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Lab Prints too dark for the 2nd time! Newbie, please help!

Kristy Cannon , Jan 28, 2008; 01:38 a.m.

Hello, I am a newbie trying to get my photos to match their printing output but they keep coming out too dark (or dim, they don't "pop," are dull- take your pick). So please hang in there with me...

Here's the problem: I am working with a very well respective print lab (suggested by the members of PN). It is obvious that their quality of prints is outstanding by the first set of test proofs I received from them, but they appeared too dark. After discussing this with them, I calibrated my monitor and received a 2nd set of proofs...and guess what? The proofs still look too dark (and now we're going for a third set as we speak, hence this post). What am I doing wrong here? I'm slighly frustrated and in need of the expertise in this forum!

The details: My camera is set to Adobe RGB; I am working in PSCS3 with Adobe RGB 1998; the lab will print to Adobe RGB 1998; I have downloaded/installed all of the lab's ICC profiles for soft proofing; and I've borrowed a friend's eye one display for monitor calibration.

Now, I'm recalibrating my monitor for a second time with the following suggested settings: White point 6500K Gamma 2.2 Luminance 130cd/m2

My questions are these:

1) When I view my photo image in PS, the color looks fairly saturated (enough to pop but not overdone according to the histogram), but by no means dark. Yet when I view the proof from the lab's soft-proofing ICC profile, the image instantly lightens. (That's right it LIGHTENS, but when I get the test proofs back they are always DARKER than what my monitor shows, even when viewed in Adobe 1998!) Why is this?

After the 2nd set of test proofs came back, the lab suggested that I research what my luminance level was due to the fact that I was using a flat panel monitor (a Dell 1908FP). They suggested that "some people have difficulties with brightness levels when using a flat screen monitor and the output of their prints," and so, I should reduce the gamma level from 2.2 to 1.8.

So I did that, and recalibrated my monitor again. I found out that the luminance level was at 140cd/m2, so I adjusted it back to 132 (which was the closest I could get it to 130) and set the gamma to 1.8. I again looked at my photo, and viewed the soft proofing profile for the type of paper/printer combo I want them to use. The image looks even brighter than before.

2)How am I supposed to "guess" at what the level the brightness is going to be (on the print) when I'm editing my files? I thought the whole reason why we calibrate our monitors was to be able to "see" what we are getting and get as close as possible on the printer output when all is said and done.

3)Then the brightness and contrast levels went from 51 & 54 to 45 & 96 (respectively) just by adjusting the luminance and the gamma levels(to 132 and 1.8). Does this sound right? Like I said, I'm new to this part of photography and I'm trying to get all this down, but at the moment I'm terribly confused about their relationship to each other in order to produce a decent print!

4)And finally, whenever I recalibrate my monitor using the eye-one, does it calibrate the monitor off the previous calibration setting or should I be recalibrating off a default setting?

I'd appreciate any feedback. I have read through the forum at some different threads but I haven't seen any pertaining to this. So any help would be appreciated!

Thanks, Kristy :)


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Roger Smith , Jan 28, 2008; 02:05 a.m.

I'd keep the gamma at 2.2 and try to knock the monitor brightness down as far as the calibration software will let you. I use an Eye-One as well and used it on a LCD at work.

I'd also send them a 21 step greyscale patch (do a search) and have them print it. Hold it up next to your monitor to see how it differs (and if you only plan to print there, readjust your monitor to match it).

Jeffrey Prokopowicz , Jan 28, 2008; 02:47 a.m.

You have to calibrate brightness for your room lighting, with gamma set to 2.2, as Roger said.

Michael Hendrickson , Jan 28, 2008; 02:56 a.m.

Before anything else, double-check and make absolutely sure you are soft-proofing using the profile for the paper you're ordering the prints on!

I like the idea above, to send them a grey scale and have them reproduce it. They're the ones who sent you their profiles; if you're monitor is correctly calibrated and you soft proof with their profile, it should match.

However, one other thought: I also agree that you should see if you can reduce your screen brightness, but bring it down to maybe 100-110 rather than 130 (I assume you're using an LCD display). When I was using one awhile back, I did that and got successful matches on my printer once I did so, using the paper manufacturer's profiles for the paper and my printer.

You might also ask for the manufacturer's profile for the paper you're printing on, and ask the lab to try printing using that profile.

If all else fails, try sending the lab files that have been converted over to sRGB -- again, use their profile for soft proofing.

All that aside, I think maybe there's a lot to be said for photographers owning and using their own printers!

But, in any event, I feel for ya and wish you the best of luck!

Ray - , Jan 28, 2008; 04:49 a.m.

Many labs don't have ICC profiles provided to clients or even downloadable including some pro labs.

If you have a calibrated monitor - fantastic.

But you may still be guessing about the printer of the lab.

Ask the lab and show them the prints and ask if they have a ICC and if not they may tell you to say "this" and they adjust them for you or maybe you can send prints at diff brightness to the lab and get them all back and see which one you like best and them sorta mindmap that one so in the future just raise the brightness.

Alternatively use a lab with ICC files or get own printer.

Les Berkley , Jan 28, 2008; 09:43 a.m.


She already has a profile from her lab which she uses for soft proof. If her colors are spot on, I would suggest that she have one more try with her lab, and then find a good 'fudge factor', dial it in, and live happily ever after.

Kristy Cannon , Jan 28, 2008; 02:09 p.m.

Thanks you guys!

Ok, Roger, I did see an online automated geyscale patch test at drycreek and I remember that on my LCD monitor I couldn't tell a difference in the first four geyscale steps and couldn't see a really significant difference until about step 8-9. So, I will look back into that more and see if the lab can print it.

Jeffrey, this eye-one is just the eye-one display (which I think has been discontinued) so I don't think this model calibrates for the ambient light in the room. Which brings me to another quick question: This may sound silly, but if I am looking at my monitor which is adjusted for 6500K, should my (ambient) work light (lightbulb) be the same color temp as well for more optimal viewing for photo editing? (I think the current bulb is a standard 5000k bulb,but it's somewhat dim so that my monitor light will standout in the room)...and from looking at the photo differences onscreen, somehow the gamma 2.2 version "looks" better to me.

Michael, trust me, I have double and triple checked on the soft-proofing profile for the particular paper it's being printed on, LOL! But I think I'll recalibrate, using the 2.2 gamma that Roger and Jeff suggested and then pull down the LCD monitor luminance to what you suggested, (I just didn't realize you'd have to pull it down so far) and have them print a greyscale.

And Ray, Les is correct. This is a pro lab and they have provided me with their ICC profiles for soft-proofing(many choices of paper and printer combos...which is cool! Variety is the spice of life!LOL).

And after this next set of proofs, and the color stays spot on, (it was just this brightness factor), then I may ultimately have to get tweaked in with that "fudge factor" Les suggested because I really do like their service and the quality of prints from this lab. They have been awesome to me so far and if I can get this issue straightened out, they'll have my business.

Thanks to all you guys who wrote back so promptly, I'll give it a go and let this thread know how it turns out. Have an awesome day! Kristy :)

Jeffrey Prokopowicz , Jan 28, 2008; 04:04 p.m.

Kristy, I'm not familiar with the Eye-One Display. I use an outdated Monaco Optix XR Pro which generally calibrates the monitor's brightness and fine tunes it to my room's lighting condition. The general brightness calibration is way brighter than when it's fine-tuned for my room's lighting, like 75% down to 50%. If it didn't calibrate for the room's lighting, what I was seeing on the screen would be way brighter than what I would get from my printer, or even if I sent my prints to a lab, the prints would come back darker than what I was seeing.

I believe, as far as brightness calibration is concerned, the amount of ambient light is more crucial than the temperature of the light.

Roger Smith , Jan 28, 2008; 04:56 p.m.

I use an Eye-One display myself. The ambient light feature of newer devices probably doesn't do much of anything- or at least that's what Andrew Rodney posted elsewhere.

Keep glare off the screen so you can see the full contrast, and other than that you should be fine.

You can download 21 step grayscale files here: http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/Test-files.htm

Kristy Cannon , Jan 28, 2008; 07:32 p.m.

Back again with an update!

I looked into the 21 step greyscale patch test and the most recent link (thank you Roger), and I recalibrated (using the eye-one display) to a 6500K white point; a gamma level of 2.2; and a luminance level of 110 (per Michael's suggestion). I also saw an earlier thread from the forum by Elliot N. which suggested this (instead of just using a single jpg picture to show all of the 21 steps together), which I also tried out:

Elliot N. suggested: "A 21 step grayscale is too coarse to judge the quality of your calibration.


Create a full screen black document in Photoshop.

Make a square inch selection in the middle. Hide the selection outline.

Hit the tab key to hide the palettes.

Create a curves adjustment layer.

Select the shadow point and use the cursor keys to adjust from 0 to 1 to 2 etc.

Do this in a darkened room.

You should be able to (just) make out your selection at 1, and then see it get progressively lighter as you click on the up arrow key.

Do the same with a white document, reducing the brightness of your selection from 255, to 254 to 253 etc."

My question about this whole greystep test is- Am I supposed to be able to see a gradual color change (in lightness or darkness- maybe density is a better word to use here)upon adminstering this greyscale patch test?

And if so, does this mean (if I can make out all the 21 steps-which I can) that the monitor is now sufficiently calibrated? Is this correct thinking?

This stuff can all be so confusing to the newcomer--but I'm definitely trying to hang in there and a certainly APPRECIATE you guys hanging in there with me!

Thanks again! Kristy :)

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