Photoshop Soft Proofing

Before we commit our selves to making the final print, where possible, we should always consider soft proofing the image if only to rule out any un-expectations when the ink hits the paper. With Photoshop, we can get it to display an image the way it will appear when it’s printed by soft proofing before you print.

You’ll get your best first proof or maybe even a finished print. Not to be confused with a hard proof or physically printed piece because a softproof uses an ICC profile to create an onscreen simulation of an image as it will appear when printed.

I hear you say, hasn’t this already been done by calibrating the monitor with a colorimeter, choosing an editing space along with color management policies in Photoshop, and specifying the right profile for a printer/paper combination with your printer driver?

Doing these things is getting you close but it doesn’t ensure that you will see exactly how an image will look when printed. Without softproofing, you see how an image looks on a monitor. To see an image on a monitor with the appearance of how it will look when printed, before you print it, you need to take the final step of softproofing the image. This simulation won’t change your file, just it’s appearance. Once softproofed, if you choose to, you can make output specific adjustments to your file before printing to get a better first print.

Photoshop or Lightroom for Soft Proofing

I appreciate that Lightroom now has the ability to Soft Proof which can be activated in the Develop Module by hitting S ken on the keyboard. As good as Lightroom is, I personally find that it still lacks the ability to target and accurately fine tune output specific adjustments which is why I always turn to Photoshop for the Soft Proofing. Once the soft Proof is complete, I then turn back to Lightroom to perform the print mainly because I like the printing module in Lightroom and the way in which you can easily create printing templates.

Photoshop Interface

This is only a personal preference but I like to use the light grey coloured interface for Photoshop. The reason for this is because as we are dealing with colour management, the more neutral the surroundings are, the more we are not going to be distracted by surrounding colours.

Photoshop Gray Interface
Photoshop Light Gray Interface

Photoshop Dark Gray Interface
Photoshop Dark Gray Interface

How To Soft Proof In Photoshop

From the Photoshop menu, select,  View: Proof Set Up: Custom and use the Device to Simulate drop down box to choose the ICC profile that describes a particular paper on a particular printer. Photoshop uses the selected ICC profile to simulate the appearance of the final print. It is essential that you specify the correct ICC profile and that the profile be accurate.

Photoshop Soft Proofing Dialog Box

Device to Simulate: Use the drop down box to select your profile for the given printer and paper combination

Preserve RGB Numbers: Leave Unchecked

Rendering Intent: Choose between Relative Colorimetric and Perceptual. One of these two will look better than the other

Black Point Compensation: This will compensate for the level of black a paper can produce (Leave Checked)

Display Options (On-Screen): Check both Simulate Paper Color and Black Ink. These options sometimes referred to as the “Ugly” option will bring the whites down to match the whitest white of the paper and in most cases, lift up the blacks to show the blackest black a particular paper can print.

Compare Two Views At Once
It’s helpful to see a file both before and after it has been softproofed simultaneously. To do this, look at two versions of the same file simultaneously. First, softproof the file. Second, duplicate the file (Image: Duplicate); the duplicate will not be softproofed. Comparing the two versions will help you see how your image will change when printed and how to compensate for these changes with additional output specific adjustments.

Making Output Specific Adjustments
Softproofing does not change the file, it simply previews how the appearance of an image will change when printed. Once you see how an image will change when printed, you may decide to adjust the file to compensate for those changes, before printing. You can make a printer/paper specific set of corrections, while a file is being softproofed.

The best way is to to create a new Group with the printer/paper combination included in the title. Then create a set of adjustment layers to make the softproofed image match the unsoftproofed image as closely as possible. Typically, midtone contrast is added with Curves (to compensate for dynamic range compression) and Hue/Saturation is used to boost the saturation of in-gamut colors (to compensate for gamut compression). Use these corrections for printing to that specific output condition (printer/ink/paper/profile) only. Turn the layer set off for all other uses of the image.

Photoshop Soft Proof Action

Free Soft Proofing Photoshop Action

Creating the action to perform the above steps is pretty straight forward but if this is something you are not sure about, I have created the action for you which you may download and use free of charge.

Soft Proof Photoshop Action

How Accurate is this process?

Surprisingly, this method with Photoshop is very accurate. One thing to remember though is that when dealing with saturated colour, Out of Gamut typically refers to as unprintable.
Don’t try to get a blacker black or a whiter white by further adjusting your file’s black points and white points. If an image’s black points and white points were already set precisely, all you’ll succeed in doing is clipping detail. Simply, accept the limitations of ink on paper and compensate with midtone contrast. Alternately, use a paper that can generate a blacker black, for instance switch from a matte to a glossy surface.

If an image contains out-of-gamut color that is too saturated for a device to print don’t try to increase the saturation of the image to make them more saturated. You’ll run the risk of oversaturating in-gamut or printable colors. Instead, accept those limitations and target increases in saturation to in-gamut colors only; they too may be affected by gamut compression and you can take steps to prevent this.

You can see which colors are out-of-gamut by dramatically increasing saturation while an image is being softproofed; the colors that change are in-gamut while the colors that don’t change are out-of-gamut.

Photoshop’s Gamut Warning: It often doesn’t indicate what’s out of gamut accurately, often it’s far too conservative, and it can’t show you where the in-gamut colors that are affected are and therefore it is suggested not to use it. Use any tools you have to bring the soft proofed image as close as you can without introducing any artefacts

Remember, the softproof is only as good as the profile used. A bad printer profile will give you a bad softproof and a bad print. If you find a profile doesn’t make a good softproof or print, use a better printer profile.

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