Did You Know Lightroom Can Soft-Proof?

You may not have heard but there’s a soft proofing plug-in available for Lightroom 3. You can find it over at Lightroom-Plugins.com. When Lightroom 3 came out, I know a bunch of you were upset that soft proofing wasn’t included, so this at least offers an alternative (and very reasonably priced at 10.00). Now, I know this will probably start a religious battle, but personally the soft proofing feature does nothing “for me” (key words here: “for me”). I guess I’m curious about how much of an impact it’ll make for you. I’m a pretty firm believer in a “hard proof” (AKA: doing a test print). I don’t use the soft proofing feature in Photoshop when I print and I probably won’t use a soft proofing feature in Lightroom either. I get to talk to a lot of people at seminars throughout the year, and I really try to listen to their problems when it comes to printing. The main issues that I hear when it comes to printing revolve around a) the prints being too dark and, b) not being able to proof your output sharpening. Well, soft proofing doesn’t really solve either of these. But you know what does? A test print :)

So what’s your thoughts? I fully expect the majority of feedback to differ from mine and I’m totally cool with that. In fact, because some people feel so strongly about soft proofing, I’m glad that there is a plug-in for it and I even hope that Lightroom includes it in the future for you. Personally, though, it’s just not for me. How about you?

Author: Matt Kloskowski

Matt is the full-time Director of Education for Kelby Media Group and a Tampa-based photographer. He's the Editor-in-Chief of Lightroom Magazine, the lead instructor on the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom LIVE Seminar Tour and author of several best-selling Photoshop books. Matt also hosts the world's top Lightroom blog, LightroomKillerTips.com, where he's built up a massive library of Lightroom videos, presets and tips. In addition to teaching Photoshop, Lightroom and photography seminars around the world, he's an instructor at Photoshop World and one of the full-time staff writers for Photoshop User Magazine.

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45 Comments

  1. Soft proofing was very useful in the days that print profiles were not as good as many are to-day. Taking into account that a print is always more costly than a soft proof, you saved a few test prints when first trying to get the colors right on the screen.

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  2. What about CMYK profiles? Lightroom handles only rgb right?

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  3. I soft proof for the “intent” to see how the out of gamut colours alter.

    Is it possible the print a series of strips of one photo with different sharpening settings?
    Chris Bishop

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    • Hi Chris,

      This may not answer your question on the strip, but I thought it might be useful to pass on. I use Nik Software Sharpening Pro 3.0. With this software, you have the option to choose the sharpness for different applications. The software is designed to apply sharpness to your image based on Display, Inkjet, or Print Lab. I find it very useful for sending photos to be viewed on a monitor and to my printer. I’ve not sent to a lab yet, but will in the future.

      Thanks,

      Dennis

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  4. I agree on soft proofing Matt. In the wet darkroom there was never a “soft proof”. You had to go through the process, even to the point of drying the print, to be certain that what you had was what you intended. You lessened the cost by making quarter sheet prints of critical areas. I suppose if cost is a concern you could do the same digitally but a hard print is still the only certain test IMO.

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  5. Soft proofing isn’t the holy grail, sure enough. But if spending 5 minutes doing it saves me even one iteration of a hard proof, it’s well worth it!

    Cheers,

    Marco

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  6. I’m with you Matt. I never used it and never will. Prints have looked fine without it, for years.

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  7. Hi Matt,

    I agree with you on this. I’ve watched your videos on soft proofing and actually tried them without much success, while spending a lot of my time. I then watched Scott’s video on Printing and downloaded your Print brightness presets. Having done that and knowing how my Canon Pro 9000 MK II prints, I get perfect matching prints every time and I don’t have fool around with soft proofing. When I have a set of prints to make, I know my printer is going to print darker so I start out using the print preset at +10. Then print a “Test” print … make the comparison and either keep the test print as good or move to the +20 or +30 depending on the test print. Pretty simple. Then I sync the rest of the photos and print away … perfect prints! People always ask me if I use a lab to make my prints. When I tell them I do my own, they are very surprised. I even have friends asking me to print out some of their family photos, which I do at no cost. However, I do sneak in a retouch now and then. :-) Great post and I’ve sure the words are going to fly!

    Dennis

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  8. I agree with you on the soft proofing. The difference in papers makes soft proofing hit or miss at best. My first test print is small selections of the image to look at trouble spots first. Like blocked shadows, too much or too little sharpening, and color. After I fix any of these issues, I’ll print the complete image.
    If I use soft proofing, it’s when I’m doing a piece that’s going to a press. It does help to see the difference between RGB and CMYK.
    Thanks,

    Ed Weaver
    http://www.redphotographic.com

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  9. Maybe I’m missing something here? When I soft proof, I’m looking at what the print would look like, but on my monitor. My monitor is a very low resolution device compared to my printer, so any output I view on it, regardless of what adjustments I’ve made will appear on a low resolution device. So, what’s the point of viewing sharpening? As for dark prints, most often the problem is that monitors are not calibrated properly and are way too bright – especially mac monitors. If an image looks bright on the monitor, you’ll darken it. And then the printer (which, if the monitor is not calibrated, will probably not be profiled properly) spits out a dark print. This is not rocket science. It’s common sense. But then again, if it was common, more people would have it.

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    • Hey Gene,
      1. When you soft proof you want to know what your print would look like. If I have no idea what my output sharpening is going to do to the printed photo, then it’s not a very good soft proof is it? Sure the colors may look great, but if it prints too crunchy (or not sharp enough) then it’s not very useful for me.

      2. The whole brightness/calibration thing… my issue with it is that if you calibrate your monitor and set your brightness where it should be (so that the print looks like your screen) then you end up setting your brightness on your screen to around 20-40%. I don’t know about you, but I like my bright screen. See, I don’t print for a living. My guess is that not many people following this blog do. I email, surf the web, creative videos, write articles, surf iTunes, etc… on my computer. I don’t want to set (and I think most people don’t either) my monitor brightness down for something I only do once in a while. I paid a lot of money for a nice bright screen. I like the way it looks. So I’d rather do a test print to get the print to look right, rather than reduce my whole computer experience. That’s just me though :)

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    • Gene, you are spot on, the Prints too Dark issue is almost always a big disconnect between the display luminance (incorrect calibration) which is way too high compared to the print viewing conditions. Its difficult to convince some people of this even when they move the prints to another location and tell you the print no longer looks dark!

      This and the soft proof ?controversy? are linked I believe. We?ve had soft proofing in Photoshop since 1998. We have it in dozens of other applications; Aperture, even Apple?s Preview! We have differing groups of software engineers, including the incredibly smart ones on the Photoshop team and lots of end users who find soft proofing very useful and efficient. They keep demanding soft proofing in LR. Are they blind? Could those who are less than satisfied with their soft proofing experience need some assistance in proper calibration routines (correct target calibration aim points to match the soft proof)? I know it works quite well. I?ve setup dozens of studios and done dozens of classes to illustrate that it does work. But like anything else in imaging, if one item is incorrectly configured, the results are sub optimal. I?d encourage anyone, including Matt who happen upon Santa Fe to look me up and I?d be happy to show a print to screen match that?s very close thanks soft proofing. It will never be perfect (an emissive display and a reflective print are quite different). But if you can get to that elusive 90%+ match, you?ll save a lot of time and money on hard proofs you don?t need.

      People feel soft proofing is useful because when you calibrate a display correctly (based on a soft proof to setup your target calibration) and use the soft proof correctly (having the simulate check boxes on to adjust for dynamic range in full screen mode), you get a pretty darn good match! It will never match a print exactly, that?s what hard proofing is for. But if you reduce the number of hard prints even by a factor of 1 or 2, that?s a huge savings of time and money.

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      • I knew you couldn’t keep yourself away from this one Andrew :)
        And if you’re ever in Tampa, I’d be happy to show you a print that’s pretty much dead-on after one quick test print. Oh and I have a nice bright monitor to look at too, that’s set to 100% brightness like the rest of the world. You’d be amazed at how great these things look when you turn the brightness all the way up ;-)

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      • I?ll be outside Orlando (Mount Dora) end of the month setting up a studio for color management. I?d love to hook up with you.

        In terms of running a display at ?100% brightness: lets look at the idea of having to drive that (I assume modern LCD) so high. Not sure if you ever used the older CRT?s to edit images but new, out of the box, you?d be hard pressed to get much more than 110cd/m2 out of one and a few years after normal use, 95cd/m2 and less. A new LCD is can be driven 250-300cd/m2, they should ship with sun glasses! Point is, you can get a perfectly acceptable print to screen match by controlling the print viewing conditions (you don?t have to lower the display) and even at 150cd/m2m which is what I drive my LCD?s at, its plenty bright for a print match, watching your fine video?s and surfing the web. IOW, you do not need to greatly reduce an LCD to produce a match. That said, the LOWER you drive your display, the LONGER it will last! Those Fluorescents burn out too. You?ll save on your energy bill too. Its greener for our planet.

        There?s a direct relationship here in terms of print & display matching; the display and the viewing booth next to the display under which you have your print. You can and should be able to raise or lower both. Did you read the piece I wrote about matching print and display? (http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/why_are_my_prints_too_dark.shtml)

        Yes I can?t help myself because being highly involved educating people about color management, the issues of ?prints too dark? and soft proofing not working deserve solutions for users. The display and print and soft proof are directly interrelated, think about it. You say that prints that are too dark (prints that are much dimmer than your display) cannot be ?fixed? with soft proofing but the opposite is true. A soft proof is directly based on the display calibration. Would you agree that you need to calibrate a display? Why is this useful and not soft proofing which is solely dependent on that calibration (along with the output profile). IF you see a big disconnect between the print and the display without soft proofing, doesn?t it seem logical you would see issues with soft proofing too? How do you fix this disconnect is the question to ask.

        We have a lot of comments from people who say they are getting less than effective print to screen matching right? They also say they don?t find soft proofing producing a match. Its far easier to demonstrate a mismatch here than a match. That?s why I?d be happy to sit down with you, or anyone else and show them that its possible and how to do so. Then I can show you easily how with a single setting for display calibration, a mismatch will then result. As educators, we need to commit ourselves to examine and understand why those we speak to are finding issues in their workflow while others are not. Seems clear just here there is a group that vocally express satisfaction with soft proofing and print to screen matching. What about the others such as yourself, what?s not working?

        Suggesting that soft proofing doesn?t work when a display is calibrated to the wrong calibration targets is a bit like suggesting four wheel drive is no better in snow than rear wheel drive when all the tires are flat ;-)

        Again, there are lots of software products, designed by smart software engineers (some we both know well at Adobe) that have spent a lot of time and money incorporating soft proofing in their products. There are lots of end users who love the functionality. Then there?s a group, yourself included, that find soft proofing doesn?t work and isn?t effective. How do you explain these differences? Could it be, that when everything is properly setup, one can produce a very close on-screen simulation to the print? I can demonstrate this to anyone who would like proof of concept, I?d think with your bkgnd, it would be a useful demo. Wouldn?t you like to see soft proofing working to the enthusiastic degree others find it useful? How can I help?

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  10. Thanks for pointing out the plugin Matt. I had read about it somewhere but could not find the actual plugin. I’ll recommend it to whoever is missing softproofing in Lightroom, but I won’t be using it myself. I’m with you on this one :-)

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  11. For me, a big advantage of softproofing is that I can compare the “look” of an image on different surfaces to decide which might suit it best. Yes, I know a test print would do the trick but I don’t have to use ink/paper unnecessarily with the on-screen test.

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  12. Soft-proofing is essential to me and I certainly would like to have the ability to soft-proof in Lightroom. I haven’t tried the plug-in that you mention. Thanks for mentioning it!

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  13. Color Management is the key word.
    with your color correct from what you see on your monitor to where your printing, lab,inkjet ect, I think its a waste of time to soft proof. shoot images, Lightroom images, some photoshop of images (what Lightroom can’t do better than Photoshop) and send prints to lab or inkjet. Go shoot some more.

    Post production is already a considerate amount of time as it is, why add an extra something to it that keeps you from creating more images in camera and thus creating a fatter wallet. :)

    These digital tools we have are an extension of our creativity, get it right in camera, enhance in software. There is a huge need to stop using the digital tools to make you a good photographer. The who cares fix it later in Photoshop or some other software is not the way. Just as is in printing, get the color management side of workflow set correct to begin with and there is no need to “soft proof”.

    I would agree with Matt and Henk both, waste of time and the color part of printing has gotten standardized.

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    • Amen Ron! You hit right on the head! Get it right in the camera, and with correct color management … you’re 90% done!

      Dennis

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  14. I do not soft proof either. I prefer a test print. That has always worked well for me. It nice nice to have the option now available now in light room though.

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  15. I’ve used soft proofing when preparing to send files to Blurb and other printers. It’s obviously not as good as hard proofing, but when sending images away to be bound into a book or printed on materials I can’t print in my studio, I find I have more peace of mind when I soft proof before transmitting than just sending out and hoping.

    Couldn’t agree more on the need for robust color management throughout and ensuring the monitor is not overly bright.

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  16. Personally, I have found softproofing to be a waste of time. Only a test print tells me what I need to know. Over time and with experience, I get better at knowing what adjustments I need to make.

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  17. I’m not entirely with the crowd on this one. To me biggest reason to soft proof is color intent. Yes, printer profiles have come a long way, and yes matching brightness can be done without soft proofing. But, how do you know if you should use perceptual or relative rendering in Lightroom for a specific image. Each image may contain out of gamut colors that need to be mapped in different ways to produce the image in the most appropriate way. Sure, you can print a test print, but why if you can get closer electronically. Also, you may not like the way that the printer profile is going to map the colors for a specific image and if so, you can perform a curve adjustment to correct the realtive nature of the printed colors.

    Brett

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  18. As far as soft proofing, I rarely use it. When I do, I’m more interested in seeing where I have out-of-gamut colors to deal with. Then I can choose to fix them myself, or, select a rendering intent that best deals with them.

    I am a stron believer in using a calibrated monitor, even if that means the monitor is a little darker. In fact, I paid more money for a monitor that can be calibrated. My reason – I want my photos to look right when viewed correctly. If you like your monitor bright, then my photos will also look bright, so we’re both happy. But, if I let my monitor make my photos look brighter than they really are (or more contrasty or saturated) then I don’t know what you’re seeing.

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  19. Matt,

    As always you have the best content! This post leaves ONE very important question, and, if I may be so bold as to suggest… perhaps worth of a follow up post explain just this:

    If one IS of the “test print, not soft proof” party…
    How does one make the final adjustment
    AFTER the initial print shows up too:
    a) Too dark or too light
    b) Too much too little contrast
    Etc…
    Would you make perhaps a Virtual Copy of the adjusted for print version..

    Fodder for discussion? Proof printing gets covered too frequently IMHO,
    Perhaps it’s time for a good “Final Print Workflow Rundown” video tutorial!
    Feel free to use the title ;)

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  20. Matt, this is a great subject. Thanks. I never thought I’d want to soft-proof until I photographed some claret cup cactus that was way out of gamut for the printer I had at that time. I was able to use an adjustment layer in PS to lower saturation until it was in gamut. Incremental soft proofing helped to achieve this without too much reduction of saturation.

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  21. I agree the test print is the way to go. With that being said, soft proofing can reduce the number of iterations needed in physically proofing.

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  22. Initially all I did was proof on Photoshop, but you’re right they always came out a shade darker especially black and whites. I have .icc profiles for all my bapers and b&w .icc profiles specifically for black and whites, that helped but I still see a print that is occasionally too dark esp enlargements.
    The long and short is that your right, after a few years of messing with it I either tetst print on something smaller or I a just bump up the levels or both. I even have the latest NEC that I calibrate and and epson 3800, still far from perfect.

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  23. Matt – I’m with you. Never ‘soft proof’ any more. Just do a (small, 4×6) test print, adjust by sight, and go for it. Works every time!

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  24. And how about one of the simplest things: I want to be able to see what my photo will look like exported to sRGB when I “develop” my photo. (Not AFTER the export.)

    I can’t understand how Adobe thinks when the don’t include softproofing in LR…
    I would not call me an expert, so please explain to me how this simple task can be achieved using LR. (…and always softproof in Ps first is not a relevent solution, though I have heard it a couple of times….:)

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  25. Matt, I use your print brightness presets to make one 4-print test print at 4 brightness levels. That works great for me. I pick the one of those 4 that looks right to me and then make the final print. It has been so helpful to me that I’ve figured out which preset works best most of the time. So now, I rarely make a test print. Using your presets for awhile resulted in saved time and money for me in the end. Thanks for those Presets! – Lynn

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  26. Matt,

    At PSW on Wed March 30th at 6:15pm I would be happy to show you how soft proofing (in Photoshop) can help you more accurately predict how an image will print (ink hitting paper) by using Photoshop’s soft proofing.

    It really does work (if you know how to use it) for predicting both the contrast range (tone curve) and color rendering (think picking the best rendering intent).

    I use soft proofing for every serious image I print in order to optimize the image for print.

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    • Hey Jeff,
      I guess what you and Andrew are missing is that I know how to soft proof. Believe it or not, I wouldn’t tell people that I don’t use something that I simply just don’t understand. I’m actually pretty decent at Photoshop ;)
      I’ve seen both you and Andrew teach this. I just choose not to use it. I know it tweaks you guys each time I mention it. But when you tell people to soft proof, I don’t stand up in your class or go on your blogs and tell you that you’re wrong and offer to “teach” you the right way to do it. To each his own right? You’ve got many legions of followers who will do exactly what you do. I appreciate the offers but I’m good on my end. I will however have no problem referring people to your class to get another point of view.

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      • Matt,

        I’m glad you know how to do it…and in no way did I mean any disrespect.

        There are really two issues that users really need to be aware of; first, the compression of the dynamic range when making a print and the impact it will have on the tonal values of an image and second, picking the rendering intent that best reproduces the colors of an image.

        Making a test print can certainly be an aid in determining that. Printing and paper companies are always happy to have users making more prints…I just find it easier, more controllable and more economical to do soft proofing before spilling any ink :~)

        BTW, thanks for the mention of the Lightroom SoftProof plug-in…I’ve downloaded the demo and will take a look. I’ll test it and possibly include it in my upcoming Lightroom Printing session at PSW! See ya there…

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    • Jeff-Please post your findings on the LuLa Lightroom forum!

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  27. Matt – quick question. Do you shoot Raw or jpg?

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    • Mostly Raw. JPEG when shooting any sporting events so that the buffer takes longer to fill up since JPEGs are smaller. Basically, you get more frames without the camera having to stop for a moment to catch up.

      – Matt K

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  28. What if you were sharing your files with your clients? Would soft-proofing be useful then?

    At netsas.com we bet that the “right level” of color management is quite necessary. We introduced it in Shortcut, “your online personal interface” for collaboration on images and projects.

    You might still need to present a result on paper, but online softproofing saves time in the earlier steps and avoids surprises.

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    • It get’s even harder to control when you’re presenting your work online to clients. You can calibrate all you want but you can bet that they won’t be. So what looks good to you, will look way different to them.

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  29. Agree totally Matt!
    Having sent off a number of test prints from differing machines/monitors I now have a number of actions that make adjustments to images before they go off to print ie if I’m uploading images from a certain machine to a certain printers then the appropriate adjustments are made. One lab I use (Loxley) tends to send my prints back a little on the dark side with a slight green hue; the action for them simply corrects this before they’re uploaded….easy :)

    Cheers,
    Glyn

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  30. 250-300cd/m2

    *eyes roll into the back of his head and foam comes out the mouth*

    *Thud*

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    • ?the? Google is your friend (assuming you want to learn something new RC):

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candela_per_square_metre

      IF you calibrate your display (which is a questionable assumption) your calibration software is going to ask you to target the luminance using this scale. If that confuses you, take it up with the software vendors (or do a web search, ask someone who teaches such topics or RTFM).

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  31. One can learn as much, sometimes more from reading the responses…as well as be entertained in the process. ;)

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