Print Compensation


Today’s Question: In your book “Color Confidence,” you recommended setting the target black and white output values (especially the black value) prior to printing in order to compensate for printers that are unable to produce discrete shades of black throughout the complete tonal range available in the digital image. Do you find that this approach is still necessary with the newest inkjet printers?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, I do find that this approach of compensating for a lack of shadow detail is still necessary, even with many of the latest printers.

More Detail: With the vast majority of printers I find that no compensation is needed for the white point. In other words, when producing a print with most printers using just about any paper, you are able to see a difference between pure white (no ink on the paper) and the next darker shade of white.

With dark shadow values, I still find that many printers have a difficult time producing distinct shades of black. In other words, the darkest black appears the same as one shade lighter, so you can’t actually see a difference between the two. In other words, shadow details get lost in a sea of black.

In fact, I have often found that when photographers complain about a print that is too dark, what they’re really seeing is a print with a lack of shadow detail that appears too dark as a result. Opening up those shadow details can help tremendously.

I generally prefer to take a somewhat systematic approach to evaluating the capabilities of a given printer, ink, and paper combination, so that I can apply a compensation adjustment that is most appropriate to that combination. This involves printing a series of tonal values in a “ramp” for both the black point and the white point, so that I can then determine the appropriate compensation.

If you’d like to download a copy of the print target that I use for evaluating prints, you can get access by following this link: