It Might Be Worth Knowing Your Inkjet Printer

I embarked on a small 15 minute project that I thought might be worthwhile  while I was reading Martin Evening’s new book on Lightroom 4.  In it he notes that the printer profiles that one utilizes in Lightroom and Photoshop for specific printers and papers typically automatically map the very dark tones to levels where the printer can produce detail (ie a level of say 1-5 would be mapped by the profile to a new level where the printer can generate a bit of detail by visually producing differences in the black tones).  However, it is much more critical that one map the highlights to levels where the printer can produce detail, as profiles typically do not accomplish this very well.

For example, 255 is pure white and any pixel at level 255 will print to paper white. This means that pixels at 254, 253, 252 etc SHOULD have some ink and that the levels SHOULD be able to be discerned from each other…..after all if you can’t tell a 254 from a 253 then there will not be any ability to discern details or contrast in that region in the print.  But the SHOULD is not reality and all printers are different.  It seems it would be useful to know what level one’s printer can start showing detail so that the brightest highlights with detail can be mapped to that level.

So I did a brief experiment.  I made a new file in Photoshop and with the marquee tool made multiple squares and then  using the Edit>Fill command filled the squares with neutral colors at 255, 255, 255 and 254, 254, 254 and 253, 253, 253 etc all the way down to the upper 240s.  My goal was to see where my printer started to produce printed patches that were able to be seen (thus, not printing paper white) and if one were able to denote differences between the patches (thus, denoting the ability to differentiate detail).

My results:

255, 255, 255 – appeared paper white with no discernible tone, as it should

254, 254, 254 – also appeared paper white with no discernible tone

253, 253, 253 – the very slightest amount of tone was visible under light and if you looked carefully you could make out the square

252, 252, 252 – this was the first patch you could see with a quick but directed look

251, 251, 251 – and lower were pretty straightforward to see and the differences between each were evident, ie 251, 251, 251 could fairly easily discerned from 250, 250, 250 and so on

Is this helpful information??  Maybe not groundbreaking , but I think it is helpful,  Now I know that the brightest level in an image where I still want some ink and not paper white should be 251, 251, 251 or 252, 252, 252.  Many books have advocated 248, 248, 248….but I think it helps to know how your particular printer acts and what it can do with the lighter tomes.  Of course, I believe the results might only apply to the particular paper and profile that you are testing, but nonetheless I think this is useful information to have.

I am using an Epson 7900 and would be interested in what types of results people get with other printers and if this is felt to be a worthwhile endeavor.


8 Responses to “It Might Be Worth Knowing Your Inkjet Printer”

  1. Nick Says:

    It all actually all comes down to the ink profile (icc/icm), as to how the printer will put down the ink. That also includes variables such as the material you’re printing on, the condition of the print heads ,the number of passes and yes, even the amount of ink left in the cartridge.

    So what is right on your printer, may never ever be correct for anyone else :)

  2. Howard Says:

    Great points. That is why I am wondering if it is useful for people to do this with their printers so that they know where the tones map with their devices on their paper and profiles.

  3. ArtK Says:

    This is a great idea. I probably have read the same books and have used 248 as a ceiling for my prints for awhile now. I tested my printer (Canon Pro 9500 Mark II)

    Results were pretty good. I can see a change in color at 254. Faint but recognizable. 253 is very obvious. I think I will start using 253 instead of 248.

  4. Howard Says:

    It seems to make sense to me.

  5. Mark Says:

    I would be interested now in how utilizing this makes changes in your prints Howard. I have seen something like this referred to in the past, but admit I have not paid much attention to it. Perhaps that is an oversight that I should be paying closer attention to. I just am not sure how much it would affect my actual prints. It just seems the difference between 251 and 255 is so small when mixed with the tonal range of a landscape for example.

  6. Howard Says:

    At this point I am not really sure of what the effect will be in the final prints. But I am thinking that portion of the tonal range could possibly provide a bit more detail to clouds and moving blurred water. I am not yet sure of the ‘real life’ effect though.

  7. Albert Capizzo Says:

    I just ran across this rather old post Howard. I’m wondering if having custom profiles made of specific printer/paper combo would take this in to account. I dunno.

  8. Howard Says:

    I’m trying to think that one through Al, but I have to say that I am not really sure if it would or wouldn’t.

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