Adjusting colour on a cheap(er) printer

Not being a professional photographer, I’ve always used consumer-level printers with my Macs to print colour photos, and have usually got very acceptable results simply using the available driver and not trying to adjust the colour at the printer end - instead I make my adjustments in image editing software like Acorn, Pixelmator Pro, Graphic Converter, Apple Photos.

Lately I’ve found that my current Canon printer is printing some (not all) photos way too dark, and I wanted to influence that by managing the colour output of the printer. But I can’t because these printers simply want you to use AirPrint, which is a driver with no user-level adjustments at all. Not so long ago, Canon made drivers that did allow colour management (see screenshot)

, but they don’t work with current printers. I know that far more expensive printers come with drivers that do more than I could possible need, but I just want to stick to the cheaper end of the market. Has anyone got any idea how to get around this?

Ever since first Mac with color screens debuted, Steve Jobs made sure that all Macs had color calibration built in. Calibration will help make sure your Mac and display will be speaking the same language with each other, and it has more color management tools. In essence, you’ll be using your Mac to directly boss your printer around, rather than a third party.

There’s are good explanations and tutorials here:

Even though this tutorial is for built in Mac displays, I think it can be very helpful as well:

Ummm, not to derail this thread, but Steve Jobs had nothing to do with the development of colour Macs (except possibly the very early development). The first Mac with colour support was the Mac II in 1987, and Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985. Apple has had excellent colour support for a long time (maybe since the Mac II) which was one of its advantages in the print industry for many years. But not everything good that Apple has done can be attributed to Steve Jobs. :sweat_smile:

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I reccomended reading LittleBITS: watchOS 8 Birthday Wishes, Printer Predicaments - TidBITS

Mea Culpa. Steve was responsible for ColorSync color profiling and matching between Macs:

It also changed the world. And I don’t think that Windows ever came up with a built in knockoff. IIRC, and it has been a long time, Windows users have to buy an app.

This is perhaps a classic problem that has affected even experienced users over the years. Your specific issue may be due to something else, but either way, one of the first things that you have to do, when working on images from screen to paper, is to make sure that you are on a level playing field in terms of light/brightness. To this end, take a sheet of white paper and place it next to your screen, so that it is lit with the available lighting you have in your room. This lighting needs to be consistent when working on images. Now open an empty Finder window and fill your screen with it. So that your screen is effectively, just white. Now adjust your screen’s brightness, so that it is equal to the brightness of the sheet of paper next to it (make sure the screen is NOT lighting the paper!).

The next question, is where are you looking at the prints. Next to a window on a sunny day, or on a table in the corner of the room, using a lamp (which used to have a 100w bulb, but now has a 60w? :blush:). This adds the context in which a pro would print for a gallery. How is the gallery lit? Bright/dim/windows/skylights/warm/cold?

Once you’ve set these bases, you can adjust to taste with your printer. A pro would profile the monitor and the printer and the Mac would use the profile to auto-adjust the process… but even then, you are still in danger of misjudging your imaging work regarding brightness, if you are in what used to be typical of a photographer years ago; a dark studio/room looking at a bright monitor.

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Display calibration is pretty easy to do. If you don’t have calibration hardware, you can go to the Displays → Color system preference panel:

Screen Shot 2022-02-21 at 11.51.43

And then click Calibrate… to launch a utility you can use to manually perform a calibration (based on what you can see). Hold down Option when you click the button to enable “Expert” mode, which will give you a more robust calibration:

Screen Shot 2022-02-21 at 11.52.00

The results won’t be as good as using a hardware calibrator, but they’re definitely better than nothing.

With display calibration, you will know that any edits you make to your photos will not be messed up by your display’s output. At least not as badly as without calibration.

For printing, you should be able to select a color calibration profile from the print dialog. The specifics will depend on your printer driver. This is what I see with my Brother laser printer:

I have a “Color Matching” page in the printer dialog. If I select “Brother Color”, it uses Brother’s built-in calibration data. If I select “ColorSync”, I can select any color profile installed in macOS.

In general, using the default works fine. Creating a custom printer calibration file can be pretty tricky and requires additional hardware. It usually involves printing a test image and then scanning the printout. And it, of course, assumes your scanner has already been calibrated (which is done by scanning a purchased test-image with calibration software).

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Thanks to all who replied. I appreciate that can I calibrate my monitor in one way or another, and that I have to be careful about lighting conditions all along the line. But I want to directly influence the printer output, and without that crucial “Color Matching” tab, I’m stuck. If you’re only relying on AirPrint, that tab doesn’t appear in the print dialog. I tried switching to a USB connection, but still no luck. If ColorSync comes into it, I don’t know where or how. I will just revert to low-level tinkering. Uses up ink and paper as well as time, but it’s either that or simply ignore the odd over-dark print.

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Did you try to download drivers from Canon? If you find drivers, try installing with the printer on USB. I had the same problem with my Epson printer. Downloading drivers made it possible to select between AirPrint and traditional driver.


And if the Canon sites site says no drivers are available, you can change your “system” number until you get to one that lets you download a driver. That brought back more printer control for me.


This is why many consumers don’t bother to print anything at all or very often, instead opting for digital photo frame hardware or software (eg. screensavers/Apple TV, Samsung ‘The Frame’ TV’s, etc.), as you typically waste ink money and hours of time/energy/effort in an attempt at a good physical print. Lol!

While digital frames and screensavers are nice, many people still want a physical remembrance of events and printing your own photos is an easy way assuming you have a decent printer. It can be easier to just get prints done at CVS or similar as they have great printers and their scanners seem decent as I’ve done that in the past for things I needed quickly. I’ve had great results with Epson and HP inkjet printers over the years for color. Sure, ink can dry out as some older Epson printers had that issue but it’s really no different than other technologies. Some just work and looking through reviews or asking for recommendations as people do here is one way to ascertain better results.

Sure, I know that –people wanting a physical artefact for the wall frame of whatever– I’d say though that the third-party printing route is often less expensive and easier in the long run, than fiddling around trying to get worthwhile results on home gear, unless you have need for large volumes of prints where cost may become prohibitive.

Mind you saying that, some third-party printers likely lower the per-print cost when bulk batching stuff. So it likely depends on you exact needs.

It probably is cheaper to go to a store or shop for prints but the ease of home use and now with Covid issues, it is safer and easier to just print at home. I don’t have issues with printing and I just use ordinary photo paper, nothing extra priced. I think some people have problems because they use inexpensive, generic ink as opposed to name brand and then want to blame the printer. As others have stated, screen calibration is also essential.

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