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Is there a cheap way to calibrate a printer to a reasonable-private-use level?

I was thinking of something like using a camera for taking a shot of a colored printed pattern and a reference card, this way I could use Photoshop to color correct the shot to the real printed colors. Then with a software it would be possible to see what colors the printer prints compared to what is expected and generates a ICC profile accordingly.

Is this possible? Is there a software that does this in an affordable price range?

  • I feel like we have a lot of questions that ask for some cheaper way of calibration for some gear. My assumption is that all these questions including yours are motivated by the price of a colorimeter. – null Oct 7 '16 at 9:09
  • sure, this stuff is expensive. i already bought a spyder 5 for my monitor, but cant spend another 300 for a spyderprint. I am not looking for a perfect calibration, because its pointless on a home printer anyway. what i would like to have is at least a realistic rappresentation of the colors and not purple skin. – sharkyenergy Oct 7 '16 at 10:52
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My experience is that when using a printer with OEM ink, the readily-available paper profiles are quite good. If you're seeing poor results I would review the process you're following to print -- from ensuring you're using the correct profile to having any additional printer color options disabled to reviewing the result with soft proofing and checking for out of gamut warnings. Manufacturer paper profiles should provide good results.

If you're not seeing results you like, I suggest you look for a different paper. (Similarly, if you can't find a profile for a given manufacturer's paper, look for one you can find.) Some inks do seem to work better on certain papers, or at least they achieve different results. Another paper and its profile may be slightly more accurate and give you the result you want, also.

If you're not able to find a paper with a readily available profile I recommend having one made. Many companies, such as Dry Creek Photo, will make profiles for you -- you print out a specific test target and snail mail it to them, and they use that target to build a profile for you. It's cheaper than buying the hardware to do it yourself and will certainly yield a better result than what you can achieve with a low-end product like SpyderPrint.

In fact, based on my experience (admittedly, years old), a low-end product like SpyderPrint may not give you better results than the manufacturer's profile. One of the most obvious differences between high- and low-end products is the test target: one will have a few dozen color patches to read, the other will have hundreds or thousands of color patches. Which of the following do you think provides the opportunity to create a more accurate profile?

Small target

Large target

Additionally I would not be surprised if the colorimeter in the Spyder kit couldn't even differentiate many of the patches on the large target. That's why high end tools use a spectrophotometer instead -- for far greater accuracy, which of course also yields better results.

Since we're going down this rabbit hole, I also suggest considering the age of your ink. Unless you're going through ink quickly (replacing them within, say, a few weeks to a month), I would also recommend reprofiling the paper/ink combo pretty regularly. The ink colors do shift. You should also consider your viewing environment when critically reviewing color, as well, to be aware of the color of the light you're viewing in, any color bias your location may cause, and the metamerism your ink/paper combo display.

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Rent a colorimeter, use it to calibrate the printer and be done with it. No need to own it permanently or to come up with workarounds.

There might be alternative renting opportunities available. There might be photography groups active in your area that own a colorimeter that you could use for a small fee. I doubt that a local professional photographer or printing service would rent this kind of gear, but asking doesn't cost a thing.

  • thats an option for people living in big cities, but not for everybody else. but thanks for the tip. – sharkyenergy Oct 7 '16 at 10:50
  • @sharkyenergy what's the problem getting into a big city to rent the gear? Also, some rental businesses offer shipping the rented gear to where you want. – null Oct 7 '16 at 11:49
  • 3 hours by car, + gasoline and highway cost, is far more than a spyderprint costs. thats the problem.. ;) – sharkyenergy Oct 7 '16 at 12:22
  • @sharkyenergy hence I suggested getting the gear delivered. Did you try that? Also, do you seriously spend "far more" than 270$ (which is the online price I quickly googled for the spyderprint) for a 3 hour commute by car? That's ridiculous pricing for gasoline and fees. – null Oct 7 '16 at 12:40
  • i will look into the shipping option. just for completeness, here in italy the gasoline costs 1.5 €/liter currently (about 6.3$ / gallon). the Highway in costs (forth and back) 42 € (46$). maybe I dont get to the 270, but if I have to spend 100 + the rental + 100 to bring it back i can as well buy it.. :) will look inot the shipping option anyway! thanks! – sharkyenergy Oct 7 '16 at 12:57
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Taking photos to the monitor can not prepare or modify a color profile. A color profile is a "matrix" for transformations, so you need to modify this matrixes with specialized software. So is not very viable.

But you can prepare some modifications before printing.

As you have your monitor profiled, (which is the first step) you are half the way there.

Gamma

The main issue to solve when calibrating a device are the middle tones. So make a series of tests using a target image (a portrait if you are taking portraits) and change the gamma in photoshop in well defined steps.

Use for example the levels and print one variation using gamma 1.1 or 1.2 if your print is too dark, or use 0.9 or 0.8 if is too light.

Use a copy please and do not mess with your original well calibrated files.

Now you will have a starting point.

Saturation

Do the same if you think your prints are dull, or on the contrary if they are too saturated.

You could a specific saturation or desaturation to some range of colours, probably you just need to desaturate the green tones, like grass. On your hue and saturation dialog box you can do this.

Prepare a photoshop action

And before printing you can prepare your photo with some basic personalized adjustments.

  • As sharkenergy is doing things the right way by working on a calibrated screen, sending him down the path of device-dependent color is definitely backwards and the wrong way. – Dan Wolfgang Oct 7 '16 at 14:09
  • All devices, all of them are device dependant. What a calibrating hardware does is this same thing, but embeded on the color profile instead of a photoshop action. But the user is asking for a workarround while he/she buys a hardware. – Rafael Oct 7 '16 at 14:21
  • But your answer of sending a external company to make a profile is a good idea. I give you that :o) – Rafael Oct 7 '16 at 14:23

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