Color management is an integral part of the creation of digital art, and it can be the source of much frustration if misunderstood or misapplied. Often color management is thought as a dark art, or as something that requires major investment of money and time to obtain professional results and the technical aspects of it can turn off many a photographer.
There are many decent and affordable solutions for monitor profiling (I.e: Datacolor’s Spyder 3 Elite or X-rite’s ColorMunki Photo), but the story is different for printer profiling solutions.
Until recently the investment in hardware and software for a complete and effective pro level color management solution was definitely on the north side of 1,000 dollars, and the licensing for pro grade software was somewhat arcane and restrictive. The combination of the above is usually sufficient to discourage most people from jumping in with both feet. Some people try to ignore the issue, and become frustrated at the inconsistency of their results. Others obtain entry level (2-500 dollar) calibration instruments for their workflow, and spend a lot of time fighting with the ‘simplified’ (aka crippled) software to obtain smooth profiles, ending up in wasting a lot of paper and time in exchange for uncertain results.
It does not have to be so anymore!
Today, thanks to the efforts of a very talented open source programmer, there is a solution that operates with inexpensive instruments and produces extremely professional results. The Argyll CMS (Color Management System), written by Graeme Gill, is possibly the most sophisticated, and surely the mostly customizable CMS available. The great news is that it is free and works with a great variety of instruments, from the inexpensive to the professional. The other side of the coin is that, at first glance, Argyll CMS can be daunting due to its flexibility and its command line, UNIX style interface. As always, there is no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL for the acronym nerds and Heinlein aficionados), but with Argyll a small investment of time and reading pays off with wonderful results and a deeper understanding of the color management process.
Argyll CMS is a collection of command line based utilities that can be used to perform most portions of the color management workflow. In this post we will address primarily the generation of a high quality custom paper/printer output profile suitable for fine art photography printing, the area where most ‘affordable’ commercial solutions seem to be most wanting. For our examples, we will use an X-rite ColorMunki Photo spectrometer (note, the ColorMunki Display is a display colorimeter, a different type of instrument not really suitable for paper profiling). The ColorMunki is one of the most affordable spectrometers on the market, yet in combination with Argyll CMS can produce excellent profiles.
The process of creating a custom profile with Argyll CMS consists of four basic steps:
- Creation of a target file (.ti1 file)
- Preparation of the target charts for printing (.ti2 file plus several .tif files)
- Reading of the target chart(s) (.ti3 file)
- Creation of the ICC profile (.icc file)
Each of these steps can be highly configured for the specific needs of the user, and this is where the power (and complexity) of Argyll CMS come into play. To help you navigate the available options, we’ll present the basic ‘recipe’ that we have successfully implemented many times in creating custom profiles for our fine art printers. You are free to reproduce this recipe exactly or use it as a starting point for your own variations, knowing that your efforts will be rewarded with new knowledge and professional quality printer profiles!
This is part one of a multi-part post, click here for the next post in the series.