Some years ago, I decided to buy a printer to enjoy my photos in a physical format. Personally, I find it easier to spot any editing flaws when I view my work in print, perhaps indicating my preference for more traditional methods. Once the printer was up and running, I opened Lightroom and selected an image to print. But what I saw was disappointing - the image was dark, lacked the color fidelity that matched my monitor, and had other issues that were difficult to identify. Overall, it was not a pleasant experience.
Backlight Versus Ambient Light
The primary reason why your printed images appear dark is due to the brightness of your editing monitor. Typically, people have their monitor set too bright, which makes the editor think that the image is brighter than it actually is. It's essential to understand that the issue isn't with the monitor itself, but rather the perceived brightness of the image.
Unlike printed images, a screen emits light, which creates a backlight. The backlight is produced by turning on each pixel on the monitor at a specific time to create the necessary light and color. Each pixel is composed of red, green, and blue light, and liquid crystals are used to rotate the light and polarize it.
I understand that the technical explanation may not be of much interest to you, and you may just want to know how to ensure your prints look as they should. Therefore, keep in mind that a backlit LCD is generally brighter than ambient light. However, if the bright midday sun shines through the window onto your print, it may appear quite bright and lovely.
Advantages of Having a Printer
Having your own printer has several benefits, and you don't necessarily need an expensive one to achieve satisfactory results. I personally use the Canon Pixma Pro-10, which comes equipped with ten ink cartridges and produces excellent prints. However, it can only print up to 13x19 inches.
Printing your images provides a valuable opportunity to assess their quality, including factors such as brightness and color accuracy. I generally increase the exposure of the image by at least 1/3 of a stop or up to 1/2 stop brighter to ensure that the image prints correctly.
Once I'm satisfied with the print, I will send it to the printer for test prints to ensure that it meets my expectations. This is important because there is nothing worse than paying for a large print and discovering that it doesn't look right. Additionally, it's crucial to print something every few weeks to keep the printer functioning correctly.
Correct ICC Profile For The Paper
When you buy fine art paper from manufacturers such as Moab or Hahnemuhle, you'll notice that each paper has a specific ICC profile. The term "ICC" stands for the International Color Consortium, and these profiles play a crucial role in determining how colors are printed using a particular paper and printer.
Each paper has a unique white point, and if the printer isn't using the correct profile, everything from colors to tint, warmth, brightness, and more will be affected. Thankfully, the manufacturers provide the profiles for download on their websites.
Once you have downloaded and installed the profile into your printing software, such as Lightroom, you can choose it in the print setup, and you're ready to print. However, it's essential to note that you still need to perform test prints to ensure that everything appears as it should.
In addition to owning a printer, investing in a monitor calibration tool can also help ensure that your monitor is at the correct brightness. I personally use the Datacolor Spyder 5 Pro for this purpose.
The first step in using this tool is to measure the ambient light in the room. Once you initiate the calibration process, the tool will guide you through adjusting the brightness of your monitor. While this method may not be 100% accurate, it will certainly bring your monitor much closer to the optimal brightness level.
By calibrating your monitor with a tool like the Spyder 5 Pro, you can have greater confidence that what you see on your screen is a more accurate representation of your photos.
So what are some ways you can make sure your prints aren't too dark?
- Always make test prints before you pay good money for a large print.
- Calibrate your monitor.
- Turn the brightness of your monitor down.
- Make test prints.
- Make test prints.
- Did I mention you should make test prints.
The most important thing is that you're actually printing your photos. After all, what's the point in taking all those pictures if you never get to see them in print? Remember that you don't have to print in large formats every time. Even smaller prints, like the 13x19 inch prints I make with my Canon Pixma Pro 10, can look great and allow you to see your work in a physical form.
In fact, I have a lot of my printed images hanging on my walls. They may not be large metal prints, but they bring me joy every time I see them. So don't forget to have fun with photography and printing. Enjoy the process of creating something that you can hold in your hands and share with others.