more noticeable.  Not to the point of ruining the printed image either way, but in certain areas of the image the custom profile did bring the color a little closer to the other papers and make it more pleasing.

The reason is that with matte paper, canvas and fine art the base of the paper is warmer because it is not bleached when manufactured so the whites are warmer when printed.

Another thing that I found that really impressed me is that between the three printers that I tested all the Epson printers were the same with the Epson profiles and the new custom profiles that I made! This way if I am using different printers on the same orders that results will all be the same.

A good way (although costly with using all the paper and ink) to pass a day when the weather is bad in doing some tests.  Nice to see actual results on paper.  If you want to see these results stop into the studio and I can show you.  Posting images of the prints on-line will not show enough of the colors to accurately see the results.  I also have results of other tests like using JPEG vs TIFF when sending files that you are welcome to look at.

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