Print Viewing Stations

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

What You’re Doing is Probably Wrong

How do you judge your prints?

Do you take them off the printer and walk over to the window? What about at night? Do you stand underneath a bright ceiling pot light when you do your colour evaluation? Or, maybe you use a halogen reading light to judge your prints.

Possibly the lighting is bright enough at your desk so that you don’t need to do any of the above.

Well, if so, you’re not doing your print assessments anywhere near as well as you should.


Print Viewing Stations

If all of these usual methods of evaluating prints are wrong, what then is the prefered way?

The graphic arts and printing industry have recognized the need for uniform, consistent and technically accurate print viewing stations for years. But commercial and fine art photographers are discovering their benefits, and new less expensive models suitable for home and small studio use are now available.

What these devices offer are D50 (5000K – the industry standard) light sources in an enclosure suitable for viewing prints and judging their colour balance. They use fluorescent tubes with a very accurate colour temperature, and the better units (that ones that you should consider) also have dimmers, so that the light level of the device can be matched to that of the monitor, making soft-proofing much more accurate.

Ice Wall – Algonquin Park, Ontario. May, 2005

Canon 1Ds Mark II with 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens at ISO 100


Taking Your Temperature

There are two factors that are important when it comes to print evaluation: colour temperature and brightness. As you likely know, colour temperature of monitors can range from warm to very blue. Room lighting can be very warm. Screens have ranges from about 4500K to 7500K, while rooms can run as low as 3,200K with incandescent bulbs.

The first thing to do is to calibrate and profile your screen. You’ll need a "spider" and appropriate software. These specialized spectrophotometers now cost less than a few hundred dollars, and are amustfor being able to do accurate and reliable colour image processing. I recommend theGretag Macbeth Eye-One Display 2. These are available,which currently (May 2005) sells them for less than $230.

When you do go to calibrate your monitor, "the book says" to set it to 5000K and Gamma 1.8. I know that it will look different than what you are used to, but this is what printers and imaging professionals set their monitors to. While Macs are normally Gamma 1.8, PCs tend to be Gamma 2.2, and I wouldn’t quibble over this. Also, while 5000K (D50 as its called), is the standard in the pre-press world, you may find that setting your monitor to D65 (6500K) gives you a setting which is more amenable to your other work. That’s what I use.

Parenthetically, I spent some time fretting over the fact that what is technically correct (D50, Gamma 1.8) may not be what looks and works best. I was pleased to read inHarold Johnson‘s definitive book on inkjet printing,Mastering Digital Printing, Second Edition– that he too has found that 6500K works better than 5000K as a monitor setting, even when trying to match a D50 light source.

The next thing to do is to set your room lighting properly. Try and set it so that there are no bright lights, other than your monitor, in your field of view, and so that the ambient room lighting is fairly low, about the lowest level that you can read a newspaper comfortably in. If there are any windows, close the drapes.

And, if you’re really neurotic, you might want to paint the walls in your room a neutral colour, but that’s beyond what most spouses are willing to support.

Finally, whenever I discuss this subject someone writes in to say,what aboutAdobe Gamma. My response is –forgetaboutit. It simply doesn’t provide the accuracy that’s needed. In the days before relatively inexpensive screen calibrators maybe it was an option, but not any longer.



Graphiclite PDV-3D

Graphiclite PDV-3D in Use

You’ll notice that the screen and the print in this shot do not look very much the same.
This is as a result of turned up room lighting for photography; the difficulty of photographing screen
phosphors accurately, and probably also the phase of the moon on the day it was taken. In the flesh, they matchveryclosely.

The best print viewing stations that I’ve seen are the ones fromgti graphic technology, inc., found The most suitable unit for photographers working with small to moderate-sized inkjet prints is thePDV-3D, which is shown above in use on my desk. GTI doesn’t sell directly, but they have dealers in almost every state, and in some 50 countries world-wide.

As you’ll see from their web site, there are a great many models, in a variety of configurations. The one that I selected is thePDV-3D, which has aSuggested List Pricein the US of $725.

This size is a compromise between desk real estate and practicality. It will easily hold a 13X19" print on the backboard. It also has a dimmer, which is vital for balancing the station’s light level with that of your monitor when doing soft-proofing. (I will have a tutorial on soft-proofing online soon).

Controls are minimal. There is a power switch, and a dimmer knob. (Using the dimmer doesnotchange the colour temperature). Prints are held in place vertically by a clever ball bearing clip. Just slide the print up into a slot and it’s gripped firmly, but without leaving any marks when removed. There is a tilted horizontal surface as well, which allows for placing a comparison print beneath the one being viewed.

There are also models with base units that are illuminated from behind – suitable for working with large transparencies, but which are quite a bit more expensive.

With the dimmer set to match the brightness level of your monitor, and with the monitor next to the viewing station, you will be able to accurately judge your prints. Then, by turning up the dimmer to the desired level, you can judge how the print will appear in a brighter display environment.


Do I Need One?

Whereas a screen profiling device like theEye-One Displayis almost a must for anyone doing colour printing, a viewing station like those from GTI are a "nice to have", but not a necessity. There are less expensive alternatives, such as theOtt Light, which I used for years. But as ones expertise and needs grow, professional tools become more than luxuries, and aGTI D50viewing station is now part of my standard equipment repertoire.

Michael Reichmann

Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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