An Introduction to Printing and the world of ICC profiles


Profiling your Screen

In an ideal world, the image you see on your computer screen will be identically colour matched to the one produced by your printer, or the printer used in a print shop – However, and rather sadly, this is rarely the case.   By way of an example, imagine your Television at home – you’d probably claim the colours to be perfect, but once placed in a room with everyone else’s, it’s highly likely you’d see a huge variation from one set to another.
Computer screens are much the same, thus we must seek a common system of standardization and whereby some form of ‘interpreter’ can enable printers and screens to talk to each other in the same language.  Such a system exists and is called a Colour Management or Colour Workflow system, this sets out to manage this interpretative process and introduces us to the term Profiling.

In the graphics and printing industry there is a standardization system based on what are referred to as ICC profiles.  This is a reference system whereby monitors and printers can be profiled using standardized profiles.  ICC stands for the International Colour Consortium who were a group of industry experts who convened in 1993  to agree upon an standardized system whereby once set – monitors and printers would show (or print) the correct colours as provided by graphics systems.

See the diagram below for an non-optimised workflow:


Setting the screen for optimal performance

A good starting point is your PC’s monitor – is it accurately set up?

PC monitors are as varied in their settings as television sets.  Some are bright, some are dark, some too red and so on and as a result, if you are to have any hope of achieving good results then some attempt must be made to set the screen correctly.
Given that the screen version of the image is used to make judgments with regard to image colour balance and brightness, it follows that if the screen is out of adjustment, then the printer will produce a very different image to the one viewed on screen.
In an ideal world, if the PC sends a perfect Red to a VDU, then its screen should show a perfect Red,

If you have an older version of Adobe Photoshop Elements or Adobe Photoshop CS installed on your PC, then you may already have a piece of software to help you do this.  It’s called Adobe Gamma and is found in your Control Panel.  To use it, open the Control Panel, double click on the Adobe Gamma icon and when it opens, you will be presented with the option screen below:

adobe_gammaOnce you see this menu, choose the option to use the Step by Step (Wizard) and it will guide you right through the process to a stage where you can compare your new settings with the old and then save those settings for future use.  This will give you a good starting point in your quest for print quality.


Later versions of Microsoft Windows have a screen optimization system built in whereby a profile can be produced.  This is found in Control Panel – Display – Calibrate Colour and laid out in a step by step process.

The Apple Mac has its own screen optimizer built in and found in System Preferences – Displays – Color – Calibrate.  Once Calibrate has been chosen, the screen below appears.


This is followed by:


If none of the above are available, then an alternative, is to buy a Pantone Huey Pro.  See:

In ascending price, there are also a number of other products available:

and all do a very good job.

Once you have used any of the above, the VDU should show true colours  and brightness –  this is a good starting point.


The advent of flat screen monitors has produced a problem for those wishing to run full profiling adjustment programs, most of which call for changes in the VDU’s Contrast controls.  Few flat screen monitors allow changes in Contrast, thus one part of the process may well be unavailable.  For those who wish to have the complete process carried out, then an older CRT (Television type monitor) may be called for and these can be picked up very cheaply on Ebay (around £25 – £30) although usually – ‘Buyer Collects’.  Watch out for Iiyma, HP Compaq, Compaq, Viewsonic, NEC or Dell


The next stage in this Colour Management process is to introduce a printer profile into the chain and in the world of professional image production, a fortune can be spent on both screen and printer optimization.  However, this effort is usually well worth its cost in terms of time, ink and paper saved.

The printer profile is the last link in the chain and acts as an interpreter between the Computer and the printer.  It acts in much the same manner as the screen profile, in that if a true Red is sent to the printer,then the printer will recognize it as such and thus print a true Red onto the paper.

Unfortunately, not all domestic printers will accommodate printer profiles, but as a yardstick – Canon, Epson and HP printers usually will and in fact many are shipped with a range of possible profiles.  All of which are loaded in at installation and ready for use in Adobe Photoshop, Apple Aperture or Photoshop Elements.

There are a number of on-line companies who (for a fee) will produce a printer profile for you.  Simply Google the search terms – Printer Profiling and take your pick.  The American Printing Ink company Marrutt ( offer a bespoke profiling service and advice too:

For free profiling, try Fotospeed Papers (

They will mail you a test chart to print off and once you’ve done this according to their instructions, – you send it back in the post, with details of computer setup, printer, ink used and paper type.  Your print will be analyzed and a profile produced for your computer / paper / printer / ink combination and mailed back to you.  The profile must then be installed via your editing program and all instructions are provided.

They offer advice on profiles:

And a range of tutorial videos on their Tech Support page

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