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Thread: "Print Too Dark" still?

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    rogerb's Avatar
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    "Print Too Dark" still?

    There have been a lot of articles written on the "print-too-dark" problem. It seems that most lcd monitors (yes, even the so-called, higher-end models) are just too bright. Turning down their brightness just results in muddy displays of color.

    I do not do my own printing. I send my files to a lab that advertises that they do not adjust the tonal levels of the image. If I don't get tone levels right, I receive a bad print. They will however process files in whatever color space they were tagged with appropriately.

    I have been using an lcd calibrator all the way along but my prints consistently come back too dark. After much research, I am now understanding that calibrators do not necessarily adjust brightness/contrast, although they alledgedly adjust gamma. Out of desparation I have just ordered the Spyder-3 Elite, hoping somehow that it will be the silver bullet.

    But more fundamentally, is there not a way of determining, purely from an analytical point of view, whether the tonal range of an image will "print right"? Photoshop histogram provides, in addition to the tonal distribution curve, "mean" and "median" numbers. Obviously, the higher the numbers, the brighter the image. But, other than purely by trial & error, is there any way to use this information to tweak brightness/levels to ensure a good print?

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    Re: "Print Too Dark" still?

    Profiling packages sure do adjust the brightness - but - they do it by telling the graphics chip to use a lower output level as a maximum, and this has the unwanted side-effect of reducing the maximum number of levels available, which can give you posterisation and banding issues if the correction is a big one.

    ... and that's why people really shouldn't confuse calibration and profiling; calibration gets the black and white points where they should be, and only then does profiling get the rest of it where it should be. The manufacturers of the likes of the Spyder III say to leave the monitor at it's default, but you can get a better result by pre-calibrating first - but - you can also make it worse if you mess it up.

    In terms of dark prints - the very first thing I would do is tripple-check what profile the image is set for when you send it away ... 9 times out of 10 it's set for the likes of Pro-photo or Adobe RGB, which WILL give you dark/washed out prints (especially the former).

    Keep in mind also that commercial photo printers often make their own adjustments ("") - at which point your shooting at a moving target in trying to work out where the problem lies.

    First thing though is to post an image that you've previously sent to them, here - so we can check the exif data ...
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 12th July 2009 at 03:42 AM.

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    Re: "Print Too Dark" still?

    Thanks Colin:
    I am including a typical "printed too dark" image I have received from the lab.

    My workflow is as follows:

    I capture in RAW then convert to DNG using Adobe's RAW Converter. After ensuring that my monitor (SyncMaster 245T) is calibrated (using a Pantone Huey Pro), I load the image into Adobe ACR. I typically make some tonal range and white balance adjustments, then load into Photoshop CS3 using 16-bits and Adobe color space at which point I may do significant adjustments using layers, masks, etc.

    My lab provides three profiles for their various papers/finishes: glossy, lustre, and metallic. I use these for proofing to make sure I don't have any areas of the image falling out of gamut. If so, I reduce saturation or brightness (sometimes have to increase brightness) until I no longer get gamut warnings. Once satisfied with the appearance on the lcd, I flatten the image, convert to 8-bits, and save the file as JPG quality level 10 with its Adobe color space profile.

    The attached picture (much reduced) is one that has gone through this very process.
    "Print Too Dark" still?.

    I welcome any suggestions (including even changing labs)
    Last edited by rogerb; 12th July 2009 at 02:34 PM. Reason: Corrected the link to the image

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    Re: "Print Too Dark" still?

    I may have just answered one of my own questions.
    The JPG sample provided looks good on my lcd but now looking at the histograms in Photoshop, all three channels are heavily clipped at the bottom end. So, at least I know why the lab came back with such a dark print. I had been concentrating too much on making the image look good on my monitor and ignored what the Historgram was trying to tell me!

    However the question that remains is: Why does it look good on my lcd (admittedly, it does look somewhat contrasty but it results in a rather dramatic effect)? I have gone all the way back to ACR on this image to make sure there is no clipping and reprocessed in CS3, again making sure non of the channels are clipping. Now the foliage looks too bright on my screen but the image now is within the histogram and the Mean has gone from 47.57 to 67.92 and the Median has gone from 26 to 48.

    So, hopefully my new Spyder-3 when I get it will correct my lcd problem. In the meantime I will try to see if one might be able to predict the outcome of a print by analyzing the image statistics made available in Photoshop's Histogram window.

    Please let me know if the image displays "too dark" on your monitor (when viewed using a color-managed system), as well as any other input anyone can provide.

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    Re: "Print Too Dark" still?

    Hmmm if it's any help the greens look very dark to me. Checking the histogram they look where I'd expect them to fall. I'm only software calibrated (ie. by eye with management software for different lighting etc) but I get pretty much exactly what I see on screen in prints (both my own prints and from others).

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    Re: "Print Too Dark" still?

    Yes, that's helpful Davey. It confirms my suspicion that my monitor calibration is messed up.

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    Re: "Print Too Dark" still?

    Quote Originally Posted by rogerb View Post
    Please let me know if the image displays "too dark" on your monitor (when viewed using a color-managed system), as well as any other input anyone can provide.
    Hi Roger,

    First up, my sincerest apologies - I've completely missed your reply to my post, and only saw it when I read TonyB's post.

    From what I can tell, your monitor calibration or profiling is completely out of whack - the image you posted has greenery that's all but non-existant on my screen; I would have to add a bucket load of fill light to get it looking normal.

    Also, I note that - reading through your workflow - you give the impression that your posting your images to the web tagged Adobe RGB. This would also decrease levels and saturation for the majority of viewers, although when I checked, the image was in fact tagged with sRGB (which is what it should be).

    Perhaps see how your Spyder III goes, and go from there?

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    rogerb's Avatar
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    Re: "Print Too Dark" still?

    Hi Colin:
    Hey, no problem!
    No, all images being posted on the web are converted to sRGB after being sized for the web. I think I might have posted my sample image for examination in Adobe because it was just a reduced copy of the file sent to the lab for printing.
    I have received the Spyder-3 and yes, the original calibration was certainly out of whack. I found the same problem as you observed. I am trying to establish some sort of metrics based on the data available (Mean, Median, Deviation) from the Histogram window of Photoshop in order to confirm that the image will in fact print correctly. I will be doing this empirically over the course of the next little while, probably more to satisfy my own curiosity than anything else! If in fact I can establish these metrics then they would serve as a final check before sending out the file for printing. I expect to see some pretty wide variations, depending on the image, but I'm hoping to come up with a "minimum acceptable range" for the three values.
    Thanks for your response.
    Roger

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    Re: "Print Too Dark" still?

    Quote Originally Posted by rogerb View Post
    I think I might have posted my sample image for examination in Adobe because it was just a reduced copy of the file sent to the lab for printing.
    Hi Roger,

    Great to hear that your "on the road to recovery"

    If your going to send images to printers in Adobe RGB format, just make sure that they can handle them OK (most can't - bizzare I know).

    Back in the days that I used to use a local print shop for doing mine I asked the "sRGB -v- Adove RGB" question - the answer was basically: "Huh?" Scary.

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