by Melanie Crutchfield
are some instances in life when a simulation simply will not
tell you the whole story; times when the real-deal is a must.
Despite how useful soft proofing with Photoshop's "proof setup" function
seems, I find it to be one of those simulations that simply does
not take the place of making hard proofs.
Some time ago, I had the pleasure of riding Mission: Space at Walt Disney World. It was a fantastic ride. The G-forces pulled dramatically as we performed our prescribed tasks as members of the space team. As fun as it was to ride Mission: Space, it didn't make me an astronaut. I don't even think it gave me a clear understanding of what it would be like to be in space. Even though a space shuttle and Mission: Space both subject you to dizzying amounts of G-forces, one shoots you off into real space--on a real rocket, and one ejects you out into the gift shop. Mission: Space is obviously not the real deal.
same thing applies to soft proofing—it can't take the place
of the practice required for excellent printmaking. Hard proofing provides
Proofing Myth #1:
Soft proofing will protect you from unpleasant
surprises on your print
One of the myths that exists about soft proofing is that it can serve
as a "safety net" to avoid surprises on your print. As Rich
Seiling discussed in a previous
tip, most monitors can't display as many colors as a print
can. For example, the NEC LCD1990SXi--even with its $999 price tag--can
only display 69% of AdobeRGB. When used in concert with hard proofs,
this deficiency does not impact the success of your interpretations.
However, if you expect the monitor to show you precisely what will be
on print, you will be misled and frustrated.
if soft proofs did display color completely accurately, there are
subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences between viewing
an image on a monitor, versus seeing an actual print. So, when you
see an actual print, there will be surprises--even if you think the
soft proof looks perfect. Even Photoshop's built-in help menu warns
reliability of the soft proof depends upon the quality of your monitor,
the profiles of your monitor and output devices, and the ambient lighting
conditions of your work environment."
Proofing Myth #2:
You can use soft proofing to correct out-of-gamut
of the most common uses of soft proofing is to correct out-of-gamut
colors (colors that fall outside what your photo paper or inkset
can accurately reproduce). Typically, a photographer will use the
soft proof to identify out-of-gamut areas, and to "simulate" how
the colors will actually print. They will then locally correct these
areas based on the soft proof, in an attempt to bring the colors back
into gamut. Now, if the soft proof was perfectly accurate (you are
using a $4000 display, right?) that might be a good way to work. But
the reality is that monitors aren't perfectly accurate, and you are
most likely "fixing" a problem that doesn't even exist. One
of the reasons we at WCI abandoned soft proofing is that we kept seeing
the soft proof tell us that colors were out of gamut, but when we printed
them without "correction", they printed in a more pleasing
way than when we made preemptive corrections.
And that's the trap. If soft proofing isn't accurate, but I pretend
it is, then I'll start making corrections based on an inaccurate soft
proof. Chances are, I'll make corrections that are both unnecessary,
and detrimental to getting a good print. It's like trying to find your
way in the wilderness with a compass that never points the same way twice.
Proofing Myth #3:
Soft proofing saves time and money
myth is that soft proofing can save time and money by allowing you
to skip the steps of actually making printed proofs. If "close
enough" is acceptable, then maybe it can save you a bit of time
and money. But if you are trying to make a fine-art print that speaks
as clearly as possible, "close enough" isn't your goal. I've
seen many artists who changed their print by one point in the color
balance tool to make it feel perfect. Soft proofing may attempt to
simulate the real thing, but when push comes to shove, it's not going
to deliver a print that communicates precisely.
So, what's the alternative? Hard proofs!
The Benefits of Hard Proofing
Proofing Benefit #1:
Hard proofs are actual prints, made on the same material as your
A hard proof is the most accurate kind of proof, since it is an actual
print made using the same materials that will be used to make the final
print. If I make hard proofs, I can't be misled by the inaccuracies of
the soft proof simulation. Instead, I see EXACTLY what the print will
look like, and then any corrections I make are based on reality--not
an inaccurate simulation. This saves time and frustration, and results
in a more pleasing print.
Using hard proofs helps create your "mental profile," which
is more accurate than any monitor
Looking at hard proofs also has the added benefit of helping you anticipate
what the screen can't display. You'll begin to have a "mental profile" that
will remind you that your print will have a bit more contrast, more saturation,
more yellow, etc., than what you see on your monitor. This means you'll
have fewer surprises as a result of your experience. My experience, after
printing thousands of images, is that my "mental profile" is
much more accurate than any soft proof. Sure, it takes practice, but
so does every art.
Hard Proofing will ultimately save money and results in more
The more actual prints I make,
the more experience I gain, and the easier the printing process becomes.
If you use soft proofing as a crutch, you'll never develop your printing
skills to their fullest potential. Hard proofing is an investment that
is similar to investing in a good workshop--Though it may cost you money
up-front, you will reap long-term benefits. Your individual skill and
experience is worth investing in. By developing your skills, it will
be easier to make prints closer to what you had envisioned when you were
looking at your screen. This translates into fewer wasted prints, and
less wasted money. In my experience, making hard proofs is the fastest,
most efficient way to hone your printmaking skills.
Perfect prints require patience
No master printer expects to make a perfect print the first time. When
you look at your first proof as your starting point, the pressure to
get the print right the first time is lifted. Printing is a process,
and the more you practice by making hard proofs, the more refined your
printing skills will be. Using the hard proofing process--which is
the same proofing process great printmakers have always used to explore
the possibilities in each photograph--may be just the thing that takes
you from feeling satisfied with your prints, to being elated with your
prints. And that is the sweet truth about hard proofs.
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