Sunday, January 5, 2020

Prints that Match Your Screen Every Time

Two years ago I profiled a photographer for Cameracraft magazine named Cheryl Walsh; she took these wonderful fantasy underwater portraits in her backyard swimming pool.  (Click on any image to view larger.)  She has won multiple awards for her work, but back when she was just beginning she had a huge, seemingly insurmountable problem:  Her prints didn't look nearly as good as they looked on her screen.  From the article:

“This is a horrific print!” she said holding up an old sample.  “The whites are blown out and the matte paper doesn’t take blacks very well.  Composition, cropping… it’s terrible.  Wrong paper, wrong color profile… no details in blacks, it looks mucky.  But it looked great on my monitor!”  This is just a small indication of the frustrations she had to endure as she learned the secrets of good printing the hard way.  Cheryl recently shared her story with a room full of photographers at the Canon Learning Center facility in Costa Mesa, California. She explained how she was able to hold two Kickstarter campaigns to raise the funds to purchase her Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 printer, and figure out how to get the best prints possible using pigment-based inks on her favorite medium, Canson Inifinty Platine fiber rag.

“There’s nothing worse than making a beautiful piece of art and having the print come out awful, and then doing it over and over again, before you start to feel like ‘Oh, I suck!  I’m awful!  I can’t make art!’  I was printing on average 12 images to get one good one.  I would print test strips of the part of the image that didn’t print right.  And then I’d just keep tweaking it in Photoshop… it was horrible!  I wasted so many boxes of paper and really expensive ink. It was heartbreaking.”

An ICC calibration test chart
The answer to her frustration was hiring Eric Joseph from Freestyle Photographic Supplies, a darkroom supply company that also consults with print labs, graphics houses, and photographers of all levels to help them "squirt ink onto paper and make it look amazing".  Eric explained that the ICC profiles you get from printer and paper manufacturers are less than optimal.  [He actually used more colorful language than that.  -Ed.]  Custom ICC profiles for the monitor and printer/paper combination are the ONLY way to go.

According to Eric, creating a custom profile is akin to having an eye doctor create a custom prescription for your eyeglasses.  Using the manufacturers' ICC profiles, on the other hand, is like getting magnifying reader glasses off the shelf.  They aren’t made specifically for your situation.

Cheryl says the $100 she paid for each printer/paper profile (you must profile them both together) was the best investment she ever made.  “Now I just push ‘Print’ and it comes out perfectly on the first try every single time!”

Most of you who care about color management already understand the importance of profiling.  It's a difficult and frustrating process.  But let me share with you Freestyle's unique 2-step process for doing it:

1) Calibrate your printer/paper combination and produce a custom ICC file.  Freestyle's method makes it easy: Print a test chart on the paper of your choice and send it in.  A calibrated ICC file is then emailed to you.  This service costs $99 and is available here: . The profile you get will work superiorly (that's a word!) to the ICC profiles provided by either the printer or paper manufacturer.

2) Next you have to calibrate your monitor, something that Eric recommends you do on a regular basis, ideally each time before you print since displays are not always consistent.  "For this you need to purchase a good device and know how to use it. We recommend the xRite i1 Display Pro and we have created a step-by-step, custom, instruction manual for getting professional calibration results with it. It is available only as a hard copy with purchase of the device from Freestyle. "

Eric continues: "One has to remember that the monitor and printer are two totally separate devices and that what you see on the monitor has nothing to do with what is being printed. If the monitor is too bright, prints come out too dark. This is why a calibrated monitor is very important. The $99.00 paper/printer profiling service gets the printer to print the best that it can on a specific paper of the customer’s choosing. Good monitor calibration lets us know that the monitor is projecting color accurately and at the correct brightness for printing. The two together surely help in obtaining accurate, reliable, consistent and controllable results."

"Another step is the viewing conditions in which we are examining our print. If the light is too dark or too yellow. The print will look too dark and too yellow no matter how well the monitor is calibrated or how good a paper/printer profile is."

"I feel that the two biggest contributing factors to folks not getting good results in printing are non-calibrated monitors and poor paper profiles. I try not to use the word “need” in anything I say though. Folks don’t need any of this stuff. It depends on how much control they want and how many prints they are willing to make to get a good one. I promote good printing habits to get the best, most consistent results."

So there you go.

Cheryl Walsh’s standing next to one of her award-winning art prints.  Her website can be found at

In the Pipeline

The Sony A9 II book is still on track to be finished by the end of January.  Then I'll make a video showing some super impressive FTP features of that camera (and the A7R IV) which nobody's talking about.  I'll also have some insight into the new voice memo feature that every user needs to know.  Pre-order your copy here.

Tony Phillips is working on the Fujifilm X-Pro3Pre-order your copy here!

A book on the Sony A6600 and 6100 is slated for March.  You can pre-order your copy here as well.

The Best of the Blog series is now available as one 3-pdf bundle!  In case you've just discovered this blog, here's a great way to catch up without having to endure all those seminar and book announcements. :-)  Download this specially-priced 3-file bundle to get photography insights you just won't find anywhere else - Just $11.95 USD!


The next seminar is less than a week away!  Indio, California Jan. 11-12.  Reserve your spot now!

You can read about the others lined up in 2020 at this website.  Sign up for these as early as you can!  Below is a synopsis:
  • Seattle / Tacoma, Washington – March 14-15, 2020 
  • Portland, Oregon – March 21-22, 2020
  • Kansas City, MO – May 23-24, 2020
  • St. Louis, MO  May 30-31, 2020
  • New Zealand  November 7-8, 2020
  • Kiawah Island, South Carolina  Spring, 2021
  • Nice, France  Fall, 2021  
To reserve your spot, go to the website and sign up or be added to a waiting list.

Can’t make any of these?  Then the streaming version is for you!  Learn what's really important in great photography the fun and intuitive way.  Click here to purchase.

Next Month

Geeking with Gary (plus the aforementioned video...)

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman


  1. Gary,
    I am a former student of yours (Kissimmee, FL) and still enjoy your blogs. The down to earth knowledge you share in your blog is a gift to photography, and especially this one, re: screen/print matching. Thank you.

  2. As always, thanks for the insight! I'm very much an amateur, but I find your posts helpful all the same. And I never would have figured out my Sony a6000 without your book! Even 5 years later, I still find myself referring to your book every once in awhile. Anyways, I currently print through (I'm not invested enough to purchase my own printer to print poster-sized images). Just like Cheryl, I notice sometimes the prints aren't as they look on my screen. Any advice for those of us who use a third party to print? Is there a better third party printer that you'd recommend?

    1. Now that's a much more difficult situation. You read the quote above from Eric Joseph, saying that if your screen is too bright then your pics will be too dark. How much is "too bright" compared to what your printer is calibrated for? Some of the better print houses offer ICC profiles for their machine/paper combination, but those can be as finicky as "official" manufacturers' profiles. Your best bet: Use Freestyle's service to calibrate your printing bureau's printer, then calibrate your monitor before each editing session. That should get you very close to the best results you can expect. GF

    2. Anonymous, hope you don't mind if I jump in here. You didn't say if you calibrate your monitor? If you don't I can recommend an inexpensive calibration tool "ColorMunki Smile" by Xrite Pantone. I use it for my desktop and my laptop. It isn't top of line but it seems to work well for my purposes. Also, when you calibrate you monitor make sure you are in a dark room with no outside light or artificial (lamps or ceiling) light on. Finally, I have and still do use MPIX, too. You can contact them to send you a packet to do a custom calibration to their printers. Hope it helps. Good Printing.


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