Customize your Color: 20 Minutes to Better Prints with Spyder3 Print SR

Customize your Color: 20 Minutes to Better Prints with Spyder3 Print SR

[amazon B002N2Z332 full]For many years I've struggled with a good way to review printer profiling solutions. Fully featured solutions cost thousands of dollars so they were always hard to recommend and lower cost solutions required so much time, effort and tweaking that they were only suitable for truly hard-core users...

Easier Profiling

But all that has changed with Datacolor's Spyder3 Print SR (a component of ). The SR stands for Strip Reader, one of the many innovations in the product update. The combination of the strip reader and their new "EZ" target make it possible to generate a profile in only a few minutes (once I'd done a couple I could perform the whole process in about 10 minutes including printing, measuring and profile generation). Very cool.


[img_assist|nid=326|title=Datacolor EZ Target|desc=|link=popup|align=left|width=640|height=473]

The EZ target (printed with nice large sample areas on two pages)
and the easy to evaluate measurement validation page are keys to making Spyder3 Print work.

But profiles are only useful if they actually improve your prints. The biggest reason most people consider profiling their printer (more accurately each profile is for a specific combination of printer and paper) is that there is no profile for the combination of printer, paper, and inks they are using. That is much less common than it used to be as both printer and paper manufacturers are now providing many more profiles than they used to, but it is still frequent for anyone who experiments with new papers or different combinations of papers and inks. In my case for example I get a better paper for less money on my Epson printers by purchasing micro-ceramic Luster from instead of using the "brand name" Epson paper. But to get the best results I need to generate a custom profile for the paper instead of using the stock Epson profile for its paper. And with my new Epson 4880 the only profiles available for art paper assume that you're willing to switch to matte black, so when I want to keep my photo black cartridge in the printer I need to use a custom profile.

With most profiling packages I've used over the years (costing from $99 to $5999) improvements were hit or miss. Errors in the measuring process coupled with flaws in the profile generation--or the need for too much tweaking of the final profile--meant that the process was fraught with peril. Previous versions of Spyder3 Print generated useable profiles once you had accurate targets but the lack of the strip reader made it time consuming to generate accurate measurement files.With the new strip reader and EZ target Spyder3 Print SR made measuring a relative breeze.

Most of the other profiling packages I've used have also been quite arcane--with interfaces requiring a substantial knowledge of color management just to get started, but Spyder3 Print SR really does a good job of providing online help for each step of the process so you know what to tweak and when. Better yet the defaults provided by the step by step wizard produce excellent profiles.

[img_assist|nid=327|title=Spyder3 Print Help System|desc=|link=popup|align=left|width=640|height=631]
Spyder3 Print SR (part of Spyder3 Studio SR) has a great online help system

Better Prints

What impressed me most about Spyder3 Print is that all the profiles I generated improved my results. After some initial excitement generating a profile for my favorite paper on my new Epson 4880 I was on a roll. I profiled the Duo Bright Matte that I use on my dye printer for art cards, Epson Canvas on my Epson 4000 (which has quickly been assigned to be my 'permanent' canvas printer with a roll always loaded), Epson Glossy on the 4880 (which showed definite improvements over the Epson default profile), and Hahnemuhle German Etching on the 4880 with photo black ink (so I don't need to switch ink cartridges every time I print on it).

In every case my results improved. I found better color contrast and richer mid-tones among other improvements. Then for the acid test I built a custom profile for ImagePrint 8 and the Inkjetart paper (there is no canned profile for the combination I wanted). RIPs are a very different beast from standard print drivers so I'm wasn't expecting miracles. I was pleasantly surprised when the software generated an excellent profile for the combination (to profile a RIP you need to manually print the target from the RIP itself with color management turned off. It takes a little work but in this case was well worth it.) I'll be writing more about Imageprint 8 shortly but in short it is also a very solid upgrade to Imageprint 7.

Profiling Secret -- Patience

Once you have a reasonable printer and a good profiling package the biggest requirement for generating quality profiles is a patient and methodical approach to the process. In particular it is important that you get your media & color settings accurate before starting (Spyder3Print helps you verify this). Color management has to be off in the print driver when you print the target and your media type needs to match your paper. Next you need to carefully review your measurements as you read the target. Spyder3 Print helps you both by re-calibrating the included Spectro to white each time and then providing an excellent user interface which allows you to see the target color and your measured color at the same time. David Tobie, Datacolor's product manager and color guru provided me with the excellent tip of flipping back and forth between the measured and target colors and looking for squares that change dramatically. Those are likely to be mis-measured and will hurt any profiles you generate until you re-measure them correctly.

Tweaking your Profiles

I've always been apprehensive about profile editors. They are something of a necessary evil. After all, isn't the whole point of having an automatically measured and electronically generated profile for a device supposed to be to obsolete the old fashioned peering and squinting of humans? Well, as anyone experienced in color management can tell you, it doesn't. But fine-tuning a profile is typically a tricky business, involving a lot of trial and error plus wasted time, ink and paper.

Datacolor has taken a tremendous step forward here, by providing Spyder3 Print with the easiest and more important quickest profile editing system I've ever used.

Sample Images

As an important first step they have provided a library of sample images arranged in a grid. Unlike the typical single image sample provided by earlier versions and other software you can zoom in on any of the images, both color and black and white, and flip back and forth between the monitor view and a soft proof of the image using each of the rendering intents.

Easy Editor Controls

Next they have a well laid out pair of screens of adjustment sliders. The basic screen provides some simple color balance and white and black point setting tools while the advanced screen allows you to independently adjust the shadows and highlights. For example, when I printed a black and white image through the baseline profile the large "white" background area (which was actually 238, 238, 238 in Photoshop) printed a sort of pink. By zeroing out the "b" channel in the white point of the profile I quickly corrected that. Rather than over-write my baseline profile I kept it as I liked those settings better for vivid color images and portraits and quickly generated a new one for use with my black and whites.

[img_assist|nid=329|title=Bi_BkSKte_1049.jpg|desc=Kites in the fog printed out better after tweaking my printer profile|link=popup|align=center|width=426|height=640]
This image of Kites wrestling in the fog printed out perfectly after
I tweaked my printer profile to have a truely 'gray' white and black point.

Spyder3 Studio SR -- All in One Studio Color at a Value Price

[amazon B002N2Z332 full]

If you need a solution for print profiling and monitor profiling there is no better value on the market than Spyder3 Studio SR. You get (my favorite monitor profiling tool) plus , which includes the handy strip reader to help you zip through the measurement process and they throw in a Spyder Cube, which is a great way to calibrate your raw images. And they put it all in a nice metal box (I'm not sure I need any more boxes in my Studio, but it is a handy way to store your various profiling devices). is. B&H carries .

Let Us Hear From You

If you have comments on this review or questions about Spyder3 Print or just about color management please let us hear from you either by posting a comment on this article or by posting in our on