Step 2 in Color Management: Printer and Media Color Gamut

In Step 1 of the color management to-do list we discussed how the quality of your monitor impacts the precision of your output. Step 2 of 3 focuses on understanding how your printer and the inkjet media choices affect color.

Print accuracy doesn’t rely solely on your use of a custom profile and an accurate monitor, though these two components guide you toward the closest possible result. There are two additional variables that can have a big impact on the types of colors you can hit with any printer…

The first is the gamut of the printer. How an ink is formulated in order to print a Coca-Cola red or a Pepsi blue, for example, may differ slightly from technology to technology.

These days I field a lot of questions about choosing between an 8-color system and a 12-color system.  Or, should I use the 9-color or the 11-color printer? Is there a noticeable difference between them?

The answer is yes, there is a noticeable difference any time you add colors. However, the next question I usually follow up with is, “What are you using the printer to print?”

When considering printing technology, there are printers made for higher-speed production (HP Z5200, Canon S Series, Epson T Series, to name a few) that can print a sellable photographic image, but would not be the ideal to use for an artist, photographer or fine art reproduction house. These printers have fewer inks, which cuts down on gamut but improves on speed in most cases.

If you’re in the market for a printer, talk to a LexJet customer specialist and explain the market you are in. We will make sure that you are using the right equipment for the job.

If you are seeing a color that is in your photograph or art piece that you just can’t nail with your printer, it may be out of gamut for the printer or out of gamut for the media you chose to print to.

If you’ve calibrated the monitor, make sure your printer is running at 100 percent capacity, that you’ve soft-proofed the image with the chosen rendering intent, and used a specific printer profile to print. If it still doesn’t portray what’s on your screen, then either of the above mentioned may be at fault.

Now I just spit out a bunch of jargon that may be foreign to you, so click on the links to the tutorials here to find out more…

Download and install ICC Profiles:



How to Softproof before Printing using Photoshop:

How to print using ICC Profiles (find your printer and computer combination):

Color gamut difference between a gloss and matte photo paper.
Figure 1 shows the difference in gamut between a gloss and a matte paper in the high, mid and low range of color (top to bottom). The gloss paper is our Sunset Gloss Photo Paper (red line) and the matte our Premium Archival Matte Paper (green line) as profiled on the Canon IPF8400 with the X-Rite DTP70. Click on the image for a larger version.

You can’t do anything to increase the gamut of the printer, but you can make the right decision based on your needs at the time you purchase the equipment. Making sure you use the right equipment for the type of work you are doing will dramatically increase the quality of your print.

Our second extremely important variable to understand is the media with which you choose to print. The less reflective the media, the less light that reflects back into your eyes, and therefore, the lower the gamut and detail your print will realize (see Figure 1).

Artists have come to love matte watercolor papers and canvas, yet always demand the best color on those surfaces. This is where the owner or production manager at a fine art reproduction house runs into the biggest conflict.

The reflectivity of your media is not the only aspect of the printable supplies that affects color outcome.  White point can change your gamut as well. The brighter the white point, the more gamut you’ll pick up, not to mention an increase in that lovely term the experts like to use, Dmax, which is the darkest measurable value your printer-media combination can hit.

For canvas, Sunset Select Gloss Canvas has the highest dynamic range and color gamut of the canvas offerings LexJet produces. The highest-gamut matte canvas is our Sunset Select Matte Canvas, which has a very punchy white base. Partnering the Sunset Coating line with Sunset Select Matte Canvas has been a very popular choice amongst artists and photographers.

If you are trying to appease the artist crowd who prefer fine art papers, the highest-range matte paper is Sunset Fibre Matte (a very smooth bright-white fiber cellulose paper). If you need 100% cotton with a smooth finish, Sunset Hot Press Rag will be close behind.

If they would like texture on their cotton paper our latest addition to the line is Sunset Bright Velvet Rag.  This paper has the highest Dmax of our cotton line and prints very elegant-looking velvet-textured prints.

On the photographic side of media options, all of our bright white glossy and semi-glossy fibre-based papers put out a phenomenal range. They are all meant to emulate different versions of old-style air dried chemical bath papers that film photographers were used to exposing in the darkroom. These papers include Sunset Fibre Gloss, Sunset Fibre Elite and Sunset Fibre Satin.

Our newest paper in this category is Sunset Fibre Rag, which is 100% cotton and has a warm tone to the base. Even though it is warm in tone, the range is very large and the texture is very fitting to that style of paper.

For RC photo-based paper replicas, nothing tops the gamut of the Sunset Photo Gloss Paper. It reflects the most light, has a high-gloss wet-looking surface like one you would receive from a photo lab providing chemical-style glossy prints.

Also ever so popular for printers looking for a beautiful thick luster paper (e-surface) is our Sunset Photo eSatin Paper. This paper has a very cool white point and the surface is the most popular amongst the RC-emulating class of papers.

LexJet will provide you with the ICC profiles for every media above mentioned. If we do not list one here for your technology we will happily make one for you free of charge! Next time, we’ll tackle Step 3 in the color management to-do list: understanding ICC Profiles and settings. In the meantime, feel free to call us any time at 800-453-9538 with questions.

Classic Success Story: Keith Fabry Reprographic Solutions

Perforated window vinyl applicationsDuring the great digital color output revolution of the mid-90s, a host of traditional reprographic and pro photo lab companies died on the vine. The transition was difficult for any number of reasons, but much of it having to do with the question of when to write off the large capital expenses of the previous tried and true technology in favor of a less expensive but immature technology. It was not only a question of adopting new technology, but exploring and adopting new markets and clientele.

Keith Fabry Reprographic Solutions, which had been providing traditional blueprints since 1958, succeeded in that transition and thrived. Keith Fabry, based in Richmond, Va., not only transitioned, but held onto its core business. The company was able to expand its large-format digital graphics offerings while maintaining a steady reprographics business, emerging stronger and more capable overall.

Glass panel inkjet printed graphics
Keith Fabry applied LexJet Simple Low Tack Clear Vinyl, printed with only white ink on an Oce UV-curable flatbed printer, on eight glass panels for a US Army exhibit.

“In the late ‘90s we got an Epson printer from LexJet and a solvent printer and started doing banners and high-end posters. Then we got a flatbed printer [an Oce 550 GT with white ink and roll-to-roll] and are now doing aqueous, solvent and UV-curable printing, plus we have CNC routing equipment, three laminators, fabricating equipment with a small wood shop and full-time designers and installers on staff,” says operations manager Ricky Shannon. “It’s difficult to categorize what is essentially a modern sign shop, but we still do a lot of architectural printing, like building documents and presentation boards for architects. A separate building handles blueprinting and commercial printing, while here at this building we do large-format printing. Whether we’re doing museum or retail work, fine art and photography reproduction, special events, trade shows or displays for new home developments, every day is a different experience.”

Producing point of purchase displays
Keith Fabry recently showcased its display-building abilities at a point of purchase trade show.

Keith Fabry recently updated its aqueous inkjet printing capabilities with a 44” Canon iPF8300 from LexJet and does most of its fine art and photographic reproduction with the printer. Generally, the UV-curable flatbed printer is used mainly for rigid substrates and the solvent printer for outdoor projects.

“It depends on the final application: What they’re using it for, how much sunlight and temperature the project will take, and whether the material needs to be conformable, especially with UV-curable since the inks are too brittle to make curves, tight bends and stretch with the media. For higher image quality indoors we usually print aqueous. It’s a more lucrative area because the requirement is for higher-quality images on premium papers as opposed to high volume work,” explains Shannon.

Printing photographs and fine art
Show and tell: Keith Fabry shows potential customers the different looks that can be acheived for fine art and photography with LexJet Sunset papers.

Shannon says his favorite inkjet materials for high-end work are LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin, Sunset Photo Metallic and Sunset Fibre Gloss. “My favorite is probably the Fibre Gloss. It’s a good all-around paper, and I like the fact that there’s the slightest texture that shows through. I also like the Photo Metallic. I wouldn’t call it gimmicky, but if you’re looking for something non-traditional with a lot of pop, it’s a great choice,” says Shannon. “We print the Photo eSatin more than any other aqueous material. We find higher end photographers and artists that are re-selling their artwork prefer these nicer papers. For some of those projects we work through local frame shops where they’re packaging the artwork and contracting us to print it.”

Shannon adds the Keith Fabry prints for a client base that ranges from local college students to national franchise accounts, but it’s much more than simply printing. With its design and fabrication capabilities, Keith Fabry can take on practically any advertising or promotional project and is not afraid to do so.

Installing banners on a building
Keith Fabry not only designs, builds and prints, but also handles large installations like this giant banner for a local private school.

“Our willingness to try new things and constantly expand our offerings – basically our lack of saying no – can get us into trouble, but it’s helped us grow a lot. We have clients who come to us because they know we can find a way to make their ideas happen,” says Shannon.