Paper Profiling


Today’s Question: When I worked in a photo lab, we had to recalibrate every time we used a new paper batch (even if it was the same paper) and/or replenished chemicals. Is it necessary to run a new profile each time I open a new box of the same paper or change an ink cartridge?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In theory yes, but in reality this isn’t generally necessary because the manufacturing tolerances for today’s photo inkjet papers and inks are quite high.

More Detail: What we refer to as a “printer profile” is really a profile for the specific printer, ink, and paper combination used to build the profile. After all, you used a specific printer to print the target color swatches, and printed those color swatches using a specific inkset with a specific paper.

However, the printers of a given model from a single printer manufacturer are generally produced with manufacturing tolerances that ensure relatively consistent results. Paper manufacturing and ink production similarly have high tolerances, so from one batch to the next there will generally not be a tremendous variation.

To be sure, there is something to be said for precision. But if you felt the need to build new profiles for each new pack of paper you buy, you could also argue that you should produce individual printer profiles for the specific environmental conditions under which the profile is being created and the final prints will be made.

I do think it is a good idea to update custom printer profiles from time to time. For one thing, there can be unintended variations in manufacturing over time. In addition, you won’t necessarily know when the manufacturer has made changes in their manufacturing process for a given paper type. But I also think there is no need to go overboard when it comes to creating custom printer profiles.

Many photographers are happy with the “canned” printer profiles included with the printer driver or available from third-party paper manufacturers. In my experience those profiles are actually of very high quality and accuracy these days, which is not something I could say in the earlier days of digital printing.

That said, a custom printer profile can be tremendously helpful when critical accuracy in the print is important to you. If so, you might consider having a service provider produce profiles for you, or purchasing a package for building your own profiles, such as the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo package you can find here: