5 Steps to Perfect Color Printing

5 Steps to Perfect Color Printing

This article is for professional Graphic Designer and Art Directors looking to get perfect color off the new digital presses that have taken the print industry by storm. Below you’ll learn about the 5 Steps to Perfect Color Printing in an Out of Control Automated Print industry!

The days of four color separation are gone, the days of color control have been forgotten, and the days of press checks are now being delivered as PDF files via email from the printers. The old adage of garbage in, equals, garbage out, has proven it’s self through the out of control color automated printing industry. It’s like buying a self driving car, you no longer get any controls, unless you take the following steps below.

Have you noticed that your local quick printers at FedEx-Kinko’s, or the 4 color printers nationwide are clueless about what an ICC profile is. Asking for a simple custom ICC profile is like pulling teeth. Nobody seems to even know what an ICC profile is and what it’s capable of doing. First off (ICC) stands for International Color Consortium for those not totally familiar with the acronym. Here’s their web site: The Web site has a lot of information about ICC profiles and even delivers a few for download. The organization seems to be run by retired people since they never respond by email even after contacting all directors several times. So don’t rely too much on them for any support.

What is an ICC profile? In a nut shell it’s calculation of the DNA output of a 4 color press when printing color patches, and in our case 1600 color swatches, scanning them to evaluate the capabilities of an individual press output. The color swatch file is a CMYK file that has a color space values that can be measured using a spectrophotometer as Colormetric data and can be measured in any of the following values: CIE Lab, CIE Lch, CIE XYZ and LAB x,y,Y. When a measurement or color swatch scan is done on a 1600 color swatch we are comparing what the true color of our originating CMYK file is to the target printers output of these color swatches. Since the arrival of new digital printers todays printers no longer maintain their digital presses, only when a printer manufacturer’s service rep drops by the print shop once every 1-2 months to check the machines, are they serviced, unless there is a breakdown. So that’s really why printers no longer know what an ICC profile is, since the presses are no longer in their control.

Here's the ICC COLOR Formula.

1) Print a 4 color CMYK 1600 swatch color file on any 4 color press as shown above. (The sample above has been converted to RGB for Web display only)

2) Scanning the 1600 colors with a spectrophotometer to capture the printers output capability. If you don’t have an X-Rite spectrophotometer you can use our service to get your custom ICC Profile made for you in 24 hrs. just CLICK HERE. Calculate via the software provided by X-Rite the conversion of RGB to the CMYK original color target to the Press CMYK capability. This will take into account the short falls or the lack of color a press may be producing and give us an ICC profile that compensates for the short comings of any press. The X-Rite software will produce an ICC profile from the color swatches scans. Place the ICC profile in your library>ColorSync>Profiles folder which will allow your digital imaging apps like Photoshop, InDesign, Quark, and other apps to access your new ICC Profile.

3) All digital images start as RGB files and have millions of colors, however, when outputting to a printing press in CMYK, the color space is reduced due to their inferior color inks which can only print thousands of colors, and when CMY are mixed at 100% these ink colors cannot produce a solid Black color, so K is added for the Black channel giving us CMYK. K is a compensator for CMYK printing which RGB does not need on a monitor as it certainly can produce black from just 3 colors.

4) How to use ICC Profiles on an RGB file. The best method is when using Photoshop and you want to do color corrections, saturation adjustments, color cast removals and sharpening images. All these adjustments are done in RGB. Go to color settings and a dialog window will appear where under the CMYK drop down you’ll see pre set ICC profiles for many generic output devices, find your custom ICC profile and select it. The image below shows a Kinko’s Canon C700 #2 printer. The reason for #2 is that the Kinko’s we used has 2 Canon C700’s so we labeled them #1 and #2. In fact it was a good idea to have both Canon digital press profiled since a week later the Canon C700 #1 digital press was out for repairs.


5) After selecting the ICC Profile in Photoshop and clicking OK, you’ve set the method of calculating RGB to CMYK in Photoshop. So now with your RGB image loaded select image>MODE>CMYK to convert your RGB file to CMYK. Once you’ve converted the RGB file to CMYK save it and label the file CMYK so you know this is the file you will send to the printer. Whether you save it as a JPEG or Tiff file makes no difference.


So why does a Graphic Designer or Art Director want to go through this color conversion process?

The answer is two fold, having a final CMYK file with the printers output DNA on your monitor, shows that you are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). If that’s the case and there is a color shift in skin tones to too much red, or cyan or yellow you can now adjust them with your curve tools to remove those unwanted bad colors knowing that the color corrections you now do is what the printer will print. See samples of bad printing in newspaper ads costing $7000 per ad. Can you really afford to pay for bad color?

Also be aware that if your monitor is not color calibrated the monitor will not show you true WYSIWYG colors. So it’s best to use the eye dropper tool in Photoshop and do a skin color or a logo swatch color reading so you now can see the CMYK values for each ink. If you have a logo that needs color matching and are not on a 5 color spot color press, then you can easily check your color of the logo using the eyedropper tool. This way you can see if your color is a match from your Pantone color guide, which also shows CMYK values. You can isolate the logo on it’s own layer in Photoshop and adjust your color CMYK curves to get a close color match to your Pantone value you want.



Taking these 5 Steps to control your color printing makes you a Master Color printer in the Digital Print Industry. Very few people actually know or care about this information, even printers I’ve met have stated they no longer offer accurate color, just PLEASING color, whatever that really means. It’s really a crap shoot for these beauty school drop outs!

Other Advanced Color Press Printing TIPS:

Prior to digital presses CMYK JPEG and CMYK TIFF files were normally accepted by four color printers. Today, however, with the advent of digital presses you’ll see that print shops only accept PDF docs and this is where more issues and degradation of color will occur with your CMYK JPEG files. Here’s their process and you may even be doing this mistake too. The printers have to convert all your CMYK JPEG files to PDF files and their process is NOT done in Photoshop, rather they will gang all your artwork and images both the front and back of your color brochure using InDesign. The printers will place your CMYK JPEG files in an InDesign layout then they will Export your High resolution files without reading the selection process as I’ve experienced direct from the printers. Instead of a press check, press checks are done via emailed PDF docs from the printer and you are asked to sign-off on this color and this resolution. Now keep in mind when you start with an RGB file and let’s say it’s a small postcard front and back full color these two RGB files are each about 2 megabytes in size and after converting them to CMYK with the extra K channel your file sizes increase to 6 to 7 megabytes each. You’ve got these nice beefy CMYK files that have been converted to the DNA of your output press you want to maintain the high resolution, color accuracy and sharpness of your fonts so you can achieve perfect color printing.

But when the printer sends you your digital PDF proof with both front and back sides of your postcards in one file and now you look at the file size and expecting to see at least 14 megabytes they delivered 1.8 megabytes, you have to ask WTF did they do to your High Res CMYK files. They are no longer sharp and crisp, the color is so, you have to ask did they optimize for Fast Web, did they compress all the JPEG files at medium or worst, did they also screw with the color conversion to convert to destination? OH my, how many mistakes did they do? All you know is your files have been tampered with and they obviously sent you a garbage proof which is 1/7 the size of your original file sizes. Don’t expect any good results from these files. See the bad downsampling settings below that will ruin your high resolution CMYK files.

If they had set the InDesign Export to PDF correctly they would have to send you a 20 megabyte file which maintained all your Expert Color work. In order to avoid these beauty school drop outs from tampering with your files you’ll need to do the conversions yourself with InDesign, so you can deliver the required PDF files they only know how to work with today. You’ll need to have the correct settings when using the Export within InDesign to PDF setting.

The setting should be as follows:

• Color Images = Do Not Downsample
• Compression = None for all three settings, Color, Grayscale & Monchrome Images
• For Output: Color Conversion = No Color Conversion
• For Profile Inclusion Policy = Include All RGB and Tagged Source CMYK Profiles

Below are the correct settings to maintain the ICC Profile and high resolution CMYK files.


This is critical as this is your printer DNA….ICC Profile you’ve worked so hard to get. So don’t let it slip away at the PDF Sign-Off stage!

I hope this article gave you hardcore Professional Graphic Designers and Art Directors some peace of mind that you haven’t lost control with these new digital presses, in fact you have more control as long as you know how to use all these color tools. If you need custom ICC profiles for any CMYK printer before your next print job or you have your own printing press and want to offer custom ICC profiles to your demanding customers for each of your presses, then this service offers custom ICC Profile made for you in 24 hrs.

One last word on ICC Profiles is they have an expiration date on them, so When do they expire? Whenever you change your color ink batches or the type of paper you will be printing on. Also ICC profiles can not be interchanged between two presses even if they are two of the same brand printing presses, every press needs it’s own ICC profile. All presses improve their output with a current ICC Profile.

Here are some digital printing brands just to name a few.

Canon digital presses
Konica digital presses
Ricoh digital presses
Xerox digital presses
HP Digital Indigo presses


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