Book Design and Imaging

Is soft proofing necessary?

Hi folks,

We’re seeing a lot of questions from people wondering if they should use a color profile and soft proof their images. While we link to color profiles and talk about color management at high levels, we’re assuming that most people who soft proof have hardware-calibrated their monitors and know how to install and use profiles.

While we don’t want to discourage anyone from getting the most out of our services, we also don’t want to lead them down a path that might not be for them. Who better to help someone figure out whether or not to soft proof their images for Blurb books than our community?

So, everyone, please let us know:
• Do you soft proof? Why/why not?
• Would you recommend soft proofing for the casual Blurb user?
• What else would a newbie to color management need to know before they decided if soft proofing was necessary or even right for them?

Looking forward to a healthy discussion!

– Kathy

Replytopic_b_normal
Posted by
kathybad
Jun 26, 2009 12:11pm PDT
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kathybad
 

Hello Kathy,

I am very happy that you bring this up and create a new forum specifically for this.

Before soft proof and/or edit photo in Adobe Photoshop or other image editing software, it would be wise to have monitor calibrated properly. I also recognize that not everyone has the access to or own a hardware calibration. In my case, I have X-Rite ColorMunki Photo and use it for this monitor with Mac Pro. I also have X-Rite ColorMunki Create for my laptop computer, Mac Book Pro 17".

Some might wonder why I have two ColorMunki Create for my laptop computer  and ColorMunki Photo for Mac Pro. Well, I travel frequently and abroad. I take my Nikon dSLR camera and laptop computer with me on my trip. Because I move around a lot with laptop, the light reflection change, so it put a lot of impact on how photos are perpecived in different lighting condition in hotel or Starbucks Coffee, etc. As day and time go in few hours, light change as sun move from east to west, it impact on light reflection on laptop. I know it might sounds strange for some people here. But I notice it.

So, my imaging workflow, including softproof, it is best to do this on my Mac Pro at home for consistency of smooth imaging workflow.

As for ColorMunki Photo on monitor with Mac Pro, it is on fixed place, same place all the time. I usually re-calibrate the monitor once a week. Sometimes more in one week, depending on the project I work on.

As you know, color management is very complicated and heavy-headed subject. However, Blurb has wonderful color space called B3 CMYK colorspace, and I find that very useful for my current ‘PDF to Book’  project with Photoshop and InDesign.

With first question, yes, I soft proof. Because I want some of my photos (the ones with most challenging photo in terms of contrast and tone) as how it appeared on published book with Blurb.

As for second question, it is hard to say. For me, I recommend anyone to soft proof. But I think it would be fair to say that it is ideally for someone who have ‘comfort zone’ working with Photoshop, or similar imaging software. Perhaps that Blurb team want to consider to offer a webinar to discuss it further about how to use and work with soft proof and why, and what’s not.

The third question, I can not answer that. Because I have use Photoshop for years. So perhaps someone else from Blurbarian community can answer better than I do. But I can tell you that even creative professional and photographers often found themselve in some situation constantly dealing with color management. Technology in software and hardware constantly change.

So if someone wants to soft proof without having proper calibrated on monitor, the imaging workflow to boomaking workflow and to published book could be done in a wrong way

In closing, I recommend that Blurb team should set up a fundamentals of color management webinar, and fundamentals of calibration workflow webinar.

Once again, Kathy, thank you for creating this topic. I am also very interested to learn about other Blurbarians, whether newbies or pronusmers, want to share and learn.

Brian {a passionately Blurbarian}

Posted by
brianbonitz
Jun 26, 2009 1:31pm PDT
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brianbonitz
 

I realize that I had left out one important tip. Before calibration start on monitor, I usually keep monitor warm up for at least 45 minutes to one hour, so that calibration device on monitor can be calibrated properly.

Thanks, Brian {a passionately Blurbarian}

Posted by
brianbonitz
Jun 26, 2009 1:50pm PDT
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brianbonitz
 

And to balance Brian’s expertise, I’ve done three books of colour photos (about 100 each) with an old CRT monitor well out of calibration and no understanding of "soft-proofing". (Calibration equipment costs more than a monitor here. My old black-only inkjet certainly can’t soft-proof.) Pleased with the results though would expect better if I could do fully. The ability to get just a test page or two by return envelope from blurb would be a great help in such instances.

http://www.blurb.com/user/store/peteshep

P

Posted by
peteshep
Jun 26, 2009 1:58pm PDT
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peteshep
 

Really good thread topic Kathy!

So here’s my two-penneth.

Do you soft proof? Why/why not?

Sometimes!

But it’s the third step in getting a good rendition of your photographs in your Blurb book.

I would put at the top of the list calibrating your monitor. There is absolutely no point in softproofing if your monitor is not showing correct brightness/contrast/colours. Of those three for most people getting the right brightness/contrast is key. The colours would be fairly close if you get those right.

If you are a professional photographer or an enthusiastic amateur (like me) and you do lots of prints, whether in a Blurb book or for framed prints on a wall, you might want to invest in a calibration device such as a Huey or Spyder. But I think for the majority of Blurb users this is not a necessary investment. If you have Adobe Gamma (which used to come free with Adonbe products – you may have it withourt realising, look in Programs Files….Adobe (Windows!) that will do a fairly good job of helping you adjust the brigtness/contrast so you do not get dark or light photographs in your book (or on the wall!). If you do not have that there are a number of web sites that will help you calibrate. Until I retired and my enthusiasm for photography was sparked again, I used this one with good effect.

Second step is to ensure you are working in a good lighting environment. If you have a desk lamp shining on your display, if you have a window right behind you, if you have reflections from wall or ceiling ligts giving highlights on your display you are not going to be able to judge whether the photos are too light, too dark or just right.

O.K. so those two steps are sorted. Now it’s worth considering softproofing!

So why did I say sometimes? My books (and photographs) tend to fall into two broad categories. Family photos and those recording my holidays, and wildlife photos. For the former it is very rare that I softproof, I have found that getting the calibration and lighting conditions right to be perfectly adequate.

For my wildlife photos and books it is really important to me to get the colours as close as possible to those of real life (at least as I remembered them). That is where I find softproofing a great help. If the blue of  Aunty Mary’s cardigan is not quite right who will know or notice, I cerainly won’t, and you can be sure it’ll be pretty close if you have followed the two steps above. If the blue feet of a Galapagos Blue Footed Booby isn’t quite right I’ll get quite upset.

THIS is when I softproof and use the softproofing facilities to check for out-of-gamut (to know when the Blurb printer cannot give an accurate rendition of a particular colour) usually (in my case) vivid greens, though the same problem can arise with the vivid blues of some underwatee photographs. Even then I do not softproof every photo I have come to be able to judge which ones might have problems then I move from using Lightroom for most of my post-processing and open the photos in Photoshop to sofyproof.

• Would you recommend soft proofing for the casual Blurb user?

No! It just adds a complexity to the processing of photos that would take away the fun of producing a book and in most cases with little gain in the quality of the published photos. When I do my "family albums" I’m a casual Blurb user and rarely softproof.

 • What else would a newbie to color management need to know before they decided if soft proofing was necessary or even right for them?

I think I covered most of that under the first question.

The key issue is whether really accurate colour is critical to the success of your book. It’s going to be damn close anyway. Do not get sucked into thinking that softproofing is going to stop you gettig dark photos that you read about in some forum posts. To avoid that you need to (as I said above)....

1. Calibrate your monitor.

2. Get the lighting right in the environment in which you post-process your photos and create your book.

..........Tony

 

Posted by
tfrankland
Jun 26, 2009 2:20pm PDT
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tfrankland
 

Hey Tony,

As for Adobe Gamma to adjust brightness and contrast on Window monitor, as we probably have read some forums discussed about this fairly often. Now that Kathy create this forum related to soft proofing, and the general related to color management. I would think it is ideally a good time to put this discussion into awareness and perspective.

So, to help casual Blurbarians, and perhaps newbies to recognize and become more awareness, some Blurbarians in other forums had mentioned that they ‘manually’ adjust their monitor (LCD) using these buttons on the monitor. In that case, if they did not use Adobe Gamma ultity to perform simple adjustment setting of brightness and contrast, and IF they went ahead using buttons, in terms of physical adjustment with finger pressing on those buttons on monitor… Some might say their LCD monitor seems to look very bright, and they want to change the brightness… and then they realize that the printed book, the images look much darker.

In the case of Macintosh users, there is alternate Adobe Gamma in Mac called “Display” which can be found in System Perference panel. Open Display preference, click on Color button, calibrate. However, do this with extreme cautious. If you are not familar with this procedure, don’t do it. Unless you feel very comfortable to make basic adjustment, proceed with cautious. Some might will notice a little button on bottom and left side of Display Assistant dialgoue box called Expert Mode. This is really for someone who really understand or know what to expect of this color management technique. If you don’t know much in advance mode, again, don’t do it.

Tony, can you say that approach probably a lot better than I could say. Sometimes my English present some challenge for me, and people don’t understand me as what I am trying to say. I don’t want to lead something into misunderstanding or something. But I am sure that you, Tony, know what I am saying about that manually method to adjust monitor’s brightness and contrast—which is not recommend. But can you explain this better than I do?

Now that we know that there are a couple of ways to calibrate monitors, through Windows using Adobe Gamma or Apple Macintosh using Display in system perference – this is done with calibration software (non-hardware approach). With this little known utility inside Window system architecture or Macitosh platform, with Adobe Gamma or Display, it is ideally designed for casual Blurbarians who don’t use physical, hardware device.

The other approach, which is done with hardware approach. Yes, a physcial hardware equipment can be used to calibrate. There are pretty many calibrated devices available in market. The one Tony or I have mentioned above are reasonable priced. In the case of X-Rite ColorMunki Photo is a little expensive. But it serves me well because I use Photoshop a lot, and prints many fine art photos. For wide format huge fine art print out, there are high-end, more specialized calibration devices out there in market. It is not ideally for Blurb community per se. For this type of hardware calibration, perhaps it is ideally suitable and useful tool for pronusmers like myself or other professionals, or can be for some casual Blurbarians. But in this case, this will produce a better consistency of imaging workflow from beginning of photo editing to bookmaking workflow and to printed book.

I think it is important to understand the difference between ‘software’ and ‘hardware’ calibration method, and what they do and what’s not. And what to look for and what to expect of.

But as for ‘manually’ adjustment around monitor’s brightness and contrast in the manual adjustment, don’t do it. It is often going to mess up the output in the end. To remedy this, use Window’s Adobe Gamma or Mac OSX’s system perference: Display. If you are not sure, I am pretty sure that you probably have a nice friend who would show you the rope on how to do this way properly way, so you don’t mess up.

I’d be happy to have Tony (or other Blurbarians, or even someone from Blurb team) help to clarify something or add or make some correction for me, I’d welcome that. however, if for some reason, those who do not understand my English, I try my best and apologize in advance.

One more thing, I had seen some discussion on other forums that mentioned some might try to soft proof in BookSmart. It is not possible at all. Only can do soft proof IN Photoshop (or any imaging software) and even in InDesign.

Thanks again for this wonderful forum discussion.

Cordially, Brian {a passionately Blurbarian}

P.S. The Firebox browser behaved oddly and I was not able to post it effectively. So I cut and paste it and move on to Safari browser.

Posted by
brianbonitz
Jun 26, 2009 4:30pm PDT
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brianbonitz
 

Brian asked….. But I am sure that you, Tony, know what I am saying about that manually method to adjust monitor’s brightness and contrast—which is not recommend. But can you explain this better than I do?

I can try.

Consider the time of a full or near full moon …..I’ve not lost the plot (well, I don’t think so), so read on.

If you look at a full moon a hour or so before sunset it will be a very pale and dim against the bright blue sky. You will not be able to see much details as it is so pale. If you could you’d want to turn up the the brightness and contrast to get a better view of the mares and mountains.

Now look again just before sunset as the sky starts to darken. The moon is brighter and the mares, mountain and craters really start to show up and you can see (if you have a good imagination) the "man in the moon".

Now an hour or so later, when the sky is dark, the moon will appear really bright and you will not be able to pick out any details on the surface.

The moon’s brightness has not changed at all, but the ambiant lighting conditions have and that affects how you see the moon.

Exactly the same effect can be seen with your monitor in your office or your home  work environment (though perhaps not quite such a drastic difference).

If you are working in a really brightly lit room, or you may have a window behind you or a desk lamp that shines on the screen it will be like the moon an hour or so before sunset. Your photos on that monitor will appear somewhat pale and lacking in detail and the  temptation will be to turn up the brightness, and perhaps the contrast,  on your monitor to make the photos look better. Now they may look better on your display but you have not changed the inherent brightness/contrast of those photos just the way you are perceiving them. So if you then insert them into your Blurb book they will print somewhat different (darker!)  to the way you see them on your display …. BookSmart does not know that you have adjusted the brightness/contrsat of your display to make your photos look great!

Now take the other extreme where your working environment is badly lit, the room is quite dark (like the night sky) and your photos will look really briliant and contrasty. So you expect them to turn out that way in your book, or you choose to use the display controls to reduce the brightness/contrast of your display to make them look more natural. Again BookSmart does not know you have done this so the photos in your book could turn out quite different (lighter) than the way you see them on your display.

Now that is why adjusting the brightness and contrast on your display, without using a software calibration  (Adobe Gamma, Mac DISPLAY facilities or web pages like the Northlight one I mentioned above) or a hardware appoach using the likes of Spyder, Huey or ClorMunki to aid that will not guarantee a good rendition of your photos in your Blurb book.

.........Tony

Another passionate Blurbarian and a member of the Brian and Tony Colour Management duet

Posted by
tfrankland
Jun 27, 2009 1:21pm PDT
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tfrankland
 

I’ve asked questions about soft proofing and ICC profiles in the past. I’m one of those annoying people Kathy is referring to ;)

• Do you soft proof? Why/why not?

My monitor is not yet calibrated. I ordered the hardware a few weeks ago and I’m still waiting. So to this day, I have never correctly soft proofed anything. I have found variation in colors from the books I ordered in the past but I personally don’t mind it all that much. For that reason, I wouldn’t soft proof all of my work. On the other hand, I’m a BlurbNation member and I’m trying to get into that "comfort zone". I’m trying to learn as much as I can in order to provide the best work quality to my clients.

For many of my clients who are not familiar with PS and such, I do not plan on soft proofing. (I will however keep my monitor calibrated!)

I also like the idea of having the soft proofing option for clients who may have questions about the color of their future book. (Not all clients need books printed with B3 but should they request more information, I’ll be better equipped to answer their questions.)

• Would you recommend soft proofing for the casual Blurb user?

Not necessarily. It really depends on what this user’s previous experience has been with book printing. Or how touchy they are in general. I know people (one person in particular) who is technologically illiterate but who would most probably WANT to learn about color management before printing a photo album!

• What else would a newbie to color management need to know before they decided if soft proofing was necessary or even right for them?

They may be interested in knowing what difference soft proofing would make! Reading threads about soft proofing, color management and ICC profiles may make it seem as though the book would turn out completely different from what they had imagined if they didn’t soft proof! That’s a scary thought but it’s not exactly the case. I’m sure many people wouldn’t even notice the difference it could make!
Also, unless you read several posts in the forum on the subject, it may not be clear that not having a calibrated monitor makes soft proofing useless.

The rest is all a matter of the amount of time and money they are willing to put into learning about color management.

Thanks for this new thread Kathy :) 

Sophie

Posted by
sophieadd
Jun 28, 2009 9:54pm PDT
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sophieadd
 

I think Brian, as usual, has summed the issue up very succinctly, but here’s my answers too.

Do you soft proof?

Sometimes.

Why

I soft proof when I can see that an image is likely to be so far out of gamut that it will need specific compensation for the reduced gamut of Blurb’s presses.

Why not?

Given there are differences between Blurb’s presses (eg softbacks and hard backs have different outputs), so a truly accurate output profile isn’t available anyway, taking too much trouble seems a bit futile.
It may be different when working within the B3 workflow, but that’s a different process to that most casual users use.
I’ve tried creating identical books with and without soft proof compensation. In isolation both look acceptable, but when compared side by side I actually preferred the look of the uncompensated book.
The reality is that we have to live with the reduced gamut and tonality of Blurb’s presses, so trying to match books to a screen image or inkjet print is rarely possible and can end up actually looking worse than leaving the default colour management engine to do it’s best.

• Would you recommend soft proofing for the casual Blurb user?

No.
Soft proofing can reduce unexpected surprises, but only if you really understand what you’re seeing. Interpreting a soft proof correctly requires a significant degree of experience and understanding. If you don’t appreciate the issues involved there’s a risk of confusion and possibly making things worse with inexpert compensation, rather than improving the content.

• What else would a newbie to color management need to know before they decided if soft proofing was necessary or even right for them?

An appreciation of how colour management works.

Most importantly ensuring that they have a properly calibrated monitor to base their image assessments on. This aspect is far more likely to cause problems than colour management issues per se.
I’d like to see Blurb pull together all the information about colour management, processes and profiles used and published in a more orderly fashion than the current mess of forum and blog references. In trying to appear casual, friendly and simple, an important element of clarity of information has been lost.
Also adding some new help for users of the PDF workflow to assist them understand the added issues associated with working with a CMYK process would be helpful too.

Paul

Posted by
rhossydd
Jul 2, 2009 3:53am PDT
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rhossydd
 

We have made two books with Blurb, one of them 160 pages and one of them about 100-120   pages.

Now, I have a lot of experience in the world of printing, and so i know that what you see on your monitor is almost never what you get on the printed page. Blurb’s colors tend to run a bit black- and cyan-heavy, compared to what I see on my monitor (i have a color corrected professional monitor that is about as accurate as can be).

So – if you’re planning on printing more than a couple of books,  it’s a great investment to make sure the color is as true as possible – and in both cases that we’ve worked with Blurb, we actually had one book printed for us to use as our "proof". even the hard cover – because we were planning on hard bound books and wanted to ensure the color was good there, too. 

After getting our "proof" copy back,  I went in and tweaked about half the photos in the book, allowing for the color shift that happens with the Blurb print model.

It also gives me a chance to read it once more, with a few weeks between when i last wrote and proofed it. I have experience as a proofreader but i know that after awhile you become blind to mistakes if you read it too often – and i always find a typo or two that need to be corrected.

I have learned that no printed document of this size is ever perfect, but the hard copy proof stage is the best spent $60 in this process – and once i’ve done that, i can order ten copies for friends and family and be assured that the color and copy are the best they can be.

Posted by
carollevy
Jul 14, 2009 7:23pm PDT
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carollevy