Soft Proofing, Part 1: You’re Losing if You’re Not Using!


More creative and color-critical decisions are made in Adobe Photoshop using an LED display than on any other device or media. One of the most valuable and cost-effective uses of color management and profiling is soft proofing. Yet, most of us are not using tools we already have — color management, profiles, Photoshop, and displays — for color-accurate soft proofing in our print production workflow.

What are the advantages of color management when it comes to LED displays? The first is accuracy: to make sure that the intended color is seen and the accurate color is displayed. Another advantage is consistency; if a device is consistent and repeatable, then it is predictable. Then there is the benefit of collaboration, ensuring that everyone involved in the color reproduction process is seeing the same color. And finally on the list of advantages is soft proofing — to make the display look like the final output, whether it’s a hard proof or a press sheet.

Print Versus Photography

There are different types of soft proofs based on how they’re being used. For printers, a soft proof is an accurate representation of what is to be printed on press. Essentially, the soft proof needs to be as “ugly” as the printed sheet. Printers must be able to prove this by holding an actual hard proof or press sheet next to the display and see the “same” color.

For photographers, a soft proof is a digital record of what the camera captured. The soft proof being displayed contains a vast color gamut — much larger than what is required for print production. In this case, photographers are taking full advantage of the display and rendering the color that the photographer actually saw. Even with photography, this is important because you again want to have consistency across all devices.

LED Hardware Decisions

The display is the first important consideration when it comes to soft proofing. A light-emitting diode (LED) display works very well for soft proofing for several reasons. First, they are very bright, and at their brightest setting, they are very close to standard color viewing in a viewing booth. The brightness is also important because it gives you better shadow rendition and detail. Second, LED displays don’t flicker and are easier on the eyes when viewing color for long periods of time. They also stay calibrated longer — this is relevant because consistency is the key to any proofing device. Finally, for a relatively small investment in a quality display, you’ll have a low-maintenance proofing device that can last for many years.

Not all LED displays are created equal when it comes to color gamut. Displays can either be standard gamut or wide gamut in nature. Standard gamut displays are capable of rendering the sRGB color space — perfectly acceptable for soft proofing for print production. However, as noted above, photographers may want to see a much larger gamut than what we can print; they want to see the colors that their camera could actually capture. In this case, a more expensive wide gamut display is required. Wide-format displays are capable of rendering the AdobeRGB 1998 color space — much larger than that of sRGB — so it’s essential to match the hardware to the need.

Measurement Instrument Hardware Decisions

When it comes to measurement devices for calibrating and profiling a display, the choices are either a colorimeter or a spectrophotometer. Colorimeters contain three filters when they “look” at color and do a reasonable job at an affordable price. Spectrophotometers, however, are more expensive but take many more sample measurements — up to 31 — across the visible spectrum. The more color samples that are taken, the more accurate the results will be. These hardware devices are often packaged with profiling software applications.

Now that we have the foundations of hardware nailed for color accurate soft proofing, in my next post, we’ll explore the process of calibrating and profiling a display, checking the accuracy, and profile maintenance, along with ideal viewing conditions. And, to dive deeper into soft proofing, check out the Color Accurate Soft Proofing eLearning course on the Alliance's recently launched  iLEARNING+ e-learning platform.

Joe Marin

Joe Marin is senior VP, education and training at PRINTING United Alliance, through which he pursues his passion helping people learn, advance, and grow. He has spent the majority of his career in the printing industry and is one of the leading voices on digital technologies, speaking at major industry trade shows and conferences on topics related to succeeding in a digital print environment.

Also Tagged: Graphics Production,Industrial Applications & Printed Electronics

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