Printer Calibration Using the SpyderPrint

By Steve Anchell Back to


The dilemma: pleasing colors you see on your monitor may not look the same as those that come out of your printer or match what someone else sees on their monitor. Color calibration allows you to recreate what you see on your monitor, either in a print or on another calibrated monitor, assuming that the other monitor is also calibrated.

Good color management has three components, calibrating the camera, the monitor and the printer. Printer profiling involves using either a colorimeter or a spectrophotometer to create a custom ICC pro- file for your device. Both Datacolor and X-Rite make color calibration devices for this purpose. The practical difference between the two is that X-Rite uses a spectrophotometer and Datacolor uses a tristimulus colorimeter to read the device specific color gamut.

The spectrophotometer has been around for a long time and is used for many scientific light-measuring purposes. The colorimeter is a newer technology that has developed along with digital imaging. Colorimeter technology is similar to that used by digital cameras and is arguably more accurate in a digital workflow. Either way, both systems produce excellent results.

Screen Capture 1. Printer Description dialog. The Print Quality and Media Setting Check options are circled in red at the bottom right.
Screen Capture 2. The Profiling–Print Target dialog provides four print options. My recommendation is to use the EZ High Quality Target with 225 color patches until you are familiar with the process.
Screen Capture 3. The first page of the High Quality Test Target Plus Grays. Notice that even though I am using Epson Ultra Premium Luster Paper, the media I am using is Epson Glossy.

I have used the Datacolor SpyderPrint almost since its introduction with the result that my print colors match my screen colors on the first print. What doesn’t match, and this is important to realize, is the luminosity—or brightness—of the print This is because the image on the monitor is illuminated by light passing through it whereas the print is illuminated by reflected light. You can more closely replicate, though not exactly duplicate, the luminosity of the print by choosing Match Print Colors and Show Paper White at the bottom of the Print Settings dialog in Photoshop. In Lightroom you can choose Soft Proofing mode within the Develop Module.

The final thing you should know is that if you use your printer with the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) inks and papers you will often obtain colors that closely match those on your screen without the need for printer calibration, though you will still need to calibrate your monitor. Even then you must be careful to choose the OEM ICC profile for the specific paper and can still expect slight color variations. The real problem arises when you decide to use a non-OEM paper, such as Red River, Hahnemühle or Canson Infinity or a third party ink set. In any of these situations you will only be able to accurately replicate the color on your monitor by creating an ICC profile for each paper/inkset you use. The good news is once you have done this you will not need to create a new ICC profile unless you use a different ink, paper or printer.

When you open the SpyderPrint software you will be prompted to fill in a description of the printer, paper, inkset and the Driver Media Setting used, Screen Capture 1. This information will be printed on your test pages and help you to keep track of your results.

At the bottom right of the printer description are two options. While it may be tempting to skip these I recommend always performing both a Printer Quality and Media Setting Check prior to starting a calibration. In both of these you can choose to use a full sheet or print 4-up. I recommend the 4-up option to save on paper. By running a Media Setting Check I discovered that the Epson Photo Glossy paper ICC

profile—aka Driver Media Setting (DMS)— produces a wider gamut on Epson Ultra Premium Luster Photo Paper than does the recommended Luster profile from Epson. For this reason I will use the Epson Photo Glossy profile to calibrate my printer using Epson Luster paper and K3 inks. Once you have completed these two crucial printer checks, and made any necessary adjustments or performed a cleaning, you can move on to the calibration process.

To profile your printer, first print out color patches that represent the entire color range with the inks you are using on the paper you are profiling. Always make certain to do this with No Color Management selected in the printer driver and with the color media you chose in the Media Setting Check.

Datacolor gives you four choices of patches, shown in Screen Capture 2. For most applications I recommend using the basic EZ High Quality Target. This will produce a test target on two sheets of paper with a total of 225 color patches. The Expert target, with 729 patches on seven pages should be used for the most exacting color matching, but you should reserve that level of accuracy until you have familiarized yourself with the process.

If you are planning to print in grayscale, you should use the second option, EZ High Quality Target Plus Grays. You can preview the Print Targets before choosing, Screen Capture 3.

Screen Capture 4. In this step you will name your ICC printer profile.

Screen Capture 5. SpyderProof–View. Take the time to study the differences between the four rendering intents and make a comparison print for each.

The patches should be allowed to dry at least half an hour. This “dry-down” period is critical to obtain color accuracy. Be careful not to stack the prints or set anything down on them until they are completely dry.

The next step is, for me at least, the most difficult: finding a clean area on my desk to tape down the prints for scanning! Once I have everything cleared out of the way I tape the first page down using drafting tape, available from most art supply stores. Datacolor recommends that you align the target vertically and push the Spectro away

from you, but I recommend taping the target in landscape orientation and moving the Spectro left to right.

You are now ready to proceed to the final stage of calibration−reading the color patches.

The first step is to calibrate the colorimeter aka Spectro. This is done by placing the Spectro in its cradle and pressing the button on top so that it can read the white patch in the base.

The next step is to name the ICC Profile. For this calibration I have named the profile EP4800-Ultra- PremLust w/Glossy, shown in Screen Capture 4.

After clicking on Save you can open the patch reading screen. You will be given two options. The first is to watch a tutorial on reading patches, the second is to turn off the “Pause between pages” feature.

Before your first time through printer calibration I suggest you watch the tutorial. I also recommend that you leave “Pause between pages” enabled.

After the tutorial, the first page of color patches will appear on the screen.

As seen in the tutorial, align the guide so that only the first row of patches is visible. Be certain that there is no white showing to the left of the first patch on the far left by aligning the round holes on the left edge of the guide so that the edge of the first row of color patches is evenly split down the center of the holes: paper white in the left half, patch colors in the right half of the holes, Figure 1.

Before you begin I recommend you select “Strip” and “Measured” at the bottom left of the page.

When you are ready place the Spectro on the first patch of the first row, press the button, then move across the row to the right. Move evenly, at a pace of two patches per second. The Spectro will click each time it reads a patch. Datacolor recommends that you say “Tick” and “Tock” as you move the Spectro to the sound of the clicks. I find this works well unless there are other people in the room with you who don’t know what you are doing!

When you get to the end of each row you will be rewarded with a “ding” sound. At any time you can reread a row by using the up arrow key on your key- board to retarget that row, or reread a single patch by clicking on the patch with your mouse. If a “ding” occurs before you reach the final patch it means you are moving too slow. Move the up arrow key to move the target template back to the row you were just measuring and try again (you can also click on the beginning of the row with your mouse).

If you get to the end of the row and hear a “bassoon” sound it means you went too fast. The reading will automatically default back to the first patch of that row and you can start over.

When you have finished the last row SpyderPrint will prompt you to review the results on the page and rescan any row or patch that is too far off from the colors on the print. There may be some slight variation, but if a yellow patch looks brown, then rescan that row.

Figure 1. Tape the test target to a flat surface and align the Guide so there is no white showing to the left of the first color patch. Notice the position of the round holes on the left edge of the guide.

Screen Capture 6. In Photoshop select your new ICC printer profile in the Print screen. Make certain all of the print settings are the same as those you used for your ICC printer profile and that No Color Management is selected. SpyderPrint recommends using Rendering Intent: Perceptual and to turn off Black Point Compensation.

For me this tends to happen on the last patch of a row as I sometimes overshoot and read the white area to the right. It took me four passes to correctly read the last patch of row 11 on page 3. On the paper it is middle gray, but the first three times it appeared light brown on the screen. When you are satisfied with the color accuracy, click on Page 2 at the bottom center of the calibration screen.

Repeat the process for all of the pages you have printed, in my case there are four pages as I chose the EZ Colors Plus Grays option. When you are done, go back and review each page for discrepancies and rescan rows or individual patches as needed.

Close and Save will take you to the SpyderProof− View page (Screen Capture 5). On the right you can choose from one of four rendering intents: Saturation, Perceptual, Relative and Absolute. Cycle between these and carefully study the differences. Then print one copy of each and compare them one to the other and to their corresponding image on the monitor.

This is an important step in learning the difference between rendering intents. You will be amazed at how closely your prints match the images on the monitor and how neutral the grayscale images are.

The last step is to name and save your profile. If you are happy with the name you assigned earlier then click on Save and you’re done.

Most, if not all color-managed applications have some method for choosing an output or printer profile.

This is where you will choose your custom ICC printer profile. In Photoshop choose the new ICC printer profile in the Print Screen, Screen Capture 6. In Lightroom, in the Print Module under Color Management, choose the ICC printer profile under Profile, along with the Rendering Intent.

Make certain in both programs that all of the print settings are the same as those you used for your ICC printer profile and that No Color Management is selected.

About the Author

Steve Anchell
Steve Anchell is an internationally published photographer, teacher and writer. His books The Darkroom Cookbook, The Variable Contrast Printing Manual and The Film Developing Cookbook are international photography bestsellers.