If you've been keeping up with this series of lessons, you know that there's much more to managing color in your images, from the capture through processing and during the printing or display stages. You should also know that you'll get the best results by taking the proper steps along the way. If these points don't sound familiar to you, I'd suggest you start with the first article in the series. If you're already up to speed on all that, then settle in let's explore soft-proofing your images.
As we learned in the previous article, printing can be a frustrating and expensive process without proper calibration. Once the calibration's done, you can be relatively certain that the colors you're seeing on your monitor will be faithfully reproduced. That's why you created that printer profile.
Here's another great thing about that profile, though: you can use it to visualize how the print will look right in Photoshop or Lightroom, before you waste money on ink and paper. That's what we call soft proofing and it's one of the secrets of every pro that does his or her own printing. If you're sending out your images to be printed, you can also request a printer profile for the print shop. (Remember, your monitor needs to be properly calibrated, too if you want the results to be predictable.)
The reason you need a printer profile for this step is simple: your monitor's color space is RGB and your printer uses a CMYK color space, which isn't capable of rendering all the colors you'll see on your monitor. When you soft-proof an image using a color profile, you're viewing it according to the gamut of the printer.
Most printer manufacturers supply ICC Printer Profiles you can use to approximate the results from one of their models. As you know from the previous article, however, every individual printer is different and the types of ink and paper used will also affect the final print. That's why you've created your own profile for each combination you use, to ensure the most accurate results. Each profile will produce a different soft proof, representing the print that will be produced as closely as possible.
The time and expense saved by eliminating the need to print until you get the results you want should be obvious, not to mention the importance of judging the results from an outside printing source. Here's the best part: soft proofing in Photoshop is easy. I recommend watching this half-hour webinar from Datacolor that describes exactly how:
As you can see, soft proofing can make an incredible difference in both the speed of your workflow and the quality of your printing results. It's just one more step in the color management process necessary to ensure that your colors are always accurate and crisp, from the camera to the customer. The most complete solution to getting there and the one we recommend is Datacolor's Spyder5 Studio: