If you ever visit a forum where the subject is post-processing and/or printing, you will have seen a subject line like “my prints are too dark” many times; alternatively expressed as ‘my print doesn’t match my screen’. So many times in fact, that the experts now will instantly swoop in and point out that it is a calibration issue, you need your paper profiled, you need your monitor calibrated, and the favorite is “most likely you have your monitor set too bright”.
I’ve always felt plagued by this issue. I don’t think that it’s all papers, or all photographs, but it is certainly true with some images in recent years with recent printers and with the paper I wanted to use for my best printing; true enough, that I believed I had this problem, and so always read those forum posts when they came up.
And yet Canson supply a pretty good profile for their papers and my printer, I have made my own custom profiles for my Canson papers and the Epson Glossy (and Matte) papers I use for test prints, and I calibrate my monitor.
Maybe the problem was in the Epson 4800, or the driver for it. So I was disappointed when I got the Epson 4900 last year and saw prints that looked too dark. When shortly afterwards Lightroom 4 came out, clearly here was the opportunity to explore again. But the best I came up with was reducing Color Density. Yes, it made the prints not overly dark, but now they were starting to approach washed out. Oh well, good enough for test prints, so the question was put aside again.
And then this week, I was out taking photos of the flowers in the back garden; I thought it would be nice to see prints of a couple, and was blown away by just how dark they were. A line had been crossed; it was time to solve this once and for all. Lightroom 4 has a new option in the print panels, Brightness; it is seemingly undocumented, and there is no indication of what might happen for different values. What did I have to lose?! I pushed it up a little, and the print came out better. I pushed it up a lot, and it came out even better, but maybe we were getting into washed-out territory again.
I don’t know why, but I was staring at the Epson 4900 printer driver dialog, in the Advanced settings, again, and I suddenly thought, maybe this is where the problem is, and I increased the Paper Thickness (from 3 to 4) and at the same time changed the Platen Gap from Auto to Wider. Now this was good. I decreased the Lightroom Brightness, and the print actually got better. The funny thing is, I printed this photograph from Chicago a few weeks ago, with the default settings, and it looked just fine. I printed it again with my new settings, and it looked just the same. Changing the Paper Thickness and/or the Platen Gap (possibly the Platen Gap could have stayed as Auto, since it is likely related to the Paper Thickness) had stopped the darker parts of my images printing too dark, while leaving the brighter parts printing just fine. This must all be documented somewhere, and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering how come I didn’t know. But I didn’t (and I’ve checked the 4900 manual), and it’s still only empirical, but I’m happy now that if someone asks me for a print of an image they’ve seen, I can give them one.