Color Management — How do I make my monitor look more like the prints I get from StarMark Imaging?

Soft Proofing is one of the main facets of color management that professional photographers are interested in. Available to us since Photoshop v6, the idea behind soft proofing is to make your computer monitor simulate an output device (in this case, the photographic printers at StarMark Imaging) as close as technically possible. 

1) Calibrate your monitor. 

Use a good hardware monitor calibrator. We like the Eye-One by Gretag/MacBeth, which can be purchased in various configurations, with different software, packaging and pricing, under three brand names (Gretag/MacBeth, X-rite or Pantone). For the purposes mentioned in this article, the base configuration, priced at about $150, is all that is necessary.

2) Load the correct ICC profile. Download the StarMark Imaging ICC color profile. This profile tells your computer how to simulate what the image might look like when it is printed on the photographic printers at StarMark Imaging. This is a viewing profile only. Do not embed this profile in your images. It will result in significant color problems when the image is printed. Load the profile and use it according to directions given by Adobe in the help files.

 StarMark Imaging ICC profile

For soft proof settings in Adobe PhotoShop, we offer these suggestions as a start:
Go to: View> Set Proof> Custom. 
Then set the options to:
• StarMark Imaging_ICC_profile
• Rendering intent: Relative Colorimetric (or Perceptual)
• Preserve RGB Numbers: No
• Black Point Compenstation: Yes
• Simulate Paper Color: No
• Simulate Black Ink: No

3) Dim the lights, concentrate, and keep your adjustments slight. 
• When making subtle moves in color, density, and contrast, it is important to dim the room lights or use a monitor hood to block ambient light from the monitor.
• If you are viewing a reference print, it is important to use a balanced full spectrum light to illuminate the print. Office supply stores carry relatively inexpensive desk lamps with full spectrum balanced light bulbs.
• With the profile loaded and the options set as shown above, toggle back and forth using the keyboard shortcut (cntrl-Y in Windows, cmnd-Y in Macintosh) to view the subtle differences that proofing with the profile makes.

Focus your attention on critical areas of the photo in shadows and highlights. Conversely, some artists advocate closing your eyes while you change between the two viewing modes, rather than watching the change take place, which they feel can alter perception of color and tone adversely.
• If white balance was set correctly in the camera, and exposure is within range, problems can usually be fixed by very small adjustments in curves or levels. On rare occasions when we experience difficulty making an acceptable print from an image, it is often because extreme color shifts or tonal changes have been made by the customer. A helpful tip that has been a longstanding rule in color: always adjust contrast and tone first, before evaluating and adjusting color.

4) Recognize the Limitations of Soft Proofing. Soft proofing, even on a properly calibrated monitor, is not a perfect process. The ICC profile only attempts to match the monitor image to the printer output at a single exposure level. Normally exposed images with a correct white balance will show a good match between the prints and monitor image. The farther an image is away from a normal exposure the poorer will be the match between the monitor image and the print. Over and under exposed images will often have a very poor match before correction in an image editing program. Even after correction, images that are significantly under or over exposed will frequently not display a close match to the printer output. This is because the dynamic range (the difference between what we perceive as black and white) is much larger on a monitor than for photographic paper. Blacks that might print milky or grayish will often still look good on the monitor.

Even with a calibrated ICC profiled monitor, experienced professionals still consult the histogram and take pin pointed readouts in the image while making color or tonal moves. Restricting the area the histogram is built from (for example, forcing the histogram to be built only from a face, or eliminating a high-key background from the histogram) can be extremely helpful when evaluating exposure and contrast.

Given the limitations of soft-proofing, even with the best color management protocols in place, we stress the same thing we would for customers who want to leave color management out of the picture completely: get exposure and white balance correct in the camera, not in post processing.