Video – The Trick to Getting Brighter Prints

The other week I posted some presets and a tip on how to get brighter prints. Basically, the idea was that our LCD screens (or at least mine) seem to cause my photos to look brighter on screen than they do when I print them. It’s not something that soft proofing would fix so I typically have some presets to adjust the Brightness slider. Another thing I do is create a test print. Well, this video will show you a way to create less test prints and also help identify what the sweet spot is for your prints when it comes to brightness.

Also, I mentioned a Facebook and Twitter link at the beginning of the video. Here they are:

Matt’s Facebook (just click “Like”)

Matt’s Twitter

Click here to download the video to your computer. [Right-click and choose the "Save As" option]

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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35 Comments

  1. After your posting a couple weeks ago I did some digging around and found another way of solving the brightness issue. This works particularly well if you are printing hundreds of photos for a wedding or an event.

    I adjust all my photos on screen so they look good, then export them using lightroom. You have to select “hard drive” as your export option. At the bottom of the screen is the “Post-Processing” option. Choose “go to Exports Action Folder Now”. A new finder window will open but the folder may be blank. This is because you have to create a droplet from photoshop first. To create a droplet, open up a photo in photoshop and create a new action that lightens your photo by +20 or +30 (whatever your sweet spot is). You can use Brightness or Exposure or Curves any other method you find fitting. Make sure you save and close the file while still recording your action.

    After you’ve completed making the aciton to File > Automate > Create Droplet. Select your action you just created and make sure Save and Close is selected as destination. Check “override Action Save As Commands”. Save your droplet in your Lightroom/Export Actions folder. Once you have this all set up you just have to select that droplet from the Post Processing option in Lightroom and it will take care of automatically lightening hundreds of photos for you before you print them. You can choose to add the new lightened photos to your catalog, but I usually don’t as this just complicates things. If you are printing all your photos at home this may not be the best method, but if you are proofing hundreds of wedding photos or printing all you vacation photos at one time this works pretty slick.

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  2. Great tip, Matt! I have been struggling with the dark prints coming out of my Epson Artison 710 (oh, how I wish I could get a 1900!), and this tip is so simple to do without wasting ink and paper.

    Thanks,

    John

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  3. Thanks for the tip Matt. That’s all good, but what do you do when you’re not doing the printing yourself but let a lab do it ? Do you just assume they do it well, or do you prepare your files in some way ?

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    • You guess. Hopefully you’ve got a lab where you can do a test print or two to check things out. MPIX Pro has this so you should have things ironed out before you ever start sending bulk orders their way.
      If not, then try ordering a few small prints each with different brightness values, It may cost you $10-$15 but then you’ll be able to figure out which setting works best and use that one going forward.

      Thanks.

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  4. Hey Matt, I’ve been doing in an effort to “learn my printer” but wasting the paper – this 2×2 option is a good tip, thanks.

    But I have a question for you. Don’t you find that you need to boost the contrast as well as the brightness? If you push the brightness to higher values, doesn’t this also tend to flatten the image a bit hence needing the extra bit of contrast? That’s what I’ve been finding.

    Just wondering whether you had noticed anything similar. I’ve especially noticed this with my black & white prints, where maybe this effect might be a bit more noticeable that in a color print.

    Antonio

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    • Not really. But I may give it a try to see if the results are better. Printing is a moving target so it may not hurt for some extra contrast. Thanks

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  5. Cheer Matts going to give this ago.

    Just to repeat what Laurent asked from your experience should we up the brightness when using a lab?

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  6. Good stuff, as always, Matt. Thanks! :)

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  7. Good tip as always, but I wonder about the choice to correct your prints versus correcting the brightness of your monitor, and then the adjusting the image to look good both places. It seems your goal should be to produce a single image that displays correctly on a calibrated monitor, and prints correctly when using the proper profile.

    I’ve adopted the view that a print made with a good printer and proper profile is a pretty objective result, if if comes out looking good, then the image is properly processed. If the image looks good on MY monitor but prints too dark (or light) then my monitor brightness must be incorrect.

    When I post an image online, I want it to be properly processed. People with properly calibrated monitors should see it the way I see it. They’re my “target audience” and I want them to appreciate that the image was peoperly prepared. People who aren’t using properly calibrated monitors may or may not see, or even be aware of the differences.

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    • I agree. I think it better to establish the correct monitor brightness rather than try to compensate for the monitor setting. LR Brightness compensation may be OK if your only output is a home print, but it still suggests the original LR adjustments have resulted in an image that’s too dark.

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      • Matt specifically states he likes his monitor set up a specific way, so this tip is for those who have a similar point of view.

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  8. Hi Matt, I kinda use the same trick, but sometimes with different combinations of sliders (e.g. Brightness & Contrast). In those cases, I can have up to 8 prints on one page and then it can be helpful to name the Virtual Copies in the Metadata Panel of the Library Module, e.g. ‘B60 & C35′ for Brightness 50 & Contrast 35.
    Then, in the Print Module, I define a 4 x 2 print layout and in the Page panel, I tick the Photo Info box and I use a custom setting: Filename + Copy Name. That way, this info winds up below each picture and it makes it easier for me to remember which picture has which settings.
    I use a variation on the same technique for appreciating different sharpening and noise reduction settings in the Develop Module: I also make virtual copies with different settings, but as Sharpening and Noise reduction should be judged at their final intended size (which is not necessary for evaluating brightness), I make a slightly different test print. Say the final print should be 16 x 24 inches and I’ve got four different sharpening / noise versions to compare, then I’ll define a 16 x 24 inch page in the Single Image / Contact Sheet part of the Print Module with 1 Row and 4 Columns. In those 4 (long and narrow) cells I’ll put my 4 pictures (the original and the VC’s). So I’ll only see a long narrow strip of the image. I will then move (by click-dragging) the picture in the small ‘letterbox’ to a part where e.g. the eye is visible. I’ll repeat that for the other pics. That way, I wind up with something very similar to the test strips we did in the analogue darkroom days. I should probably also do a video about it, because it is simpler to do than to explain :-)

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  9. @ Matt & Laurent:
    What I’d probably do with a lab is send them the one contact sheet with the four different brightness settings, have them print that and when it gets back, see which one looks best. That way, for future prints, you could then ‘prep’ those pics (or a virtual copy) to the same brightness setting. Of course, this presupposes two things: 1) your new print matches your ‘test’ print in overall Brightness
    2) the lab will process your new print the same way (and on the same printer) as the old print… This is not always the case…

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  10. I want to reiterate my comment from Matt’s original post: Brightness adjustment doesn’t work for my setup (Epson R1800 with Epson Velvet Fine Art paper, LR3, and dual ViewSonic VX2025wm monitors).

    I did a 4-up test print just like Matt has suggested (though I figured it out a few weeks ago) and made four virtual copies of the photo; one for Brightness, one for Exposure, and two for Fill Light.

    Only the Fill Light options opened up the shadow/dark areas of the print. I then did another test print, this time with four settings for Fill Light. Depending on the original print, I’ve determined that a range of 40-60 sufficiently opens up the perceived dark areas of the print to more closely match what I see on screen.

    Note: I have yet to try this with other papers (Epson Premium Glossy and Ultra Premium Luster).

    @Craig’s comment: While this would be ideal, this would not be helpful to my workflow. My day-to-day work ranges from graphic design/layout to front-end web design to technical support calls. It would not be ideal to have to stop in the middle of a job, lower monitor brightness to work on or print a photo, then raise the monitor brightness again when switching to another task. The best case scenario for darkening the monitor would be a dedicated workflow for photo/printing work. If this was what I did all day, then I’m right there with you!

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  11. I was under the impression that by calibrating your monitor it also corrected/fixed the brightness issues. Is this a wrong assumption? Thanks for tip Matt it helps as do all of your tips.

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  12. Thank you Matt for confirming what I have been doing to compensate for dark prints from LR. Knowing that someone as yourself has the same problems tells me the technology isn’t there yet. I fully appreciate the differences between reflective vs. transmitted (back light) images, same as transparencies vs. prints in the old days, and I agree with you about the quality and properties of the two different types of output (print vs. monitor).

    My only request is that when you (Matt) have a detailed entry such as the first posting on dark prints, that somehow it can be saved/downloaded as a pdf (easily without the copy, paste and print -save as pdf routine), including the comments. The videos are good, but when one is struggling with an image, it get’s confusing switching screens to read a post or view a video, then back to LR to make adjustments. It is much easier to read it from print sitting in front of you as one works on an image. I don’t know if others would like that option, something to consider. Thanks.

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  13. Matt, for some time I have been using your suggestion to brighten the image before printing; however, this seems to be treating the symptom rather than the cause. From experience I know that my Mac Cinema display is too bright even at the minimum brightness setting. My Spyder Pro 2 monitor calibration system does not adequately compensate for monitor luminance level. A suggestion offered by several information sources is to create a target using the last 5 divisions at the black end of a gray scale. Photoshop a character such as “0″ on the true black 0 value bar of the target. Display the target on the screen set to black background and adjust the monitor brightness until the “0″ value bar just disappears into the black background. Many Mac monitors will not adjust low enough. Mine is close, but not quite dark enough. As a result, typically little brightness adjustment is now required for images that are post-processed with the correct screen brightness setting. In summary, don’t assume that your screen monitor calibration system will correctly deal with screen brightness. Once the screen luminance is adjusted, images post-processed at a higher screen luminance before the adjustment was done will still require the image brightness to be altered before printing. A new software product has been released that may deal with this issue. I have not tried it, nor is this a recommendation or testimonial, but it might be worth pursuing: http://www.integrated-color.com/cedpro/coloreyesdisplay.html

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  14. >The other week I posted some presets and a tip on how to get brighter prints. Basically, the idea was that our LCD screens (or at least mine) seem to cause my photos to look brighter on screen than they do when I print them.

    Which begs the question, are the prints just too dark? No matter where you view them? If so, would you agree we have an issue with the existing RGB values in the document? The print IS too dark DUE to the RGB values, they need to be altered.

    Or, you are saying, when you view the print next to the display, it appears too dark, much darker than the display? If you take the display matching out of the equation, you view the print elsewhere, does the print look OK? If so, can we assume the RGB values are fine? If so, WHY would we adjust the values to make a brighter print when we can (and should) just properly calibrate our display to match the print?

    We can’t have this both ways. Either the RGB values produce an acceptable print or they don’t. If they don’t, we edit them (the entire idea behind Photoshop, Lightroom etc).

    IF the RGB values are fine but don’t produce a match to a vastly different output media (the display), doesn’t it make far more sense to adjust that one item? After all, that’s the role of display calibration. YOu will notice there is not a one size fits all calibration target values (or you would not be asked to specify luminance, white point etc).

    >It’s not something that soft proofing would fix so I typically have some presets to adjust the Brightness slider.

    That problem is, soft proofing isn’t supposed to fix a display that is incorrectly calibrated, in this case to match a print. If you calibrate to 180cd/m2 and the proper luminance value that would produce a match is 130cd/m2, that’s what you must target for the calibration. Soft proofing uses the profile you built based on your calibration! Of course a huge mismatch in luminance isn’t going to be “fixed” by soft proofing. Soft proofing is about rendering the color and contrast ratio but based on the current display profile which is based on the current calibration which I would submit, is incorrect here. FIX the real problem. The display luminance (and then white point). The print and display should match pretty close even without a soft proof, closer of course with the soft proof (and you have to setup Photoshop correctly for viewing a soft proof! Simluate Check Boxes on, image in full screen mode, no palettes who’s white UI do not undergo the simulation and affect your image perception due to white adaptation).

    This entire issue of prints too dark compared to the display (not an actual dark print) is easily fixed when users properly use the tools they have purchased. It is a shame the manufacturers haven’t spent as much time on marketing the solution as telling you how to use their products to get such a match. Is easily doable. Altering the RGB values instead of the display seems odd to me, virtual copy or not.

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  15. One more observation… I believe the printer can make a difference. In the case of Epson, their Pro line of printere (such as 7880, 7900, etc.) are all calibrated at the factory so that they each perform to a common standard. The lower lines (such as the 2880) are not calibrated, so there can be significant printer-to-printer variations. If you’re using the standard Epson profile with a non-pro printer, your results may vary.

    In my case, I get consistently dark (and reddish) prints from my 2880, but predictable, good prints from my 4880 and 7880. My guess is that the non-pro printers tend to error on the side of depositing too much ink, which creates darker, muddier prints, and sells more ink. Creating a custom profile for the 2880 helps, but doesn’t solve the apparent over-inking issue.

    Has anyone else found similar results?

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  16. very interesting trip

    Isn’t it more convenient to use LR/ Mogrify2 and set brightness to 120 or 130 (or what else) in “Mogrify Colour Processing Options” ?

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  17. >Has anyone else found similar results?

    Actually no. You are correct about the factory calibration of the Pro printers. That said, I built the Exhibition Fiber profiles for Epson through Pixel Genius (http://pixelgenius.com/epson/) for 2880 you mention as well printers up to 11880. We gathered output from 5000 color patches per target from multiple units all over the county to average in order to build that profile. The average deltaE (a unit of measurement of difference, 1 being the value that is unperceived by a human) was always less than 0.8 which is amazing for a device in this price range.

    The “my prints are too dark” issue for this paper* isn’t a problem due to this printers lack of factory calibration. IF the print looks too dark next to the display but not elsewhere, the issue is the huge disconnect between the luminance of upon the print and the luminance emitted by the display.

    *This was the result of one paper, supplied of course by Epson. I’m not suggesting that other papers, 3rd party papers and of course 3rd party inks would produce these results.

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  18. Very useful tip matt, many thanks.

    As you can see from the amount of feedback this is a problem most photographers encounter and is one that the industry has failed to address to any level of satisfaction yet. Just try googling ‘Dark Prints’ and you’ll see thousands of responses. Most people go down the route of buying a calibration device a calibrating their monitors and I like most can now achieve colours close to those seen on screen. However my prints are way too dark. None of the calibration devices provide anyway decent information of how to actually calibrate your monitor correctly and yet they charge a small fortune for what is a very basic tool. I’ve tried several devices, many which failed to live up to their expectations and have eventually settled for a ColorMunki. However with just about all devices the software is still very poor and doesn’t explain what all the settings mean or how to use them correctly. I’ve tried the professional route and had monitors calibrated by a so-called experts but got no further forward but now have eventually found out how to use the ColorMunki properly with my particular screens. What they fail to let you know is what brightness setting to calibrate your monitior for, as you stated in the video, most back lit LCD screens are way too bright. I now calibrate to 90 lumens which is close, but my screens look dull for other computer work and my prints are still around 1/2 stop too dark.

    I have an Epson R2400 printer and tried talking to Epson about dark prints. Their advice was to generate test prints using Epson Easy Photo Print and low and behold the brightness of the prints was just about spot on. However you can’t print using ICC profiles so it’s not much use and the colours weren’t as acurate. Epson intimated the problem lies with LR and Photoshop as their program achieved the correct brightness.

    Either way I’m no futher forward and as helpful as your video is this is a propblem the industry has failed to address correctly. Perhaps we need monitors where we can switch stored profiles at the touch of a button, one for photographic work, one for office work.

    I’d be interested to see much more on this topic and an explanation of why you use brightness to fix the problem.

    many thanks.

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    • This has been so enlightening. I still look upon printing with dread but now I know that repetitive proofing and adjustments are the nature of the beast. I have done full soft proofing, only to be disappointed by my initial print. I use a Spyder 3 and calibrate every two weeks. Even if I calibrate every hour I always see my followup screen way too cyan and have corresponded with the manufacturer about it. There are many technical aids to printing and many paths to follow, but at the end of the day I feel it does a disservice to imply that there is an easy path to the perfect print. Photography’s dark secret is that this isn’t so. Learning to optimize a file in successive stages is way forward. So test prints in the format Matt suggests are a step along the path to achieve the prints we dream of when we press the shutter.

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      • If you using a Windows PC, you need to also understand a little about how Windows uses profiles. It stores the name of the default monitor profile, but it doesn’t use to for the display. Color aware programs (like Lightroom or Photoshop) do use the default profile, so always judge your monitor ONLY when viewing images in one of those color-aware programs. Especially, don’t judge based on the appearance of your wallpaper.

        Matt – you should consider doing a video demonstrating how LR uses monitor profiles, but most other programs do not.

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  19. Very interesting trick : thank’s to Matt (from France)

    Isn’t it more convenient to use the plugin LR / Mogrify 2 with the option “Mogrify Colour Space Option” and to set the brightness to 120 or 130% ?

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  20. Hi Matt,
    I’m getting “video not found or access denied” error when trying to run or save the video

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  21. For Laurent, regarding his comment about how to dial in your prints when they’re being produced by a lab, Whitehouse Custom Color has a process by which, when you setup an account, you send them 10 images, and they send back 8×10 prints of those 10 images so you can compare them against expectations and dial in your digital files before sending them off for printing.

    I highly recommend WHCC; I’ve used them for several years now for all my prints larger than 13×19, and they always do an excellent job.

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  22. Great post! I have calibrated my monitor regularly and still run into this same issue. I’m so glad you posted your technique here to fix this as I’ve been using Exposure instead of Brightness. I’ll be switching over to this from now on. Thanks again!

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  23. I have been struggling for a while with dark/muddy prints from LR3. I calibrate my monitors as well as the ambient light in my workspace. The exact same file prints fine with any other program I use and from photo labs, but is absolute pooh from LR3. I finally got some time to really dig into the web forums to see what others might have found. I found MANY people with similar problems, but no real solutions. The solutions usually blamed the monitor or the ICM in the printer and wanted to turn it off and use custom profiles and/or modify the photo to force a good print in a one program one printer solution space. I remembered from one of Scott Kelby’s books that most ink jet printers and labs need a standard sRGB file. I began to think that maybe for my cheap Epson R280 I was over thinking the problem and needed to just send an sRGB file to it. So, under color management in LR3 I selected “sRGB IEC61996-2.1” and turned ICM back on in my printer setting. Viola. I am back in the printing business. For high end printers made for color aware programs all the color management may be great but for those of us with limited resources, and printers, try giving your printer what it wants, a nice simple sRGB file to print. I worked for me and I hope it does for you too.

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    • I have spent close on a year in elapse time trying to sort this out – dark prints, blues wrong… My little Canon A4 iP5000 could not be colour matched by the Epson R2880 which I was using via 2880 icc profile from Epson and Epson inks and Epson paper (Semi-gloss). Producing my own printer profile didn’t seem to help much, and then I spoke again to Epson Tech support who suggested I used their program EasyPrint, and hey presto, output almost exactly like the Canon, and pretty much like the screen. The trick then was not to print via the .icc profile, but to tell Lightroom to let the printer manage the Colour Management, and to set the Printer Settings> colours controls> Epson sRGB or Adobe RGB (still experimenting).. I was so pleased, and then I read Bob Matthews post and thought he has probably hit the nail on the head! I could tell you how much this has all cost and how many sheets of paper there are lying around, but I might cry.
      A3+ prints are now ready to go! – Wonder what it’s like on matt…….?

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    • Sorry, I do not understand what you mean when you say “So, under color management in LR3 I selected “sRGB IEC61996-2.1” and turned ICM back on in my printer setting.” I can not find where color management can be made in LR3. All I can find is where to set a color space on export. Thanks.

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  24. Hi,

    I’ve heard someone mention that they use their printers brightness setting instead of using the brightness setting in PS/LR to accomplish what a lot of you are doing. Can anyone speak to the pro’s and con’s of letting the print software making this adjustment vs. PS/LR?

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  25. Hey Matt, please help!
    After editing my photos in LR, I don’t print my images myself but send them off to someone else to be printed. But the pictures come our nothing like what I edited in LR. The color is either way off, or too dark.

    What can I do to get the closet images from screen to print?

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