Color management guide by Arnaud Frich

Calibrate a printer
Printer calibration
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Updated on June 17, 2017

Calibrate your photo printer yourself using a kit

To calibrate your printer yourself, you will need a specific colorimeter, different (with exceptions) of your screen colorimeter : a spectrophotometer ! But no matter the name. This device is more expensive, even, much more expensive than a screen colorimeter, but you will be pleased to create your own ICC profiles...



Key points if you are a beginner ...

Here are the key points to remember on printer calibration. The rest of this page will be dedicated to those who want to go into more details.

Calibrate a printer with spectrophotometerTo calibrate a printer, you now know that there is no other solution than : a calibration kit based on a spectrophotometer.

Their prices range from $450 to $1,600. Good news : the Colormunki Photo kit at $450 is an excellent starting point. it allows you to create your own printing ICC profiles with a good quality level.

The procedure is even easier than the one used to calibrate a screen, EXCEPT THAT, you should remember the selected printing options of your driver.

ICC profiles made ​​with the superlative i1 Photo Pro 2 will be the best for amators or professionals, but you can pretty much have them made for you once you have chosen your favorite one or two kinds of paper.

You will find a list of distance service provider on next page suivre
Coincidentally, they use this material !

Now that we have seen on the previous page why calibrating your printer, we will see how to do it on this page.

Creating an ICC printer profile is, you now know, done thanks to an ICC profile creation software like the i1 Profiler or ColorMunki Photo from X-Rite or Spyder3Print from Datacolor and a color target which is a file with all the referenced colors (so the Lab color of each patch should be ideally printed by your printer). This color target is provided with the software and is therefore specific to each calibration kit.


i1 Photo Pro 2


Firstly, let's see what are the steps of a printer calibration. What ever calibration kit you buy, this procedure will be the same : calibration and characterization.

Then, I will present the various kits on the market. I am running the test of the most known and recognized ones on the market.



Calibrate your printer : the steps

Basically, whether you have your profiles done by a distance service provider or you do them yourself, the procedure is almost the same. As always when talking about calibration, you must first calibrate your printer (gauging) and then identify the defects (characterization).

Printer calibration

Print a targetIt will be a long time since you are satisfied with a single kind of paper because you had succeeded with a generic profile to get something decent. Whether for online calibration or for calibration using a basic printer calibration kit, like the Colormunki Photo (which works really well for the needs of amators, expert amators or professional who does not sell his prints), you look for the paper/ink set that suits you ... It makes me remember of the work in the darkroom !
The calibration or gauging of a printer consists of printing a calibration color target, once having chosen :

  • The printer,
  • The kind of ink cartridge - when that choice is possible -,
  • The paper,
  • The printing resolution,
  • The printing settings.

To use this ICC profile, you will always have to use this set. All options of speed, sharpness and other parameters must be carefully noted as the settings chosen, in order to reuse THIS ICC profile.

Number of colored patches and paper choice

Little to say, if this is the Colormunki Photo kit , which has not the reputation of being a bad kit, will only ask you to print 50 color patches, so be careful not to fall into the excess of the number of color patches to be printed. In theory this improves the accuracy of the profile but in reality, with the last i1 Photo Pro 2, 2.000 color patches are sufficient (and are already huge !).


Choice of patches


My advice !

Today it is the same between the number of color patches to calibrate your printer and the number of colors that your TV is able to display : technical escalation !

If you have the choice, print 3 or 4 A4 sheets, it will be well enough : it often represents 2.000 color patches. That is enough to precisely cover the gamut of your printer !

Color target print

The printing of the color target should not be done higgledy-piggledy. The reason is very simple : make sure that the driver of your printer does not override with the one you made ​​yourself, so in other words you have to desable color management in your printer.

Disable any color management and be careful in the selection of the driver options for your printer.

For this reason, the printing of the color patches must be performed from Adobe Color Printing Utility.

Depending on the software you use, the steps may be different, but here is the most classic one with Photoshop with an important remark : starting from Photoshop CS5, you must ABSOLUTELY use a small software called Adobe Color Printing Utility to print the color target WITHOUT calibration.

Note : to operate, the printer calibration needs to know how your printer behaves facing colors without any ICC profile. Therefore the color printed should be printed without any profile, which is now possible with Photoshop since version CS5. Here's how below...


Watch out ! Printing of the color target with Photoshop

New ! Since Photoshop CS5, a printing option has disappeared. This option was allowing you to print your calibration color target WITHOUT A PROFILE. This is no longer the case but fortunately Adobe has created a new small software called Adobe Color Printer Utility that allows you to print the file directly. I describe the process below.

Adobe Color Printing Utility

Logo Adobe Printer UtilityDownload Adobe Color Printer Utility for MAC Suivre
Download Adobe Color Printer Utility for PC Suivre

Its use is very simple. Once downloaded, simply run Adobe Color Printer Utility and it directly opens your browser. Go get your calibration color target ".TIFF" on your hard drive. Then there is normally nothing to adjust in the print menu Menu> File> Print Setup ... Open the Menu> File> Print, then set the printer driver options for your printer. Here is an example with an Epson 7800 with 250 Premium Glossy paper during printing of the color patches provided by the manufacturer of the calibration kit :


Print setup


1 - Printer - Choose the model of your printer in the list.

2 - Chose the right paper - Choose the one given by the manufacturer when there is, otherwise take the same type from the list. Main manufacturers, and they are few, work for various brands ! So sometimes there are very substantial "similarities".

Note ! This choice determines only the amount of ink. If you use paper of the brand of printer, your paper will be in the list. If you use another brand, choose the same type of paper, Epson in this example. In fact, all brands have the "same" range of paper : glossy premium, archival matte, barita, etc ...

3 - Color Parameters - Although disable color management in the printer. We are willing to measure the defects, the characteristics of the printer WITHOUT color management.

4 - Quality - Select the printiing resolution. I created two profiles at 1.440 dpi and 2.880 dpi, but I confess not being certain that there is a difference during the creation of the ICC profile, however I prefer the modeling of the prints at 2.880 dpi in particular for the skies.

You can also choose the speed, without, I think, this having an influence on the calibration result. But note that I never check "Finest Detail" because I have seen a bug on my Epson 7800 when I print my panoramas in very large format.

Printer characterization

Print targetsThe procedure is, again, very simple and fast, if you do not count the time during which it is necessary to let your print dry, ideally 24 hours. Dyes or pigments must be quite stable to create the ICC profile. Even when one eye would not see any more difference, a spectrophotometer would !
The characterization consists in measuring, with the spectrophotometer, the Lab colors of each patch in order to compare them to the standard CMYK values (contained in the software). Any difference will be memorised into the ICC profile of this printer for this paper/ink/resolution set. Each kit has its own procedure, so you will find them detailed on each test page. However, here is an example with my X-Rite PULSE kit, already old, but still valid, at least through the method ...

As in the photo below, you will just have to read all the printed patches whose number depends on the desired profile accuracy chosen.


Printer Characterization
Reading of the color patches of a target for printer when creating an ICC profile.


Open the program and select this time the characterization step of your printer. A new window opens and you will see color patches appearing as they are read.


Lecture des patchs couleurs au moment de la caractérisation de l'imprimante
Color patches reading with Pulse software from X-Rite.


It is time to create the profile of this printer/paper set. It is very simple because you just have to choose the kind of light (D50, etc ...) and save the ICC profile with a clearly identifiable name (printer/paper and possibly the king of light, if you have not used the one proposed by default).

Now, I recommend you to read my page dedicated to printing with Photoshop Suivre


What kind of light ? D50 ?

Tricky and simple question at the same time :
D50, set by default, is perfect in most cases. In fact, the other kind of lights are only there to solve really specific issues. Those cases will be dependent of the light where your pictures will be exposed. Then, perform a couple of tries with different lights with a warmer light for instance (D28).



Which calibration kit should I choose for my printer ?

To measure color patches you need a measuring device. A device that is capable of measuring the colors is called a spectrophotometer. There are solutions based spectrophotometer starting from $450 and it is of course the preferred tool of professional printers calibration solutions. There are three spectrophotometers on the market in July 2016: Colormunki Photo, SpyderPrint SR and X-Rite i1. It is their association with different software that will help to "create" an offer to suit all needs.

Calibration software

There are much less solutions than for screen calibration. Datacolor offers a quite affordable solution - $450 - with the Spyder3Print who wants to compete Colormunki Photo from X-Rite, at the same price range. Clearly, these solutions in their third version, are credible offers for amators or professionals who do not necessarily sell their prints but want to have a book with an obvious printing quality level. According to experts, if the X-Rite software remains THE Reference, in its "amator" version Colormunki Photo and even more in its professional version i1 Profiler, the SpyderPrint is an undeniable success for amators . That said Christophe Métairie use high-end solutions from X-Rite to create your custom printing ICC profiles.

Note ! these kits are also able to calibrate a screen and therefore would overlap with a screen calibration colorimeter, even if I remain convinced that a colorimeter is preferable to calibrate a screen, especially a recent one (starting from 2012).

Printer calibration kits

Price  $
Colormunki Photo
I1 Photo Pro 2
Spyder Studio S4R
Print et Elite
Pulse - Second hand
Second hand

Colormunki Photo
I1 Photo Pro 2
Spyder Studio S4R
Pulse ColorElite


Indications to help you make your choice...

  • Kits around $450 are credible alternatives for amator photographers who do not want to invest in a professional solution ($1,600). This helps you to discover the process of color workflow calibration. Not to be neglected today (2016).
  • Amators, photo clubs or if a generous donator offers you a Datacolor case, keep it ! Version 3 is not version 2. Colormunki Photo, undoubtedly an excellent quality/price ratio, is no more alone in this segment of price.
  • X-Rite products are rightly regarded as market benchmarks and it is probably even more true since the release of new products in July 2011.


Colormunki Photo kit

ColorMunki Photo - X-Rite

Colormunki Photo model from X-Rite is said to be the "amator" kit from X-Rite. It is really good, allows to calibrate a screen and a printer. It is not a surprise to see that profesionnals are buying it. It is really an excellent quality/Price ratio.

Calibrate a screen , a laptop screen even if the Colormunki Display performs better in that specific case.
really nice printer calibration,
No beamer calibration possibility.

Read my review

Buy the Colormunki Photo from...

  Seller Price Seller
Buy from
£335.00 Buy from


Kit i1 Photo Pro d'X-Rite

I1 Photo Pro 2 - X-Rite

The i1 Photo Pro 2 calibration kit for screen, camera and printer is the reference solution for professionnal from X-Rite ! You can almost calibrate everything you want with several possibilities and with overwhelming results. Dedicated to color management and nice ICC profile lovers.

- The best calibration kit !

Review coming soon...

Buy the i1 Photo Pro 2 from...

  Seller Price Seller
Buy from
£1,415.00 Buy from


Box Spyder Studio 4 Datacolor

Spyder5Studio - Datacolor - New !

The Datacolor Spyder5Studio case allows you to calibrate the whole color workflow in RGB mode - screen and printer - for amator, expert amator or even pro looking for an affordable solution. The screen colorimeter is the new and excellent Spyder5 colorimeter.

Calibrate a screen, even the iPad one !,
Calibrate high end printer (V5).
Possibility to calibrate a beamer.

Good quality/Price ratio.

Review coming soon...

Buy the SPyder5Studio from...

  Seller Price Seller
Buy from
£430.60 Buy from



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