Monday, May 26, 2008

Color Correction with the Datacolor Spyder 3 Studio

In getting ready for another year of art shows, I'm addressing some issues I faced last year. One of those issues is a lack of color consistency throughout my workflow process. Last year I learned all about color profiling and got OK results by using generic paper profiles from various sources. This year, I've decided to address the issue further. After researching various options, I decied to try out the Spyder 3 Studio from Datacolor. So how has it turned out? So far so good....

A brief history of my color workflow

For years, color correction was a non-existent topic for me. What I got out of my Canon i960 was mostly close enough for my satisfaction. If not, I'd tweak the photo in Photoshop to give me what I wanted. That "worked" well enough (only because my definition of "close enough" was pretty lax) until it came time to upgrade printers.

When I got my Canon IPF5000, I decided if I was going to spend over $1500 on a printer, I was going to do it right and learn how to use color profiles. I used generic color profiles from a variety of sources. That worked a lot better, but I found myself results still lacking. For one, none of the prints matched my monitor exactly. Second, I still found every profile gave me (at best) slightly different results. Some of the profiles that I got straight from the paper manufacturers were outright terrible.

Making the move to custom profiles

Over this last winter, I decided that from here on out, I needed to do things right and get custom profiles made. I had debated about paying to have them made, but I decided against it for a few reasons. The thought of paying out money for something like that just didn't strike me right. I'd rather pay more up front and then have the flexibility to create profiles whenever I wanted. I tend to like to experiment with different papers, and this gives me the option to create as many profiles as I want on a whim without wasting money. Any new paper I want to evaluate can be evaluated using a properly made profile, so theres no need to waste money, or to decide on a paper based on non-representative results.

I looked around at various options. The i1 Color from X-rite is well regarded as the leader in color management solutions, but in the $1000+ range, it was a bit out of my budget. I was looking for about half that price. I found a few solutions, including the x-rite ColorMunki and the Datacolor Spyder 3 Studio. From reviews, both seemed to do a good job, but the ColorMunki seemed to be a bit too basic for my tastes.

I decided to go with the Spyder 3 Studio. I found it through for only $545 shipped. It included both the Spyder 3 Elite (for profiling your monitor) and the Spyder 3 Print (for profiling your printer/paper).

Profiling my monitor

The first step of the process is getting the colors on your monitor corrected, so that your workflow begins with a known configuration. Otherwise, getting the print to match your monitor is both next-to-impossible and pointless. I installed the software for the Spyder 3 Elite and gave it a go. It was relatively painless. However, when I was done, I ended up with what I thought was a terrible monitor profile. The screen had a definite magenta cast to it. I repeated the process and got identical results.

At this point I was feeling like I had purchased junk and was about to say screw it and just make my monitor look good again. However, I remembered that it sometimes takes your eyes a while to adjust to different lighting, and thought maybe I should give the profile a chance to sink in. After about 10 minutes the color started to look really natural. Moving to a different light source and then coming back, I could see the magenta cast each time, but my eyes quickly readjusted. After a few days of working with it, somehow my mind has gotten adjusted to the new color settings, and now, even after coming in from a different light source, I can't really notice the color unless I'm consciously looking for it. Almost instantly, it looks like pure white to me.

I don't believe I saw any tips like this in the program. It would probably be useful, to set new user's mind at ease.

Profiling my printer

Now, with the monitor calibrated, it was time to move onto the printer. I started with my Canon HW Satin paper. I printed a basic 225 patch target and scanned it in. The scanning is a bit time consuming and tedious, but the included guide makes it easier and less error prone. After scanning in all the patches for the target, it generated a profile and I went to print a test page. When I hit the soft proof button, it showed very little change, so I figured that was a good sign. When I then printed it out, what I got was quite surprising. For the first time ever, my print looked virtually identical to what I saw on the screen. This was really a breakthrough moment for me.

Next I moved onto the "paper" that previously gave me the most problems: the Breathing Color Chromata White Matte Canvas. Breathing Color doesn't have a profile available for the iPF5000, but they do for the iPF8000. Being that the 2 printers are nearly identical (same ink set, same print heads) the profile should have worked fine, but it didn't. It had terrible contrast and saturation, so I had to correct for that in the printer's export module configuration. I was hoping the Spyder 3 Print could do better.

I printed out the 729 patch color target plus the 238 patch extended gray target. Scanning the nearly 1000 patches took me somewhere in the range of 30 minutes. As I got a little way into it, I was noticing that the results for each patch as displayed on the screen was quite terrible. Like my previous profile, they were all low in contrast and saturation. When I finished, I soft proofed my test print and it was horrible...much like what my uncompensated prints with the old profile had given me. I backed up and experimented a little with the advanced options, but nothing could give me a soft proof that had acceptable results.

Once again, feeling disappointed and thinking I had wasted money, I decided to see just how bad it is on actual paper. I restored the profile to all of it's default settings and generated my test print. Once again I was shocked when, despite the terrible looking proof on the monitor, the actual printout look great. It was virtually identical to the monitor, and also virtually identical to the HW Satin print.

I then threw together a sampler page of my own photos and printed it out, and the results were virtually identical for every single image. Everything from a black and white to the most saturated sunset all look wonderful and accurate.


This is far from a thorough test, but so far I am extremely pleased with the results I've received. It's really opened my eyes to exactly what is possible. In fact, I feel quite stupid for having tolerated what I did before. If you have the money to spend and aren't completely satisfied with your current output results, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this product. here to read more!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Getting ready for another year

2007 ended up being a pretty decent year for art shows. After getting off to a bad start, things turned around and I had several of my best shows yet. However, in the process of all of that, with the preparations and improvements being made, I didn't have a lot of time for much else. After finishing my last show in September, I decided to take the winter off, and I haven't done much photography since then. Now that time for shows is approaching again, its time to get started back in the swing of things.

So far, I'm scheduled for 4 shows I did last year, and have applied to a 5th. A 6th hasn't put out the app yet. The other 2 I decided to drop. One show (Saint Clair) I actually lost money after travel expenses. The other (Wyandotte) was actually pretty profitable last year, but it was a very long show. It was four days, 11 hours each, plus another 2+ hours for driving each way, setup, and teardown. In the end, it didn't end up being all that profitable for the amount of time I put in, so I decided to cut that one too.

I haven't applied to any more than that, and I'm not sure whether or not I want to. The economy has been pretty bad, especially here in Michigan, and I'm a little concerned about how thats going to impact sales. Traveling to shows out of state isn't feasible for me at this moment. Plus, I was so busy doing shows last summer, I missed out on doing a lot of other stuff. I'm thinking of a more relaxed schedule for the year.

I've got a lot of things to get into place for this new year. I need to get new ink, and paper. I'm planning to get new panels for this year to go with my new 9ft tall canopy. I was planning to build a new print bin. I planned on switching out a lot of my framed prints for canvas wraps instead, since they are lighter and easier to manage. A lot of stuff to get done in the next 6 weeks.

I just picked up a new camera, since my old one broke twice on me last year (the mirror, which I repaired, and the lens, which I couldn't do anything about). I'm learning how to use some of the new features of it.

I'll have more details on some of the stuff I'm doing soon. here to read more!