How To Get My Monitor To Match My Printer

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This article is designed to help those with Adobe Photoshop CS2 (later versions of Photoshop will be similar) in using a custom ICC profile to print to their inkjet printer, and get the resulting print to match what they see on their screen. This assumes that you have reasonably good lighting (daylight balanced), that you know your way around your computer and have a working knowledge of Photoshop and printer operation.

There are several elements that contribute to a print being able to match to a computer monitor.

These are generally ordered from the more simple (and least expensive) to the more complicated.


The Monitor

Usually the best place to start in getting a color-managed workflow is with the monitor. Out of the box, most monitors come with their RGB color guns blasting out color at full force. (This makes for a nice bright screen when you're looking at it in the showroom.) But what this results in is a [color temperature] of something around 9300 degrees Kelvin. And what this means is that your screen will be rather blue. We don't always notice the blue-ness because our eyes have a way of automatically adjusting to whatever color shift they are exposed. But we're going to want the monitor to be more dependably white. What the sun gives us in normal daylight is around 5000 Kelvin, which is what is normally assumed in a printer profile. And 6500 Kelvin is a happy medium that is usually recommended for computer monitors to simulate normal white.

Many modern computer monitors come with presets that will change your color to one of these white point temperature settings or to sRGB which is a common working space. If you have this option, chose 6500 K as that will most likely match what the printer is designed to put out.

The White Paper Test

Open up a blank image in Photoshop (with a white background) and hold up a piece of printing paper. If the white of the screen does not match the white of the paper, you will not have success getting the actual monitor image to match the print. You can change your lighting to match the monitor (more on this here), but it is often easier to adjust your monitor to match your lighting.

Adobe Photoshop comes with a small utility called Adobe Gamma that can be used to adjust your monitor "by eye" in order to get close to the correct color and brightness/contrast.

Many find that this is not precise enough to enable the kind of matching that they are looking for. In recent years, colorimeters have come up in quality and down in price enough so that they are good choices for many. A colorimeter is a hardware device that will allow you to calibrate and profile your monitor so that the white point and every color points along the spectrum is consistently and dependably adjusted to be where it should be. These can be purchased from a number of reputable vendors.

The procedure is similar with most modern colorimeters:

  1. Install the software
  2. Plug the colorimeter into a USB port on your computer
  3. Launch the software and run through the procedures given.
  4. Place the colorimeter on the surface of the monitor.
  5. The software presents colored patches for the colorimeter to read. It compares the colors given to the measurements received at the colorimeter.
  6. The video card in the computer is changed to produce the desired colors on the monitor.
  7. An ICC profile is created which the computer operating system and image manipulating applications (like Photoshop) can use to properly represent color to the viewer.

Often times adjusting the monitor in this way is what's needed to bring the monitor in line with the printer. If you're still not there yet, read on...

The Printer

Your inkjet printer will print colors differently than will your neighbor's printer - just as your toaster will toast bread differently than your neighbor's toaster. An ICC color printer profile will characterize how a printer handles color, and makes it possible for color input from all different situations to be handled intelligently when it gets printed.

An inkjet printer (Epson, HP, Canon) comes with a driver - a piece of software that tells the computer how to print to the printer. This driver will offer many choices between what speed and what quality to use when printing, what paper type - or media - will be used (glossy, matte, watercolor), color adjustments, color profiles and so forth.

"Canned" profiles

Each printer driver comes with ICC color profiles that are specifically designed for the papers that the printer manufacturer sells. For example: An Epson printer will come with profiles like "Epson Premium Luster". These are designed to correctly print color onto this same kind of paper in your printer. If you are printing with Epson Premium Luster paper, then you would choose this profile when you print.

A few problems

Using the manufacturer-supplied profiles might work fine as long as their paper is used. If printing on other paper is desired, there are few profiles supplied for alternate media. Also, there can be minor differences in consistency between different printers even if they are of the same model. So, even with manufacturer-supplied profiles with manufacturer paper a precise color match might not be achievable.

Custom Profiles

Custom profiles are made specifically for one printer, with one ink set, with one paper type (and one lighting condition). These present the highest level of accuracy that can be achieved with printer profiles.

Make them yourself

Software and hardware packages are available whereby users can print up their own profiling targets, measure them and create these custom profiles themselves. These packages usually include software that generates ICC profiles, and a spectrophotometer that is capable of reading reflective measurements. The cost of these packages run from $800 to several thousand dollars depending on quality and extent of features.

Profiling Services

There are internet providers that supply custom printer profiles over the net. There are often cost advantages with using a service provider - especially if the customer only wants a small number of profiles. Many people find that allowing a service provider to do their profiling makes life simpler for them. Finally, it is possible to get a better profile from a competent profiling service than one can make oneself - without investing in several thousand dollars-worth of equipment.

The usual procedure is:

  1. Download instructions and a profiling target image.
  2. Print the profiling target image on your printer, following very specific instructions
  3. Mail the target print into the profiling service.
  4. The service provider measures the target using their spectrophotometric equipment
  5. The service provider uses the target measurement to create the profile, and emails the profile back to the customer.

How to print a profiling target

CHROMiX, the host of this ColorWiki, has a custom profiling service called ColorValet. Follow the link below to view the directions CHROMiX provides for printing a profiling target. Other profiling services are similar.


Important points to keep in mind

Target condition

The printer must be in top working order when printing the target.

Targets must be printed with no color management

As of Photoshop CS5, there is no long an option for "No Color Management" in the Photoshop print dialog window. There are a few ways to handle this. The easiest solution is to download the Adobe Print Utility:

I have a custom ICC printer profile. Now what?

Place it in the following location:


Your ICC printer profile needs to be in the
directory in order for Windows and other applications to use it.


Your ICC printer profile can be placed in one of two locations: If you want system-wide access to the profile (i.e. all users), it belongs in
To find this folder, double-click your hard drive icon, then “Library,” “ColorSync,” and “Profiles.” Drag the profile into this folder.

If you would prefer to make your profiles available only to one user,

enter that user’s home directory (Choose Go > Home in the Finder), then

Library > ColorSync >Profiles

Drag the profile into this folder.

Use the profile to "Soft-Proof"

  1. Open the image in Photoshop
  2. Choose "View: Proof Setup->Custom…"
  3. Profile: Select your new, custom profile
  4. Intent: Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric (See Rendering intents for more information on rendering intents)
  5. Use Black Point Compensation: checked
  6. Simulate: Paper White (unchecked), √ Ink Black (checked)
  7. Leave "Preserve Color Numbers" UNchecked.
  8. Click OK

The monitor will now show what the image will look like when it gets printed. In essence it is showing the image 'through' the printer profile, with all the limitations and color adjustments that the printer and its profile will accomplish.

This "soft proof" should match fairly closely with what gets printed through the same profile.

Use the profile to print

  1. Open the image in Photoshop
  2. Select “File: Print with Preview…”
  3. Check “More Options”
  4. Choose “Color Management” from the popup menu
  5. In the Print field, choose “Document”
  6. In the Options field, choose “Let Photoshop determine colors” under “Color Handling”
  7. Choose your new, custom CHROMiX printer profile
  8. Choose desired Rendering Intent
  9. Black Point Compensation: checked
  10. Click Print
  11. Make sure that color management is still turned off in the printer driver.

Still doesn't match?

Here are some finer points to consider:


This is not really a minor point, but it is one that many overlook easily. An image displayed on a monitor that is balanced to a daylight white point cannot be expected to match a print viewed under normal household lighting conditions.

Look into getting some form of daylight-balanced lighting.

Look here for a discussion on different lighting products and their respective pros and cons.

Editor's note:
More detail on why our eyes see white differently at different brightness levels can be found here:


Your brain is playing tricks on you. We underestimate how easily our eyes can be fooled. The colors in your environment can affect how you perceive what you're looking at. When we are used to looking at a favorite picture and seeing it a certain color, we notice any change and we tend to think that change is "wrong". Consider the possibility that what you have gotten used to is wrong, and now what you are looking at is right for the first time. If you are still thinking that YOUR eyes aren't susceptible to these kinds of illusions, here is an excellent example of an optical illusion.

an excellent example of an optical illusion

Stare at the cross in the center of the image and you will notice what looks like a green ball circling around a series of pink balls. Actually there is no green in this animated GIF. After a while the pink balls seem to disappear, one-by-one. Finally the only thing moving is a green ball. At this point, what you think you "see" is not even there!

There are several websites that demonstrate many different optical illusions concerning color and brightness:

People who are serious about accurate color perception go to the point of painting the walls grey, and wearing gray lab coats over regular clothing - just to view an image in a light booth or on a monitor.

Test image

Use a neutral test image to be sure you are not falling victim to the perception problem mentioned above. A test image with known neutral colors (that read 128, 128, 128 for example in Photoshop) is very useful.

Profiling workflow vs. production workflow

When monitors and printers are not matching, the cause is frequently traced to some change between how the profiling target was printed, and how the regular production work is now being printed with the profile. These two paths ideally should be identical - excepting of course for the fact that while printing the target no color management is used, and during production color management is used in one (and only one) place to convert the image using the profile as it goes to the printer.

Rendering intent mis-match

Are you printing with the same rendering intent that you are using to soft-proof?

Is the color within your device's ability to reproduce?

Due to gamut differences between your image, monitor and printer, colors on the monitor may not be printable (e.g., saturated blues, greens and reds) and colors not visible on the monitor may appear on the print (often cyans).

More help

For an even more detailed description of how to accomplish accurate soft-proofing, see this article from Helios:

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