WHY ARE YOUR PRINTS DARKER ON PAPER THAN YOUR SCREEN
A few years back I purchased a printer so I can see my photos in print. It's easier for me to find editing issues when I print my work. I guess I'm old school that way. After getting the printer set up, I opened Lightroom, found an image to print, and wow, terrible. It was dark, not the color that matched my monitor, and who knows what else was wrong. Either way, it was not good.
BACKLIT VERSUS AMBIENT LIGHT
The main reason your images print dark has to do with the brightness of the monitor you are editing on. Most people have it set too bright. This causes the editor to think the image is brighter than it really is. To be clear, the monitor is not the problem, but rather the perceived brightness of the image. The screen is backlit and emitting light while the printed image is in ambient light. Backlight comes from each pixel on the monitor being turned on at a certain time to produce the light and color needed. A pixel is made up of red, green, and blue light. The light is polarized by using liquid crystals to rotate the light. Basically, it is saying blah, blah, blah, I don't really care how it works. I just need to know how to get the prints to look like they should. So just remember, backlit LCD is brighter than ambient light most of the time. Unless the bright midday sun is shining through the window onto your print, then it may look quite bright and lovely.
ADVANTAGES OF HAVING A PRINTER
This is one advantage of having your own printer. You don't need a crazy expensive printer. I have the Canon Pixma Pro-10. It holds 10 ink cartridges and does a really nice job. Downside is that it can only print up to 13x19 inch prints. However, at least I can print my images and see how they look. Are they dark, are the colors wrong, etc. When I print an image, I boost the exposure at least 1/3 of a stop brighter, sometimes up to 1/2 stop brighter. Once I feel the image prints correctly, I will send it to the printer and have them make some test prints. The last thing you want is to pay for a large print and it doesn't look right. Just remember that you need to print something every couple weeks to keep the printer working properly.
CORRECT ICC PROFILE FOR THE PAPER
When purchasing fine art paper from companies like Moab or Hahnemuhle, each paper has a specific ICC profile. ICC stands for the International Color Consortium. Sounds like a special group you hear about in a spy movie. These profiles determine how the colors are printed with a specific paper and printer. Each paper has a unique white point and if the printer isn't using the correct profile, everything will be off. Colors, tint, warmth, brightness, etc. The manufacturers have the profiles on their website for download. Once the profile is installed in the printing software, I use Lightroom, choose it in the print setup and you are good to go. Well, not really, you still need to test print.
Besides having your own printer, a monitor calibration tool will help get your monitor to the correct brightness. I use the Datacolor Spyder 5 Pro and the first step is to measure the ambient light. Once it starts calibration, it will have you change the brightness of you monitor. While this may not be completely accurate, it will be much closer to what the brightness of your monitor should be.
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 important thing is that you are printing your work. What is the point in taking all the photos and never see them in print. You don't have to print large every time. I have a lot of images printed from my Canon PIxma Pro 10 hanging on my wall. They are only 13x19 inch prints but they look good and I'm printing my work. Most important, have fun with photography and printing.