Canson Prints on Epson 3800 desaturated, DUH

If you have arrived here, it may be because you are like me. You own a nice inkjet printer, decided to try some nicer papers on it, and had some issues with the print. In my case, they were desaturated. If you are also like me, you are not a color managemnt guru, and so trying to figure out what is wrong, can be frustrating, at best. If you want to get a head start, go ahead and walk over to your printer and look at it. Really look at it. Do you see the printer model number?

SIDEBAR: I am a software engineer by trade. I live day to day with  hardware and multiple levels of software that all interact. Very often things go wrong, and in trying to figure out what the issue is, you end up going down these winding trails of code, doing research, trying this, trying that, and then repeating the entire process until you finally find the mistake in the code or the disconnect between two pieces of software. So that is how I typically approach any issues I run into at home. Usually it helps. In this particular case it didn’t, as you will see.

So, I was up late one night trying to print something from Photoshop on this new Canson Rag Photographique paper I had purchased. It came out of the printer and looked like garbage. The colors were barely visible, the image was totally flat. Frustrated, I tried again, this time double checking my steps in Photoshop. I had the exact same result. Ok, back to the beginning of the process.

So if you are here expecting a lesson in color managment, you came to the wrong place. As I mentioned earlier, I am no guru by any stretch of the imagination. You will have to do more reading online or in books, or take a class to learn how to really do it correctly. There are tons of folks, much better equipped than I , to help you get your color management workflow house in order. If you are really a newbie to all this, in a nutshell, color management is a series of steps that you take to get your image input (to the computer), image manipulation software, and output (printer or screen) to agree on colors. The end result being that the image you scanned, or the photo you took, or the drawing you made, can be shown onscreen or printed out, and it will look like the original and/or what you see on your monitor after perhaps some work you have performed in a photo editor, like Photoshop. That is, the image will be output in the same colors, in the same saturation, with the same vibrance etc. In general, the steps boil down to something along these lines:

  • Make sure your monitor is calibrated. Hardware calibration is best, and the professionals take their monitors and their calibration very seriously.
  • Buy good paper. There are tons of sites/forums where folks will give you their opinions on good paper. I typically use Epson- it works great with my printer, and for my humble needs it was always fine. But I went to a demo on the Canson paper and decided to take advantage of the special they had, and bought some to try.
  • Download and install the matching ICC profile for both the paper you are using and your printer. If you buy good paper, the paper manufacturer’s web site will have the matching ICCs for the paper and for the specific model of printer that you own.
  • If you don’t use Photoshop, I don’t know what the next few steps are, but if you do here is what you do. In Photoshop, when you choose print, in the print dialog, make sure you open the printer preferences, and turn off color management. This differs with each printer, but usually there is something along the lines of an ICM or Color Management setting with an off value. This is so that the printer and Photoshop are not fighting over color management. Make sure that the paper type setting matches the setting that the paper manufacturer suggested that you use for their paper. Usually this is described in the directions for using their ICC profiles. Generally, this will help the printer determine whether to use Matte or Photo ink, gloss optimizer, manual feed for the paper, etc. It is different from the actual ICC profile which is targeted at the color management piece of the printing process.
  • Use the setting in Photoshop on the print panel that says Photoshop will manage colors. Click the selection setting for profile, and make sure that you choose the ICC profile that matches the paper that you are printing on. This was the file you downloaded and installed earlier.
  • Now print. If you did everything correctly, your print will pretty much match what you see on screen.

Mine didn’t. So I did what I always do when I run into a problem. I hit my books and/or the Internet to see where I went wrong. They all were saying the same things, for the most part. Calibrate your monitor, use the ICC profiles, have Photoshop manage the colors etc. I ran across a couple of articles which indicated that, in some cases, having the printer manage the colors seemed to work better, so I tried that.  It is pretty similar to the previous steps, but instead you choose the setting in Photoshop to let the printer handle the colors, and in the printer preferences, instead of setting ICM to off, you choose the ICC profile there for the paper you are using.

That didn’t work either. So, by now I am really frustrated. I think, OK I calibrated my monitor in the day, and haven’t recalibrated when the calibration software warned me to. So I recalibrated. Still the same result. Arrgh. Now I am thinking maybe my monitor is bad. But, by now it is waaaaaay late at night, and I realize I am just spinning in circles here, and I should try again in the morning.

I wake up, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, and try again. Same thing.


Somewhere around the 4th attempt, I happened to notice the printer model on the printer itself. It is a 3880. Are you kidding me?! I was using an ICC profile for a 3800. Sure enough, when I downloaded the correct profile for the ACTUAL model of printer I own, it worked perfectly! So, for those of you who are having a brain cramp, are sleep deprived, are having a senior moment, and/or for whatever other reason are just being a dumbass at that moment, I am adding an initial step in your color management process. I am sure you can guess what it is by now:

  • Go ahead and walk over to your printer and look at it. Really look at it. Do you see the printer model number?

Hopefully, this will save you some time, if you are dorking out like I was the other day. I am glad the tech police were not around, because they might have decided I didn’t deserve the nice printer I own ;-).

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