Why don’t my prints match my screen

My prints don’t look like what I see on the screen.

There a a number of steps of gradual refinement to go through, in improving the match between your prints and what you see on your monitor.

The first step is to level the playing field by by identifying and eliminating any causes of gross errors:

  • process or workflow errors;
  • something wrong in the printer;
  • wrong monitor settings.

The second step is to undertake refinements based on measurements, aimed at ensuring the colours represented on your monitor, and on your prints, are as close to ‘standards’ as possible.  We’ll postpone that till later, but see www.fromcameratoprint.com if you are desperate!

So let’s deal with the basic things first.

1 Choose a standard test image

First thing is, to do all this you should get a standard test image, not one of your own.

If you use one of your own images it could be that what’s disturbing you is actually inherent in the image rather than those other things.  For example, you may have made adjustments to the image to try and correct for apparent colour problems that weren’t in the image, but caused by the monitor.  That process would probably have made the image data worse, not better.

An image like this one is good.  It contains what are called ‘memory colours’ like the skin colours and the strawberry, as well as good tonal detail in the kelp and the reflection on the CD player.  You can find other very useful test images on this site.

Of course, while you are using it for testing, under no circumstances make any adjustments to the standard test image in your software, or it will no longer be the standard!

2 Check the printer and print process

I recommend choosing to address gross printer issues first because, although printing can be further improved by good print profiling, modern photo printers work quite well ‘out of the box’ provided the manufacturer’s consumables are used and their directions are followed.

  1. Make sure your printer is loaded with the correct inks from the printer manufacturer, and one of the manufacturer’s quality photo papers.  (If you are using third party inks and/or papers you should, in any case, do the test with the original manufacturer’s materials to compare and assure yourself the third party stuff is as good as you think it is.)
  2. Make a print
    • If there was one supplied with the printer, use the manufacturer’s print application (‘Easy Photo Print’ etc) to make a print of the standard test image.
    • If you are using Photoshop or Lightroom or some third party party application to print, choose ‘printer manages colours’ or ‘system manages colours’ and make a print of the standard test image.
  3. Be careful to choose the correct media setting in the print driver for the paper you are using, use the  ‘high quality photo’ setting, and turn off any colour enhancements such as ‘vivid photo’.
  4. Let the print dry and look at it in full shade/daylight away from the computer.
  5. Does it look OK?  If any colours are obviously badly wrong then (i) check that none of your inks has run out, (ii) perform a nozzle check, and/or (iii) do a head clean as per the instructions for the printer.

Print again if necessary until you are happy that the print, observed in daylight, looks pretty good.

3 Check the monitor settings

Take the print to the monitor and compare the print to the image on the screen.

If the print appears too dark, it’s not!  You know it’s not because it looked OK in the daylight, didn’t it?

That means that the problem actually is that your monitor is too bright.  It’s a common problem.  Monitors are sold with brightness turned way up because they look good in the bright glare of showrooms.  Turn the brightness of your monitor down until the print and screen match better for brightness.

A good way of making that judgement is to fill the screen with a white page – say a blank page in a word processing document, and compare it to a piece of your printer paper sitting alongside the monitor.  Adjust the brightness of the monitor till they look about equal.

If possible, adjust the contrast on your screen to get maximum discrimination especially between adjacent dark tones.  The Lagom set of tests ( www.lagom.nl/lcd-test/ ) is a good starting point for these adjustments.

After these two checks, it should be that the screen and the print don’t look too badly different.

Differences now should be confined to more subtle colour/hue problems which we can attack by building better ICC profiles for our two devices.  See www.fromcameratoprint.com

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