If you think you need to make six prints to get one you like ... if you've accepted the fact that your prints are always a little yellower than your screen ... if you assume that trying to get them not only to match your screen but also look sharp and color-accurate would take a lot more than an afternoon's work ... then you're thinking old school.
Why? Because setting up a color-managed workflow has become so easy, any photographer would be crazy not to do it.
If all you want is accurate prints, you can forget all but Step 1 of this story, because these days autopilot works pretty well. But if you want to make the most of your camera, computer, and printer -- without hassles -- keep reading.
The problem with letting your devices and software take control? They assume you want to work in the inferior sRGB color space, which means that even though your camera can capture a wider variety of colors and your printer can print a wider variety of colors, you'd rather throw them away for the sake of saving yourself a few mouse-clicks.
To show you how to control color, we're using Adobe Photoshop CS3, Epson's Stylus Photo R2400 printer, the Pantone Huey PRO for calibration, and Windows XP. The basic principles are the same no matter what your system, so if this story doesn't answer all your questions, a few Google searches will.
Step 1: Calibrate and Profile your Monitor
The gizmos that you attach to your screen to make sure it displays standard brightness, contrast, and color have evolved more than any step in the color management process. These days, you pick one (we used the Huey PRO, but you can also try X-rite's eye-one display LT, ColorVision's Spyder3Pro, or numerous others), install the easy-to-use software, plug the measuring device into your USB port, and go. You really don't need to know much of anything to use it, and when you're done, you'll be amazed how much closer your prints already are to your screen.
Tips: Some software will ask you which white point you want. If so, choose D65 (sometimes called 6500K). • Some software will ask you to pick the gamma. The PC's default is 2.2, but if you can, go for the less contrasty 1.8.
Step 2: Tell Your Camera and Software You're in Charge
Since you'll be managing your color in your printing process for the sake of getting better, more accurate tones, make sure you're capturing those colors in the first place.
Dig out your manual or just scroll through your camera's menus until you find the option for Color Space, and choose Adobe RGB. That space, of course, will apply only to your JPEGs. When you're converting from RAW, make sure you set the output file to be Adobe RGB, as well.
Then set up Photoshop to keep all the colors that you shot. Go to Edit > Color Settings (see the screenshot, above). Choose Adobe RGB (1998) as your working space, and in Color Management Policies, choose Convert to Working RGB and check those three boxes. This ensures that, on the off-chance you want to open a photo someone e-mailed you, Photoshop will ask what to do with that sRGB file. (You should convert that e-mailed image so it will fit nicely into your workflow.)
Step 3: Install Your Printer's Profiles
Every paper has its own characteristics and way of relating to your printer. Each printer/paper combination has its own profile, and before you print, you'll have to tell your system which profile to use. And before you do that, you have to make sure those profiles are installed.
Boy, this used to be one big pain in the neck. Thankfully, it's much easier now. On the Epson 2400's installation CD, there's a button for Install Profiles. It takes you directly to Epson's website, where you download an installer for your printer and the latest profiles are automatically stuck in the right spot.
Of course, Epson gives you profiles only for its own papers. So if you want to print on paper made by another company, you'll have to download the profiles that paper manufacturer made for your printer. Many paper manufacturers post profiles for a variety of popular printers on their websites. Once you download them, you may have to manually place them in Windows' profile folder so that, once in Photoshop, you can access them. The obscurely located folder: C:\WINDOWS\system32\spool\drivers\color.