14 common printing mistakes and how to fix them

Creating photo prints can be rewarding but small errors can ruin the results, costing time and money. Here's how to get it right the first time.
A PIXMA PRO-200 printer beneath four framed images hanging on the wall behind it.

Printer specialists Jay Sinclair and Suhaib Hussain bring you 14 tips to ensure your photo prints look exactly as you expect.

In computing, the term 'what you see is what you get' was coined to denote that what you see on a computer screen is what you get on paper at the printing stage. That's pretty much a given these days for printing text documents, but photographic images can lose more than a little in the translation.

The good news is that current Canon printers make it simple to produce fabulous looking prints that last a lifetime. Printer specialist Jay Sinclair, along with Canon Europe Product Marketing Lead for Print, Suhaib Hussain, are on hand to show you how to avoid common pitfalls and ensure optimum quality.

1. Uncalibrated monitor and screen brightness

To get your prints looking exactly like you want them to, it's essential to calibrate your monitor. This ensures that colours and tones are displayed accurately and consistently, so that the prints you produce match what you see on your screen. "Some high-end monitors offer a self-calibration feature, but most need to be adjusted to the correct settings using a monitor calibration tool," says Jay.

"When you buy a screen, the brightness will usually be set very high, and it's common for people to have their screens too bright for printing purposes," he elaborates. "Reducing your screen luminosity will help to get your brightness to the right levels, but you still need to calibrate the screen to get the colours right."

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 A man points to a computer monitor which is displaying a colour profile chart.

To ensure that your prints match what you see on your screen, the first step is to verify that your screen itself is displaying colours accurately, and that means calibrating it. This needn't be a lengthy or complicated process – invest in a reputable monitor calibration tool and its utility software can walk you through everything painlessly.

A man stands in front of a screen giving a presentation on printing.

Some photographic papers appear more yellow and some more blue in colour even before any ink hits the paper, so it's vital to select the correct ICC profile for the paper you're using. This adjusts the print settings to suit the characteristics of the paper, including its reflectivity and absorbency as well as its white point.

2. Selecting incorrect paper profiles

An ICC (International Color Consortium) profile contains information that allows a printer to reproduce accurate colours on a specific type of paper, so it's important to select the correct ICC profile when making a print. "An ICC profile basically tells the printer what type of paper you're putting into it, what type of ink it needs to have, and how much ink on paper you need to create your photo," says Jay.

"If you don't select the correct ICC profile, the image can come out looking completely different. You could calibrate your screen and do everything else right but if you select the wrong profile, your image is not going to print the way you want it to."

3. Forgetting to soft proof your images

Soft proofing your images with Canon's free Professional Print & Layout (PPL) or Print Studio Pro (PSP) plug-ins means viewing a simulation of what your image will look like when it's printed on paper. "If you don't soft proof, there's a chance your images will come out flat when you're printing on fine art and matte papers," Jay says.

"Also, the programs' gamut warning will alert you if the printer is not capable of rendering a colour you've asked for. Basically, soft proofing is making sure you're profiling the paper exactly for the print, and you're seeing how it's going to come out before you print out an image."

A close-up of the display on a Canon imagePROGRAF printer showing the ink levels.

It seems obvious, but it's worth checking that your printer isn't low on ink. You might think it won't need a given colour for a given image, but all print colours are created by mixing different colours of ink on the paper, and perfect colour accuracy might depend on a subtle hint of exactly the colour it has run out of.

A selection of Canon pro photo papers, including Premium Matte, Pro Platinum and Fine Art Smooth.

Printing on different types of paper will require different quantities and even different types of inks. Your printer will use Photo Black ink, for example, when printing on glossy or satin photo paper, or on some fine-art media such as Baryta paper, but will require Matte Black inks for cotton fine-art paper and most matte-finish papers, which have completely different absorption qualities.

4. Choosing the inappropriate Rendering Intent

Printers are not capable of producing quite as wide a range of colours as your camera has captured. Within a colour-managed workflow, you can use the Rendering Intent setting in the Print dialogue to tell the printer how to deal with colours that fall outside its printable range or colour gamut.

The Perceptual setting aims to preserve the overall visual impression of colours in an image. It will map out-of-gamut or clipped colours to the closest-match printable colours, then adjust the other colours to preserve the relationship between them.

The Relative Colorimetric setting maps out-of-gamut colours to the printer's nearest reproducible colours, but doesn't alter in-gamut colours. "You may get slightly less saturated colours, but brightness values will be most stable with this rendering intent," says Jay. "This makes it the ideal choice for near-neutral and black and white images."

A man looks at two versions of the same image on-screen as part of the process of soft proofing.

Soft proofing shows you an on-screen simulation of your print, which you can then compare with your original and adjust as desired. It can't be foolproof because colour on-screen is produced by mixing light of different colours, which is additive (full intensity of all colours produces white), while colour on paper is produced by mixing inks of different colours, which is subtractive (full intensity of all colours produces an ever denser, deeper super black). However, with a calibrated screen and the correct print settings (including ink and paper type), a soft proof will be a useful guide and help you avoid wasting valuable ink and paper on numerous test prints.

5. Issues with competing software

To get the best possible output quality on Canon's imagePROGRAF PRO Series printers, you should use Canon's PSP or PPL plug-ins. "These programs were designed by Canon to make the printing process easier," says Jay. "They provide the tools to do all your colour management, whether it's hard proofing or soft proofing.

"Printing in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop can lead to problems. It's not an issue with those programs themselves, but an issue with them competing with the printer driver to manage the colours. Both try to manage the colours at the same time and add their own colour processing. Because both PSP and PPL were designed by Canon for Canon printers, you'll avoid that issue, so it simplifies the whole process." Furthermore: "For optimum quality and fidelity when printing from a Mac, it's important to use the Canon printer driver to select print and paper properties, rather than relying on Apple AirPrint," Suhaib adds.

 A woman holds a printout while standing behind a box of genuine Canon inks.

It is important to remember that while you may be buying independently manufactured inks to save on costs, you are compromising on the quality of your prints. Non-genuine inks can block nozzles in the print heads, resulting in more harm done than good.

6. Using non-genuine inks

Buying independently manufactured inks can seem an attractive money-saving option, but Suhaib doesn't recommend it. "Genuine Canon LUCIA PRO inks are formulated to the highest standards to ensure accuracy and consistency in terms of tone and colour rendition, as well as delivering excellent archival qualities, so you can be sure prints will last a lifetime," he says. "They also have an ensured level of purity, helping to avoid the risk of blocked nozzles in the print heads. All these aspects can be severely compromised when using non-genuine inks."

7. Being careless with photo paper

Natural oils on the skin can contaminate the surface of photo paper and fine art media, so it's best to avoid touching the printable surface when handling the paper before printing. Suhaib says it's also important to consider drying time after printing. "When creating photo prints on glossy or lustre paper using dye-based inks, the ink is quickly absorbed beneath a protective outer layer and the print is touch-dry pretty much as soon as it leaves the printer. Even so, it's best not to touch the surface for a while so it can fully dry.

"Pigment-based inks take much longer to dry on any type of photo paper or fine art media, so it's important not to touch the surface for a quite a while to avoid any risk of smudging. If mounting photo prints in an album or behind glass, it's best to leave them overnight beforehand to dry completely."

A person examining a series of image thumbnails created with the Pattern Print option in Canon's Professional Print & Layout plug-in.

Canon's plug-ins, when used with its printers, can enhance print quality and make for a more fulfilling experience. Hard proofing using the Pattern Print option in PPL is an effective tool as it shows you several previews of what the print will look like. You can then choose exactly the look you want.

8. Not hard proofing

As well as soft-proofing options, Suhaib recommends hard proofing with the Pattern Print option in PPL. "You can use this to create a variety of small-sized different versions of your image on the media that you're going to use for the final print, each with subtly different tonal treatment and colour rendition. You can then choose your favourite option when creating the final print. It works particularly well for getting exactly the right look and feel for both colour photos with subtle hues and for high contrast black and white prints, especially when using fine art papers."

9. Printing for the wrong lighting conditions

Something people often don't think about is the environment in which the print will be displayed. "Consider whether your print will be displayed under natural daylight or artificial light, which will have a relatively cool or warm colour temperature respectively," Suhaib says. "If you're creating large-format prints, it's useful to create small hard proofs first, so you can check them under the relevant lighting source to ensure you're happy with the results. It can be particularly important when colour accuracy is critical, for genres including portraiture, landscape, wildlife, and fashion photography."

A man holds a black and white photo print in his hand. A Canon printer and camera are on the desk beside him.

Make the most of your printer's colouring capabilities to avoid colour casting when printing monochromatic images. Sometimes it can be beneficial to use colour inks when creating black and white photos, to add subtle tint. When you're keen to avoid any colour cast whatsoever, it can be better to switch to the printer's 'Greyscale' mode, using the printer driver's dialog box. High-end Canon printers such as the PIXMA PRO-200 and imagePROGRAF PRO-300 have multiple black and grey ink cartridges to enhance the fidelity of mono photo prints.

10. Missing the mark in mono

Computer monitors and other display screens struggle to accurately display really deep blacks, whereas printers such as the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 and PRO-1000 are class leaders in this respect. "This is especially true when using fine art papers such as Canon Fine Art Smooth and Fine Art Rough media," says Suhaib. "Don't rely on soft-proofing when printing dramatic black and white images, but create some small test prints on your chosen media so you can see what the final result will really look like."

A jaguar is photographed walking alongside water with rainforest flora behind.

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Discover how nature photographer Thorsten Milse brought wildlife pictures for the WWF to life in the exhibition Survivor using the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 large-format printer.

11. Over-sharpening your images

Suhaib recommends being wary of aggressive levels of 'unsharp mask' and other sharpening tools. "These tools can make your images look really crisp on screen. However, printing them enables much greater resolution and brings fine detail and texture to the fore, without the need for aggressive sharpening," he explains. "Over-sharpening your images can have an adverse effect on image quality, as well as introducing unwanted levels of image noise in areas such as skies, water and smooth surfaces. I'd also say that printing your photos helps you to critique them, and that printing can make you a better photographer."

A pair of hands holds a borderless print of an apple dipped in white paint alongside two other prints of the same image and a Canon PIXMA printer.

Often used for various sizes of photo print, the borderless option enables printing right up to the edges of the paper, so there's no white border.

12. Having unwanted borders

In the past, you'd need to have a white border for photo prints created on matte paper and fine art media. "Borderless printing was only an option for glossy or lustre photo papers," says Suhaib. "However, some of Canon's latest printers, including the PIXMA PRO-200 and imagePROGRAF PRO-300, feature ultra-precise paper transport systems that enable borderless printing on matte photo paper and fine art media, so you only have to have white borders if you really want them."

A Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 printing out an image of a mountain with a body of water in front of it.

It's vital to ensure that the paper is fed straight-on into the printer, as skewing can degrade print quality and be very noticeable when creating borderless output. It's therefore important to always adjust the paper guides on the input tray, lining them up with the edge of the paper. Some of Canon's latest printers including the PIXMA PRO-200 and imagePROGRAF PRO-300 (pictured) include additional anti-skew mechanisms to enhance accuracy through the paper transport system. This is one of the factors that enables them to produce borderless prints on matte photo paper and fine art media.

13. Settling for second-best accuracy

Inkjet printing is a very exact science and an incredibly high-precision process. Suhaib recommends running the printer's Print Head Alignment utility from the printer driver to ensure utmost accuracy. "Do this when you first set up a new printer, and again if you transport it from one place to another. It's a good idea to repeat the process every few months, even if the printer doesn't get moved."

A hand changing the print head in a Canon printer.

"Canon's FINE print heads are particularly resistant to getting blocked, as the technology can automatically detect blocked nozzles and switch to adjacent ones if necessary," explains Suhaib.

14. Not running a nozzle check

Even with Canon's print heads being resistant to blockage, Suhaib emphasises that it is worthwhile to run the Nozzle Check. "It's a good idea to run the Nozzle Check utility from the printer driver once in a while, especially if you're creating large-format prints that are relatively expensive to produce. If you see any faint lines in the Nozzle Check test print, run the Cleaning utility and then re-run the Nozzle Check," says Suhaib.

Adobe, Lightroom and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

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