If you’ve ever printed without first soft proofing in Lightroom, you might have been surprised to find that your print didn’t match the image that you saw on your screen. Your print may have included inaccurate colors or incorrect tones.
All because you didn’t soft proof!
But don’t worry. It’s not a complicated process to soft proof your photos.
And I guarantee:
If you start soft proofing images before printing them, you won’t end up with prints that turn out different from how you expect them to look.
So let’s discover all the key features of soft proofing, and how you can use it to get your prints looking beautiful.
What is soft proofing in Lightroom?
Soft proofing is the process of previewing an image prior to printing – in order to get a better idea of what that image might look like when actually printed. Soft proofing gives you the opportunity to make changes before sending along the digital file to be printed.
The result, after soft proofing in Lightroom, is that your print will match the image you created on your computer.
Taking this extra proofing step is the key to getting top-quality printed images.
Why is soft proofing important?
Without soft proofing, it’s almost impossible to tell what your printed photograph is going to look like.
Because every printer and printing surface will interact in a different way, meaning that your results will vary wildly from printer to printer and from printing medium to printing medium.
Now, if you consistently order from the same print lab or you have your own printer at home, you may learn to predict the adjustments you need to get your images looking right. But this will only come from experience with particular printer and printing surface combinations.
And as you can imagine, gaining this experience can be expensive, especially when you’re ordering premium prints and products!
Why you need a calibrated display
First things first:
Before you do any soft proofing at all, you need a calibrated display.
A calibrated display is essential if you want your prints to match the photographs you see on your computer monitor.
By calibrating your display, you ensure that the colors are accurate. Most monitors will not have perfect color reproduction out of the box (not even the expensive ones!). Monitors are often too blue or too magenta, too light or too dark.
Also, monitors don’t hold their color calibration for long periods of time – you need to keep calibrating them every three to four weeks.
What is a printer profile?
An ICC printer profile is a file that describes how a printing machine and paper will interact.
A printer has to convert your image file into instructions for how to put ink on the paper, and each printer will do this slightly differently.
But ICC printer profiles give you a way to predict how the printer will turn your digital file into a physical print.
In fact, a good print lab will offer custom ICC printer profiles for you to download on your own computer. This lets you soft proof your digital photographs before sending them to be printed.
How to load printer profiles into Lightroom
Soft proofing begins with downloading printer profiles.
Once you have downloaded the necessary printer profiles from your favorite print lab’s website, you’ll need to add them to your computer so that software such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop can find them.
Fortunately, this is very simple. You just move the files to the correct operating system folder as follows:
- Mac: Library/ColorSync/Profiles/
- Windows: Windows\system32\spool\drivers\color
Now the different profiles will be ready for use when you start soft proofing in Lightroom.
How to soft proof in Lightroom
Once a file is ready for printing (i.e., you’ve edited it to your heart’s content), head over to the Lightroom Develop module.
There, in the bottom left-hand corner of the main window, you’ll find an option labeled Soft Proofing. Tick that box.
Once you’ve activated the soft proofing option, you’ll find that your photograph moves onto a white background and some new options appear in the top right-hand corner of the screen (as indicated above).
If you click the Profile option in the new Soft Proofing panel, you’ll find a list of profiles to choose from. If your new ICC printer profiles haven’t yet appeared on the list, then select Other at the bottom of the dropdown menu.
A window will pop up, and you can select from the different ICC print profiles that are installed on your computer. Each option you pick will appear in Adobe Lightroom for soft proofing.
Once you’ve selected your profiles and closed the window, pick the profile you want to use and make sure the Simulate Paper & Ink box is checked.
Soft proofing challenges
The challenge with soft proofing is that, as you can see below, the image won’t look the same as the original file once you’ve applied the soft proofing ICC print profile.
In the example below, I’ve applied a profile for a metallic flex paper, and you can see that the image on the right is quite a bit darker than the original image. This means the print will likely be darker than we intended.
To fix this problem, hit the button labeled Create Proof Copy:
This will create a duplicate image with your print profile embedded so you can make adjustments for printing. By creating a proof copy first, Lightroom will leave your finished image unchanged – even as you make adjustments to your file for printing.
You see, on this new copy of the image, you can make adjustments while still in soft proofing mode. That way, you can ensure that what gets printed is exactly what you intended.
So simply make adjustments to the proof preview using the Lightroom sliders until you like the result!
Here’s one final technical check worth running:
The gamut warning feature.
In the left-hand corner of the histogram is a button that looks like a computer screen:
If you toggle this setting on, your image may gain some striking blocks of color.
The colors are simply warning you which areas of the image will not reproduce properly when you go to print. To get the best quality print, you should do your best to reduce (and ideally remove) all of these problem areas.
To get rid of the warnings, try adjusting the saturation and exposure of your image.
Soft proofing in Lightroom: Conclusion
Many people see soft proofing for printing as unnecessary. They may get acceptable results already when printing, and they may have even learned to compensate while editing their photos to get the best prints.
However, if your prints don’t match the images you’re seeing on the screen, it’s because you haven’t done any soft proofing. With enough experience, you’ll learn the adjustments to make for perfect print results. But this is a process, one where you have to learn by making mistakes – so don’t be discouraged if things don’t work out the first time.
When you make your next print, give soft proofing in Lightroom a try. Calibrate your monitor, then soft proof your images with the correct ICC print profiles.
I guarantee it will improve the quality of your print!
Now over to you:
Have you ever tried soft proofing your prints? How did it go? Do you think you’ll start soft proofing before printing, now that you’ve read this article? Share your thoughts in the comments below!