CMYK Workflow


Today’s Question: As a follow-up [to the question about converting photos to the CMYK color space], because I’ve bumped into this with several online printing services: Let’s say I decide to do the CMYK conversion and get the ICC and black and white point information from the printer. What, then, are the steps? And how confident can I be that the results will be what I intend? It won’t look right on my monitor, will it?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Once you have an ICC profile and specific configuration details from the printer, you can first convert to the profile and then set the black and white points for the image. The result won’t be too far removed from the original image, but you should be able to high confidence that the print will be accurate.

More Detail: Before you even get started converting a photo to the CMYK color space, you’ll want to make sure you have calibrated your monitor display. This will ensure that what you’re seeing is an accurate representation of the actual image file. Then, you’ll want to optimize the photo to perfection based on that calibrated display.

Next, you’ll want to get details on the correct way to prepare your photo for the specific output. For example, many printers use a workflow that revolves around the sRGB color space. In some cases, such as with offset press printing that is common for books, the printer may request that you convert the images to CMYK. I suggest asking if they can accept RGB images instead. If they insist on CMYK but can’t provide a custom profile, I’d suggest finding a different printer if possible.

When you have a CMYK profile, you can install that profile by copying it to the appropriate folder for your operating system. You can then convert the image to that profile in Photoshop by choosing Edit > Convert to Profile from the menu. Select the CMYK profile from the Profile popup in the Destination Space section of the Convert to Profile dialog. I recommend using the Adobe ACE option for the Engine setting, and the Relative Colorimetric option for Intent. Make sure the “Use Black Point Compensation” and “Use Dithering” checkboxes are turned on. Click OK to apply the change.

Next you can set the black and white point values as specified by your printer. For this I recommend applying a Levels adjustment. At the bottom of the Levels adjustment you will see an Output Levels heading. Set the values for black (on the left) and white (on the right) as recommended by the printer.

With the image converted to the appropriate CMYK profile and the black and white point values set as recommended by the printer, you can save a copy of the image and send it to the printer, with a high degree of confidence that the print should look very similar to your source image.

Note that you can learn much more about color management with my video course “Color Management for Photographers”, which you can find (with a discount) on the GreyLearning website here: