Soft Proofing

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This reserved article originally appeared in CHROMiX ColorNews Issue 58 on June 24, 2015.

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All right, let's see some hands. How many of you bother to soft-proof your print work?

I have seen industry surveys and observed this question at color management trade shows. A good 50% or more of people involved in color-critical printing do not make use of soft-proofing in their workflow. There are always reasons behind stats like this. I'm sure if you're working in the high volume, consumer end of printing, like a drug store photo lab, there is no need to soft proof since the customer is expected to do this sort of thing ahead of time. But the rest of the world really needs to get on the stick!


Example of a soft-proofing dialog box in Photoshop.

Soft-proofing is the viewing on a display what a printed image will look like ahead of time, so that you can make changes or approve the image before it gets printed. This is an incredibly useful feature that most people have access to, so it is rather mystifying why so many people decide to skip this step.

There are big advantages to making use of this feature. This enables you to:

For many of us, the first view of an image is that which we see when we bring it up on our monitors. Because we are in front of those screens all day, we start to assume that what we see there is WHAT IT IS. (We think it actually represents the totality of that image.) In reality it is helpful to keep in mind that what we see is merely what that monitor can show us of that image. Dedicated readers of the CHROMiX ColorNews will recognize these two color management truisms:

Some of the programs that have the ability to soft-proof are Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Lightroom, Quark. Qimage is a popular program for Windows only. Photoline is one we like that runs on Mac and Windows. Not all apps have the bi-directional soft-proofing capability built in, so check with the publisher to find out for sure. Did you know that ColorThink Pro can be used to soft-proof? Also, accurate soft-proofing is usually limited to RGB or CMYK color modes only. But ColorThink Pro can create ColorCast profiles that can be used in these other programs to soft-proof multi-channel profiles.


Here is the procedure for soft-proofing in Photoshop. Other software will be similar.

  1. Start with a well-calibrated display. See this ColorWiki article for more information.
  2. Go to View > Proof Setup > Custom, to get the Customize Proof Condition dialog.
  3. For Device to Simulate, choose your printer profile,
  4. For Rendering Intent, choose Relative Colorimetric or read here for more information.
  5. Turn on Black Point Compensation (check the box)
  6. For Preserve RGB (or CMYK) Numbers, Simulate Paper Color, and Simulate Black Ink - leave these unchecked.
  7. Turn on Preview (check the box)

What this does is send your image through the same profile that will be used to print the image. The image you see on the monitor is filtered or dumbed-down to the color gamut of your printer. This is important. If you know that different papers give you different printed results, then how can you view an image on your screen and expect it to look like your prints without something in the process that takes your paper into the equation?

It's somewhere around this point where some users say "Ugh! That preview box just makes my image look dull and muddy. Forget it." Actually it is showing you a more accurate preview of what your printer will do to your image. Use it. If you really don't like what you see in the soft-proof, then this is the time to boost the saturation or think about trying a different paper and so forth. It's telling you the hard truth - but you know... truth is a good thing.

If you are printing to a premium luster paper on an inkjet, you may not see a big difference. If your paper is a matte-surfaced media such as a watercolor paper, you can expect to see some desaturation of the image when you check the preview box. Matte papers are not going to be capable of delivering the same color richness as a gloss or semi gloss paper.

Soft-proofing workflow in the ColorThink Pro Worksheet.

Once you see how to arrange a soft-proof viewing setup, It is quite easy to save that setting as a preset so you can get back to it. Create several presets for your favorite papers.

I hope this short article has whetted your interest to try soft-proofing. There is more to be learned than I have time for here. Other checkboxes that we skipped over have their uses for different purposes. It is also possible to go all out and use a service like Remote Director to replace hard proofs with color-accurate online proofs.

Soft-proofing is easy, fast and powerful - and it can save you money and frustration as well. Embrace the truth! Use it and make your life better.

Thanks for reading,

Patrick Herold
CHROMiX Tech Support

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