You can make photographic color management complicated if you must. But you can get far more than 80% of the way to perfect with a minimum of effort and time. Here’s what I do in order to ensure that my images print (to my Epson 3880) as I see them on my display (Apple 23″ LCD Cinema Display).
The key to a proper photographic color managed workflow is the use of profiles. Each profile “translates” the interpretation of color for one device into the interpretation of color on another device. For example, a certain ‘red’ on your display needs to map to the correct ‘red’ on your printer — but the display and the printer “speak” different color “languages.” The profile “translates.”
Don’t Sweat the Camera Profile
Whichever RAW converter you use (you do shoot in RAW format, don’t you?) has color profiles for all of the cameras it supports. The profiles that are part of Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw (part of Photoshop) and Aperture are all very good. I don’t have any experience with other RAW converters, but I would assume they’re fine, too.
This is the first necessary step — the camera profile translates from the camera’s color “language” to your RAW converter’s color “language.” So just use the profile that comes with your software.
Do Sweat The Display Profile
Here’s the first place that you’re going to have to create your own profile. Each computer display, whether it’s an older CRT, a newer LCD or the newest LED design, is a little different from every other. You may have your’s set a little brighter than another’s. Your’s may be a little older than another’s and so the colors may have drifted from the new display’s starting point. Or something. This profile will “translate” between the color “languages” of your RAW converter and your display.
So you need to create your own display profile for your own display. And you’re going to need some hardware help; hardware that can “see” color in a standard and repeatable way. Two popular devices are the ColorMunki and the Spyder4. There are certainly others — and some are quite a bit more expensive. But there’s no reason these won’t give excellent results. Or even older models of these; think about a Spyder3 from eBay.
Regardless of the device you choose, get one and use its software and hardware to create a profile for your exact display. And be sure you’ve set the luminance (brightness) to something close to 100 cd/m2. If you make your display too bright, your prints will be too dark.
And Do Sweat the Printer Profiles
Printer profiles aren’t hard either, but you need them for many of the same reasons you need a display profile. There’s the different color “language” thing again. And now you have to add in the paper, because each type and brand of paper will reproduce colors differently. The good news is that almost all paper manufacturers offer print profiles for each of their papers tailored for the popular photo printers. Get one of those profiles and you’re going to be golden.
But. If you want to take into account the subtle differences between different individual printers of the same model, you can create your own printer profiles for each of your paper stocks, too. The more expensive printers (think Epson’s professional series printers) are more consistent in color rendition from individual printer to individual printer. Less expensive printers, not as much. Or maybe you don’t have a “popular” photo printer. Or maybe your favorite paper manufacturer doesn’t have a profile for their paper or your printer.
So then you need to create your own profiles. And again you’re going to need hardware such as the ColorMunki (it does double duty for display and print profiles, which is why I have one for my work) or the SpyderPrint.
Needless to say, there are many more detailed ways to do color management and get to 100% perfect. you can spend a good deal of money on more sophisticated hardware and even training seminars. But I would suggest you give the method discussed here a try first. If you’re not satisfied with the color fidelity of your printed work now, I know you’ll be very happy with the results.