Today’s Question: I see from some of your videos on printing that you have “Relative” intent highlighted versus “Perceptual” on the Lightroom panel under color management. Do you use “Relative” all the time or is it based on what you’re printing?
Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule I us the “Relative” option when printing from Lightroom (or Photoshop), which is actually the “Relative Colorimetric” rendering intent. This is because of my preference regarding how out-of-gamut colors in my photos should be dealt with when printing.
More Detail: The reason I generally prefer to use the Relative Colorimetric rendering intent rather than Perceptual relates to how these individual rendering intents operate.
First, for those who are not familiar, a rendering intent determines how out of gamut colors are dealt with when printing an image. In other words, if the current printer, ink, and paper combination can’t reproduce a given color in the photo, what color should be printed instead?
With the Relative Colorimetric rendering intent, the colors that can be reproduced will be printed exactly as they appear in the image being printed. Colors that are out of gamut (those that can’t be reproduced) will be shifted to the closest reproducible color value. So, in-gamut colors print accurately, and out-of-gamut colors print as accurately as possible.
With the Perceptual rendering intent, if there are any out-of-gamut colors in the image then all colors will be shifted until they are all in-gamut. The advantage of this approach is that the relative relationships between colors are maintained, which can result in a more natural looking print in situations where there are a large number of colors that are somewhat significantly out of gamut. However, this can also result in a potentially significant reduction in overall saturation for the print, depending on how far the applicable colors fall out of gamut.
The primary reason I prefer the Relative Colorimetric rendering intent is that I prefer to keep as many of the colors in the image as accurate in the print as possible. The only time I will generally consider using the Perceptual rendering intent is when I know there are colors in the image that are extremely out of gamut.
For most of the images I print there don’t tend to be colors that are extremely out of gamut. So, I almost always use the Relative Colorimetric rendering intent, but I’m certainly not opposed to using the Perceptual rendering intent when it enables me to produce a better print.
Note, by the way, that soft proofing your image in Lightroom or Photoshop can help you make an informed decision about which rendering intent to use for a specific photo.