Getting The Color Right: Using ICC Color Profiles

When you print your images on your own printer it’s important to get the color right. To help you with that, your computer system uses data files called Color Profiles to ensure that what is printed on the paper is a correct representation of the colors in the image.

You may have heard these files referred to as ICC profiles or ICC color profiles. We’ll let the OCD folks argue with semantics here. ICC is the International Color Consortium, an organization established in 1993 to create and promote a standardized color management system. Under the covers, the overall system is highly complex but the interface that you as a user sees is quite elegant and simple. 

The goal of a color management system is to make color seamless between devices and documents. A herculean task when you consider the mix of technologies such as LCD screens and ink on paper. If you work at editing images on your computer you really must have a color calibrated monitor. Even if you use the cheapest color management system on the market, calibrating your monitor is essential. 

Assuming that you’ve worked on a color managed system, you’ll have an image that you want to print and reproduce all the colors as accurately as possible. But every printer, paper and type of ink produces color differently. To ensure that the output matches as much as possible, ICC profiles are used. 

To create an ICC profile, someone - usually the manufacture or paper supplier - will print a color target that is made up of known colors. Then, using a special device, these color samples are scanned and evaluated. If they vary from the known color, the software will calculate that adjustment must be made to correct the output to match the known color target. All these corrections are packaged up in a file know as - you guessed it - a Color Profile. 

Now, whey you print using the same printer, paper and ink that was used to create the profile, your printed image will be corrected to ensure that all the colors are printed properly. 

A Few things to consider.

  • Color Profiles are designed to work with a specific printer model, paper and ink. Change anything in the equation and you must have a new profile.
  • For ICC Profiles to work, they must be installed in the proper location. It’s not hard, just put them in the right folder and your color smart applications will be able to find them.

Be sure to specify a color profile in your image editing software. You may also need to turn off color management in your print driver. 

  • Make sure that your application such as Photoshop or Lightroom manages the color. Don’t let the printer manage your color. A lot of printers will automatically make this adjustment but if not, double check it each time you print. Nothing will mess up your color faster than a battle between the print driver and your application.  
  • Not all option will match. A print driver will usually only have profiles and media option to match the printer manufacturers brands. For example, I use Red River’s Ultra Pro Satin. When I select a media type, because I print on Canon printers,  it’s usually Canon Photo Paper Plus Semi Gloss.
  • Adjust your printer settings in the print driver to match the instructions provided by the profile manufacturer. In every box of Red River Paper, you'll find an instruction sheet that shows you all the settings that must be made to match the profile. 

If you'd like to learn more about printer profiles you can visit the website for our Education Partner, Red River Paper. There you'll find a whole section on ICC Profiles