Dealing with a Soft Proof


Today’s Question: [In regards to soft proofing covered in a prior Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter], is the idea to make adjustments to the soft proof so it looks like the finalized original?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Conceptually, soft proofing does indeed provide the opportunity to apply adjustments to the image in order to ensure the print will be as accurate as possible. In actual practice, I tend to think of it more as a tool for understanding what to expect rather than for necessarily changing the actual output.

More Detail: As noted in a previous Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, soft proofing involves software altering the appearance of an image on your display in an effort to simulate what the actual print will look like. This preview is based on the specific printer, ink, and paper combination you will intend to use to print the image.

Just to illustrate the point, imagine a scenario where you were printing a color image to a printer that only includes black ink. A profile for that particular printer (taking into account the ink set for the printer as well as the type of paper you’re printing to) would reflect the grayscale capabilities of the printer. That, in turn, means that soft proofing would cause the preview of the image on your monitor to appear in black and white rather than color.

The soft proofing preview can be helpful for understanding what to expect in your final print. For example, an uncoated matte paper will produce a print with less contrast and saturation than a glossy print, and the soft proofing preview would reflect that.

Conceptually you can also use the soft proofing display as the basis for adjustments to compensate for the output conditions. For a print to a matte paper you might boost the contrast and saturation of the image, for example. Or the soft proof preview might show a color shift, which you can compensate for with adjustments.

However, it is important to keep in mind that issues discovered via the soft proofing preview may not be issues that can actually be overcome. In the example scenario of soft proofing a color photo with a profile for a black and white printer, for example, no amount of adjustment to the image will cause the print to be produced in full color.

Similarly, if a printer is not able to produce highly saturated colors in the paper you’re using for printing, increasing the saturation would magically improve the capabilities of that printer.

That said, within reason adjustments you apply based on the soft proof preview can indeed help improve the appearance of the final print. It is just important to keep in mind that soft proofing provides a preview of what the printer is capable of, not a magical way to overcome limitations of the printer, ink, and paper combination you’re using to print a photo.