How to print successfully using soft and hard proofs

Photographer Sanjay Jogia studies a sheet of image thumbnails printed by a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300.
Photographer Sanjay Jogia examines a hard proof from the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 printer. By using the Pattern Print feature in the Professional Print & Layout plug-in, Sanjay was able to preview variations of his image and choose the option with exactly the look he wanted.

Successful photo printing with a Canon photo printer such as the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 isn't as difficult as you might think, and by taking the time to produce proofs, you can fine-tune and perfect your printed colours to a professional standard. This doesn't mean wasting paper and ink making numerous test prints, though. Canon's Professional Print & Layout (PPL) plug-in is a powerful tool with innovative soft proofing and hard proofing features to help match your printed image with what you see on screen.

Perhaps the most powerful feature is the soft proofing option. Not only does this simulate the physical viewing conditions, inks and effect of different papers on-screen, the app does it all automatically when you choose the appropriate Canon paper and print quality settings. PPL also works with third-party papers and custom profiles.

To get as close a match as possible between the on-screen image and the printed image, the only prerequisite is that you should follow a colour-managed workflow with a calibrated monitor. With appropriate viewing conditions, soft proofing can achieve highly accurate results.

PPL also offers a powerful hard proofing feature, Pattern Print, which enables you to produce a test print with a series of thumbnails of your image. You can use this to check the brightness, colour balance and contrast before choosing which of the thumbnails delivers the most accurate or pleasing result. All you need do is take a note of the corresponding reference number and input that back into PPL, where the appropriate settings will be applied to your final print.

Here, Suhaib Hussain, printing expert and Canon Europe Product Manager for Professional Printers and Software, shares his advice on how to soft and hard proof your images to ensure you get the best results from your chosen paper.

An image of strawberries displayed in Canon's Professional Print & Layout plug-in.
Soft proofing in Canon's Professional Print & Layout allows you to see the results before printing. In this image, the colour, brightness and contrast on a specific paper – in this case Canon Photo Paper Pro Lustre – is simulated on-screen prior to printing on a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300. Note the enabled soft proofing option in the tool bar immediately below the main image preview.

How to soft proof

Soft proofing in Canon's Professional Print & Layout application simulates on-screen how your image will look on your chosen photo paper – it's one of those little-known features that can really help save both time and money on ink and paper, especially if you frequently find that your on-screen image and printed output are noticeably different.

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"Soft proofing is all about ensuring colour integrity, so the image is produced as you see it," explains Suhaib. "What tends to happen with digital printing is that you will have an image that you captured and edited – you'll have really worked on that image and got it right – and then you want to print, and it's at that point where you often come across issues where colours or brightness levels don't match. What you're seeing on the monitor is not what you're getting in the print, and that can be quite frustrating, especially for people who are new to printing."

Before plunging into soft proofing, Suhaib says it's important to ensure you've made all the necessary colour and tonal adjustments to your image. This can be done using Canon's Digital Photo Pro (DPP) application or a third-party image editor – Professional Print & Layout works as a standalone app or a plug-in for most common image-editing software.

Then, for soft proofing to simulate the paper, ink and viewing conditions correctly, there are two slightly different workflows depending on whether you're using Canon Photo Paper or third-party papers.

Paper types being selected using a drop-down menu within Canon's Professional Print & Layout plug-in.
Choosing Canon Photo Paper automatically loads the appropriate ICC profile for the selected paper and printer. If you're using third-party paper, you'll need to download specific ICC profiles for that paper. Once installed, the profiles can be accessed under the Colour Management tab in Professional Print & Layout.

1. Select the Canon paper or third-party ICC profiles

Professional Print & Layout already has a library of in-built ICC profiles for Canon papers, and it will load the appropriate profile as soon as you select your chosen paper from the Media Type drop-down menu, under the General Settings tab. This means the app understands the characteristics of the paper, such as its reflectivity and ink absorption, and fine-tunes the output settings accordingly – for both printing and on-screen soft proofing.

"We've made it very simple," says Suhaib. "All you have to do is dial in your paper settings so the software knows what paper you're using, and enable soft proofing by checking the box directly under the image preview. You don't need to download any profiles – they're already baked in."

If you're using third-party papers, you'll have to select the appropriate ICC Profile, which is usually available for direct download from the manufacturer website. Once installed, these third-party profiles will be available in Professional Print & Layout: under the Colour Management tab, first select Use ICC Profile from the Colour Mode drop-down menu, then select the appropriate profile from the Printer Profile drop-down menu.

2. Adopt a colour-managed workflow

Soft proofing is ideal as a fail-safe before committing ink to paper, but Suhaib says you must first ensure your monitor is calibrated. "What tends to happen when you purchase a monitor or a laptop and use it out of the box is that its brightness levels are too high, and the colour temperature can sometimes be quite high as well. We recommend that you calibrate your monitor based on your lighting environment."

Ideally the luminance and white point of the viewing conditions should match the monitor settings, the lighting near your monitor (used for reference), and the lighting where you intend to display the print.

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3. Make slight adjustments

If you're already following a colour-managed workflow, and you've made the appropriate paper selection in Professional Print & Layout, then the difference between the on-screen image and the simulated soft proof is likely to be only very small. But as Suhaib explains: "What happens is you will still find that the colour gamut of a [high-end, wide-gamut] monitor is usually larger than the colour gamut of the printer, so the print might not precisely match what is on the monitor."

In this case Suhaib suggests going back to your image editing program to make a few slight adjustments to a copy of your image before returning the adjusted image to Professional Print & Layout and repeating the process. The adjustments you need to make will largely depend on the paper surface. For example, matte papers may require some of the shadow regions of your image to be a little darker, so often a small adjustment to the curves is all that's required.

A set of thumbnails of an image of strawberries within Canon's Professional Print & Layout plug-in.
As an alternative to soft proofing, the Pattern Print feature in Professional Print & Layout enables you to make a test print on your choice of paper with thumbnails of the image at different settings for colour and for brightness and contrast. From that, you can choose the version you prefer, then simply input the reference number printed beneath it, and PPL will use those settings for the final print.

How to hard proof

Another solution, which is especially appealing to newcomers getting to grips with printing, is to create a hard proof using the Pattern Print feature in Professional Print & Layout. "There are quite a few adjustment parameters you can change when editing in PPL, but hard proofing does it all automatically for you," says Suhaib.

1. Print a Pattern Print to fine-tune brightness and colour

Hard proofing involves making a test print using the Pattern Print feature in PPL, an easy and reliable method to ensure accurate colours in your photo prints.

"Selecting the Pattern Print option brings up something like a contact sheet with your individual image as a thumbnail and different variations of that thumbnail," says Suhaib. "You can vary it by two parameters: colour, or brightness and contrast. Varying colour will simply adjust the cyan, magenta and yellow levels of the image, and the brightness and contrast will, as the name suggests, vary it by the different brightness and contrast levels.

"The middle thumbnail is the default image that will be printed if you just went with the ICC profile, and the other images are the scale – cyan, magenta, yellow – so you can see what the image would look like if it was a bit warmer or if it was a bit cooler," he continues. "You can adjust the size of this print proof as well, so if you're using A3 size paper you can replace it with A4 to save paper."

2. Guaranteeing consistent results

Pattern Print makes it easy to judge what the final result would look like before committing to further ink and paper. Suhaib suggests that it may be particularly useful if you're printing for a demanding client. "Before you go to print, you can present the contact sheet to the client and ask them to make the decision based on their preference," he says.

Once you’ve decided on which option you or your client favours, it's easy to set your image to print using the exact same settings. "There's some text underneath each of the thumbnails, so you can just type in those values," says Suhaib. "The full-size print that you get will be the same colour profile as that thumbnail."

In this way, Canon’s Professional Print & Layout application not only simplifies the printing process but also helps you save precious time and money as well because you no longer need to waste expensive ink and paper producing test prints.

"You expect it to be quite simple to just get on and print," says Suhaib, "and both soft proofing and hard proofing are features that eliminate the hassle and make it much easier to match what you see on screen to what you get from your printer."

Written by Kevin Carter

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