How To Color Manage Your Printables

Posted by Celia Birkholz on

How to Color Manage Your Printables

If your printer is not printing pages that match what you see on your screen, you're not alone! There are many reasons why you might be getting desaturated or "off" colors. I spent many hours researching this frustrating topic, and here is what I've come up with.

First, realize we are comparing apples to oranges here. Screens project light which gives us color, the RGB spectrum, which is additive. Printers print must work with reflected light, the CMYK spectrum, which is subtractive. They can get close, but will never be the same. Here's a nerdy article for us color nerds.

Second, definitely calibrate your screen! This is usually the culprit. Your printer isn't printing inaccurately, your screen is displaying inaccurately. Go through the tests at this website, then run your computer's color calibration tool. Color calibration degrades over time, so try doing it monthly.

Try calibrating your screen to match your printer output (provided your printer settings are correct, see below). It is very common for LCD screens (laptops, flat screens) to be too bright since they are often used in bright sunlight.

If calibrating your screen doesn't cut it, try the following. In the Print menu, click Print Settings and check

  • Paper Type is set to the type of paper you're using
  • Color-Correction is set to Automatic
  • Quality is set to High
  • Turn off "high speed printing"
  • Make sure Print Preview is enabled to double check your layout

In the Print menu itself, check:

  • Printer manages colors
  • Printer Profile matches your printer
  • Rendering Intent is Perceptual or Relative Colormetric (very similar and it is whatever you prefer in the end)

Paper settings matter. In your Print Settings box, you'll see several option for paper type. If you're using a specific brand of printer and paper (e.g. Epson papers and an Epson printer), you should see an exact or very close match for your paper type. If you're using third party papers (like Recollections cardstock from Michael's), you'll have to experiment.

For my printer, choosing Bright White/Plain Paper is best for Recollections cardstock. When I use Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper, I have to choose Matte Presentation Paper. Matching paper settings, and letting the printer color-correct itself, should be your first course of action. Personally, my printer knows what it needs to do for the most part.

Make sure the Print menu is using the correct Printer Profile. It should say at least the brand of your printer, if not the specific model.

Quality should be High for crisp lines and best rendering.

I get better results when I turn off high-speed printing. 

If you're still not satisfied, you can also try allowing Photoshop or your image-editing program to handle the color management, still using your printer profile. Opinions seem to vary on whether software or your printer knows best, you'll have to try for yourself and your printer.

You may wish to test-print several smaller images if this is your first time printing at home.

  • To do this, open a new document and the item you wish to test-print.
  • Resize the item you wish to test-print (Google how to do this in your program if you’re not sure), making it small enough so several of these resized images could fit on your new document.
  • Copy/paste the resized image onto your new document in the upper left-hand corner.
  • Try printing with your printer’s default settings.
  • If the image is not to your liking, copy/paste the resized image again in a new spot on your document, delete any previous test images on your document, and try a different paper setting, different color management setting, etc. until you’re satisfied.
  • SAVE THE SETTINGS YOU DECIDE TO USE or at least write them down, so you don't have to play a guessing game every time you print.

Also know that some printables might not be saved in the CMYK color space depending on the designer. They may not know, or they may print the same designs with other companies who call for RGB and simply want to consolidate their efforts & files. 

Color management is weird and wild world from my experience, and different printers and print companies want different things. Conflicting information is everywhere, and in general it seems to "just depend" on your situation. If you're struggling with my printables, please feel free to contact me and I will be glad to help you to the best of my knowledge.

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