Using ICC Profiles with Epson Printers

Background

Most new Epson printers like the R1800 come with ICC profiles for various papers and even if you have an older printer, Epson may have added some ICC profiles for your printer to their printer software download pages. Increased availability of profiles means that there are a lot of people out there asking how to use them. While I applaud Epson for taking the lead in providing more and more ICC profiles for their printers and papers, documentation for how to use these pre-made profiles is scarce. Do you know where to find these profiles, what they are, and how to properly utilize them? If not, read on and we'll try to make using these profiles as simple as possible. Since driver settings are handled a bit differently for different model printers, we'll focus on using profiles with Epson printers in this article. We will assume for the purpose of this article that you have ICC (color managed) software such as Qimage or PhotoShop that you will be using to print photos.

What is a profile?

An ICC profile is a file that describes how to achieve accurate color on your printer with a certain type of paper. You need to have a profile for the specific paper (and ink) you are using. For more information on what profiles are and how they work, read my August 2004 article entitled "Over the gamut and through the woods".

Finding the right profile

If you have a newer model Epson printer, it may have come with ICC profiles that can be installed from the software CD that comes with the printer. For example, the R1800 has an installation option for installing the ICC profiles. If your installation CD does not have an option for installing profiles, you may want to explore the CD anyway to search for files ending with *.icm or *.icc to see if there are some "hidden" profiles on the CD. If you find any, you can right click and select "Install Profiles". If you find any profiles on your software installation CD that came with the printer, they will likely be for the most popular Epson papers such as Epson Premium Glossy, Premium Luster, etc. Remember that one profile is needed for each paper type.

If your software installation CD does not contain any ICC profiles, there may be some available on the Epson printer support web page. Simply scroll through the list, find your printer, and click on it. On the next page, click "Drivers & Downloads". If any profiles are available for your printer, there will be a link for "ICC Profiles". Sometimes some ICC profiles are included with the "PIM" plugin, so you might check the PIM download as well if all else fails. If no link is visible that references ICC profiles, most likely Epson has not gotten around to creating any for your printer yet.

If you are just not able to find any ICC profiles on the Epson web site for your printer (or paper that you are using), you could always create an ICC profile yourself using a tool like Profile Prism, but the intent of this article is to illustrate how to use readily available profiles for Epson paper.

Finding the WRONG profile!

Please remember that printer profiles are designed for a specific printer, a specific paper type, and specific print driver settings. Don't try to use a profile designed for Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper with a different brand paper for example. The paper may look the same and people may think it behaves the same way in your printer, but you will likely be wasting your time and ink since profiles only work with one type of paper. Similarly, profiles for a previous (older) model printer will likely not work properly either since the printer hardware is probably slightly different and the driver may be slightly different as well.

Also be aware that the old Epson profiles that you may find on your hard drive (these are usually files that start with EE_ followed by a number) should be avoided because they are not designed to be used outside the print driver itself and are generally quite inaccurate. Newer profiles are normally files that start with SP (for Stylus Photo) followed by your printer model number and paper type: for example SPR1800 PrmGlsy BstPhoto.icc.

General overview of using printer profiles

Let's assume you have located the profile for your printer and paper. There are two steps in using the profile and if both steps are not performed correctly, you can end up with horrible color in your prints (most often either green or magenta color casts). Let's look at the two steps to properly utilizing a profile below.

Step 1: Print driver setup

First we have to set all print driver settings to those required by the profile. Print driver setup is usually accessed via "File", "Printer Setup" or by clicking "File", "Print" and selecting "Properties" for your printer. A profile will only work with one specific set of driver parameters. If you choose any parameter incorrectly such as selecting the wrong paper type, wrong resolution, selecting "PhotoEnhance", etc. the profile will not work properly. If the profile you are using came with a "readme" file, be sure to view the contents of that file and set the driver settings accordingly. If there is no readme file that outlines driver settings, you may have to rely on the file name. You need to know the printer model, the type of paper, and the printing mode (quality setting) as a minimum.

Let's use the R1800 and Premium Glossy Photo Paper as an example. The R1800 software CD installs several profiles, one of which is SPR1800 PrmGlsy BstPhoto.icc. By the file name, we can tell that this is the profile for the R1800 printer with Premium Glossy Photo Paper and is designed to be used with the driver set to the "Best Photo" quality setting. Unless otherwise specified (in a readme file), use the following print driver settings:

Note that the important settings are circled in red. Options that are not circled such as "High Speed" or "Edge Smoothing" can be set to on or off as you like since they won't affect color enough to cause problems with the profile. Your Epson driver screens may look a bit different than the above R1800 driver screens, but the most important thing is to be sure to select the paper type, quality, and select the "no color adjustment" mode. Other printers may list the quality setting as a DPI number such as 1440 or 2880 instead of "Best Photo", but the idea is the same. If the file name or an associated readme file doesn't give you any information at all about how to set the print driver settings, there is no point using the profile. A profile is basically of no use unless you can at least identify the paper it is for and the print quality used in the driver.

Step 2: Select the profile in your printing software

Now that we have opened our print driver setup window and have selected all the proper parameters in the driver itself, we must make the proper selections in our printing software to tell that software which profile to use. Step 1 of the process (above) simply prepares the driver to accept profiled data. It is in step 2 that our printing software must apply the profile. To do this, we need only tell our printing software which profile to use by giving it the file name. Refer to the steps below to see how to perform steps 1 and 2 in Qimage and PhotoShop.

Workflow for Qimage and PhotoShop

Qimage:

Step 1 (from above):

  • In Qimage, click "File", "Printer Setup" from the main menu.

  • Select your printer and click "Properties" for that printer.

  • Follow the screens from step 1 above to set the print driver settings.

Step 2 (from above):

  • Click "Settings" from the main menu and then "Color Management".

  • Click the "Enabled" box under "Printer" toward the middle of the window.

  • Click the browse "..." button in the "Printer" group.

  • Click the "All Windows Profiles" on the lower right of the window.

  • Scroll through the list and double click on the proper profile (for example "SPR1800 PrmGlsy BstPhoto.icc").

  • Leave rendering intent set to "Perceptual" with "Black Point Compensation" checked.

  • Click "OK".

  • Add photos to the queue and print.

PhotoShop:

Step 1 (from above):

  • In PhotoShop CS, click "File", "Print with Preview" from the main menu. In prior versions of PhotoShop, click "File", "Print Options".

  • Click "Page Setup".

  • Click "Printer" at the bottom of the window.

  • Select your printer and click "Properties" for that printer.

  • Follow the screens from step 1 above to set the print driver settings and click "OK" to return to the "Print with Preview" window.

Step 2 (from above):

  • Back on the "Print with Preview" window, check "Show More Options".

  • Drop down and select "Color Management".

  • Under "Print Space" at the bottom, drop down "Profile" and select the proper profile (for example "SPR1800 PrmGlsy BstPhoto.icc").

  • Set "Intent" to "Perceptual" and check "Use black point compensation".

  • Click the "Print" button and print your photo.

Once step 1 and 2 have been performed you can print any photos you like and they will all be profiled using the printer profile you selected in step 2. Note that Qimage remembers all software and print driver settings even if you exit Qimage and come back later, so step 1 and 2 will only have to be performed once and will only need to be redone if you change print driver settings for some other purpose/profile. PhotoShop will not remember your settings so you'll need to redo both steps above each time you print or save your settings from the print driver window if your driver has that option.

Most problems with using profiles are caused by an error in one of the two steps above:

  1. Failure to set print driver settings appropriately: paper type, print quality, and color management mode such as "no color adjustment".

  2. Forgetting to turn on the profile in your printing software.

As long as you always insure that the print driver settings are set properly per the readme file that comes with the profile (or per the instructions in step 1 if no readme is provided) and that you have told your printing software which profile to use, you'll get accurate color for all your photos.

-- Mike Chaney