Soft Proof is a feature that has long been used in Photoshop for previewing images as they will appear in print. The “Soft” is for software. Proofs are normally hard copies that are printed to give the designer or photographer and idea of how a digital image will print prior to going to press. The Soft Proof therefore, is a way to look at an image that is being converted by the software (Photoshop, and now LightRoom 4) to simulate the color of the inks, the color of the paper, and the dynamic range of the inks.

The accuracy of the soft proof is conditioned on the accuracy of the calibration of the display. The highest accuracy will be on calibrator display models such as the Eizo CG series or the NEC Spectraviews when either is calibrated with an istrument via the Eizo or the NEC software (which bypasses the computers video board to calibrate the on-board computer of the display itself.) The next best thing is to use a software system such as Color Munki, Eye1, or Spyder to calibrate an ordinary display with an instrument using the computer’s video board. Because the video board in necessarily limited by software calibration, it does cut down on screen fidelity and the accuracy of Soft Proofs. But, it is substantially more accurate than looking at Soft Proofs on non-calibrated displays.

The Soft Proof ICCs profiles are not used for printing. They are only used for previewing images.

You can download the ICC Soft Proof profiles (at the end of this article) for the new Piezography2 system and use them to preview any form of Piezography printing. They are divided into ink groups and there are several papers that have been profiled in each ink group.

They are easy to install.

  • When you download the ZIP files, most operating systems automatically “unzip” them into a directory (folder).
  • If not – double click the .zip file and it should expand into a directory (folder) of ICC profiles.
  • On Mac’s you copy or move the ICC profiles to your User/Library/ColorSync/Profiles folder.
  • On Windows you get to right click each ICC profile and select Install

To use the profiles in Photoshop

  • Go to View / Proof Setup / Custom menu on the Menu bar
  • In the Device to Simulate menu you can select one of the ICCs you have down loaded.
  • If you have trouble finding them – look for the ones that start with QTR (we used the QTR Create ICC software to produce these).
  • Set the Rendering Intent to Relative Colorimetric
  • Under Display Options check both of Simulate Paper Color and Simulate Black Ink
  • You can select OK to exit this window, or you can Save the setup so it is easily selected again under View / Proof Setup

Your image (even a color image) will have converted to the color of the inks that were profiled while you were selecting the ICC profile in the Custom menu. You will notice that anything that was brightest or near brightest changed to a new color of white relative to the color of the paper that was profiled. And the dMax (the darker parts of the display) got appreciably lighter to as near exact to that amount of light that is reflected off the darkest bits of the inks on that paper that were profiled. The contrast of the image will be converted to Gamma 2.2 and you will only notice that if your display has not been calibrated to Gamma 2.20 (which it should be!).

To use the profiles in Lightroom

  • While in Develop mode check SoftProofing on the Toolbar.
  • Clicking that opens the SoftProofing Pane
  • In the Profile menu you can select one of the ICCs you have down loaded.
  • If you have trouble finding them – look for the ones that start with QTR (we used the QTR Create ICC software to produce these).
  • For Intent I suggest Relative
  • Check Simulate Paper Ink

Judging the Results

This is where time really shows the difference between imaging in the 1990s and 2000s, and imaging today. Hate to get all “back in the day”, but back in the day everyone had a D50 environment. No one really printed at home for themselves. Every one doing advanced digital imaging in the 90s and 2000s were mostly professionals in studios – that had perfect viewing conditions for both their calibrated displays and the printed proofs they used for comparing to the display to.

The displays were CRTs calibrated to 5000k. The displays were in darkened rooms without any other source of light that was not the same color temperature as 5000k or made the room brighter than 50lux. Adjacent to the display was a small viewing booth which the print was put into. The light in the booth was dimmed to the same brightness of the calibrated display, and the color temperature of the booth’s light was the same as that of the calibrated display (5000k).

As ICC improved each successive year, the quality of the match of a print to the soft proof on the calibrated display became more and more accurate to being in the high 90s% of match. Then the CRT died, and the LCD came on – and with the exception of the Eizos and the NECs I mentioned – it has been catching up ever since. Frankly, color management today is not what it used to be. And yet that is not saying that ICC profiling does not work. It does. Printing is better than ever. What is lacking is such a small percentage of users at home have set up good viewing and comparison conditions.

So, the results will vary as they say. Depends fully on the quality of your calibration and the viewing conditions. For example, I can not use the latest greatest MacBook Pro that I’m writing this on (even though it has both Photoshop and Lightroom.) I have calibrated it with EyeOne – but Apple didn’t design this MacBook Pro’s display for previewing soft proof ICC profiles. But, I do have a Mac Tower with a 30″ NEC hardware calibrated using their own sensor and software. The room it is in is painted off-white and dimmed to about 50 Lux. There is GTI soft proof (dimming) viewing booth – and everything is calibrated to 5000k. The display is reduced to the dynamic range of the Piezography prints for viewing when I am making prints. I use the soft proof in both LR and PS. I will set it brighter for general photo work and can also change it on the fly to look like what most the world sees when they look at facebook and web pages.

And to be fair, it does take some getting used to. The first thing that happens is all that wonderful, contrasty, super-brilliant, whites and pitch dark blacks (you know the range of lights and darks that you can’t print) suddenly disappear. The image on the screen looks dull and dim, almost as if it were a print rather than a super-bright punched out image on a computer display that has been set to bright. That bit takes getting used to. But, I assure you that eventually you begin to see it and realize that what you are seeing is your print. A soft proof of it. And when you realize that what you are seeing is what you can print – you begin to undertand the delicate nature of making adjustments to an image being edited for printing. The soft proof may be accurate enough for you to not have to make so many printed proofs to get it “right”. The time saved for some is valuable enough to warrant the investment in a true calibrator display and viewing booth. It’s practically a lost art these days – but never more affordable.

Click here to download our new Piezography Community Edition which includes soft-proof profiles.

Happy Printing!

Jon Cone