Be a printer genius.
6. Which color space should I use, sRGB or Adobe RGB?
Your best bet is to set your color space (whether in your camera or RAW conversion software) to Adobe RGB. It gives you a somewhat larger, more muted and subtle color gamut that's well-suited to six- to eight-color home printing.
However, many digital labs use equipment calibrated to the sRGB space, so use this if you plan to send files to a lab for printing.
7. Why don't my prints match the images I see on my monitor?
First, you must calibrate your monitor. You'll get the best results with a calibration package that includes both software and a colorimeter that you attach to your screen. ColorVision, Pantone, and X-Rite all sell affordable kits. However, in a pinch, you can use the free Adobe Gamma tool or an inexpensive software-only package.
Set your software and printer driver to use the built-in color management capabilities in Windows or Mac OS (see the sidebar). Let your monitor warm up for about 30 minutes before you calibrate it or edit photos. Give your prints a little time, too, before a critical color evaluation. Some paper and ink combinations undergo short-term color shifts up to 24 hours after printing.
8. How does my work environment affect my print results?
Most of the light sources in a home or office are unsuitable for a digital darkroom. Typical household halogen lights can throw off the colorimeter used for calibration, incandescent bulbs produce a very yellow light, and sunlight and standard fluorescent bulbs fluctuate and spike. The best digital darkroom is a gray space illuminated only by a dim, diffuse, 5000-degree Kelvin light.
While you may not have this ideal workspace, taking a few steps toward it can help. One excellent, affordable alternative is a SoLux filtered halogen lamp. You can use it both as room lighting and for viewing prints to evaluate color. Other companies such as Verilux, Sunwave, Paralite, and OTT-LITE make compact fluorescent bulbs that should also work well but have occasional spikes that could affect monitor calibration.
Make sure that the ambient light source and level are the same when you calibrate your monitor and view your images, and that your lights aren't bouncing off of brightly colored walls or objects, including your clothes. Keep the area around your monitor dim, but evaluate your prints in bright light. Prevent light from striking the computer's screen directly by using a monitor hood, which you can buy or make from gray-painted cardboard.
If you're just not able to control ambient light, check out the Huey. It's a color calibrator made by Pantone, that adjusts your monitor calibration as the ambient light changes.
9. Should I profile my printer?
If you've calibrated your monitor, controlled your lighting, and mastered your driver's color-management settings, and you're still not satisfied, consider buying a custom profile for your favorite printer/ink/paper combination.
How? You download a standard image, print it out, send the print to the profiling service, and receive a custom ICC profile via e-mail. Chromix and the Digital Dog are two online companies that create profiles for $100 apiece. You can also buy relatively inexpensive kits for profiling a printer yourself, but in our experience they don't work very well.
10. My computer has printing controls in different places. Which should I use?
You should try to eliminate conflicts between the settings in your printer driver and those in your image-editing software. If you have Photoshop or another advanced program that allows you to manage color, use it and turn off your printer driver's color management. That means disabling ICM in Windows or selecting No Color Management on a Mac. Each time you print, make sure the correct paper type and dpi/quality level are selected in the driver interface.