Today’s Question: What’s your opinion on making custom printer profiles for each paper versus using the manufacturer’s profiles? An article that I read on the subject made two primary points. First, manufacturers often make “conservative” profiles that minimize colour issues but may not necessarily maximize the potential of the output device to render their full potential gamut. Secondly, manufacturers’ profiles for glossy and related finishes tend to be very close/indiscernible from custom profiles, but the difference can be significant for matte and related papers. Your thoughts?
Tim’s Quick Answer: The profiles that are included with the driver software for today’s photo printers, as well as those provided with third-party papers, are generally of very good quality. For many photographers and applications, those profiles will be more than adequate. That said, custom printer profiles can help ensure the very best results for very discerning photographers.
More Detail: Back in the early days of photo inkjet printing, the printer profiles included with most printers I had the opportunity to test were of very poor quality. Colors could be very inconsistent relative to the source image, which could prove incredibly frustrating for the photographers.
Fortunately, since that time the profiles included with your printer (often referred to as “canned” profiles) have gotten much better. In addition, third-party companies producing papers for photo inkjet printing are also now providing profiles that have proven to be very accurate in most cases.
It is true that there are some compromises involved when it comes to providing these “generic” printer profiles. A printer profile describes the behavior of a specific printer, ink, and paper combination. While today’s manufacturing tolerances are generally very high, there can still be some variation between individual printers of the same model, individual batches of inks for a given printer, and individual batches of a specific type of photo inkjet paper.
I would also agree that the differences can be more significant with matte papers than for glossy (or semi-gloss) papers. The behavior of matte papers creates great potential loss of tonality and color range, and so with matte papers an accurate profile is even more important than with a glossy paper.
Producing your own custom printer profiles using a package that includes a spectrophotometer (or employing a service provider using such tools) can be very helpful. Admittedly, the differences between many canned profiles and a custom profile will often be somewhat subtle, but those subtle differences can make a big difference in your final print.
One package you might consider if you’d like to build your own custom printer profiles is the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo package, which you can find here: