Why do my prints look different from what I see on my computer monitor?

  • I haven't printed any of my photos yet but I decided to give it a try. I am thinking of getting a printer of my own but before that I wanted to see how they would look. So, I simply printed one at the office in the regular laser printer.

    To my surprise the printed picture looked very different from what I see in the computer monitor. Can anyone tell me how can the colors look so different? Basically, they have lost their saturation and in some cases the yellows are orange etc. Also, do I need to look for anything in particular in a printer that I am planning to buy? Are printers for photographs different from regular printers?

  • Nir

    Nir Correct answer

    9 years ago

    Color laser printers, especially the big high end office printers, have the color capabilities you need for printing the company logo and the occasional Excel pie chart — but they are truly bad for printing photos.

    But the good news is that almost any of the current generation of ink jet printers, even the cheap ones, are pretty good at printing photos - but only if you print in the printer's high quality setting on photo paper, if you use the cheap office paper you will get the same desaturated colors you got at the office.

    Now, the colors in print will never be the same as on screen, especially the brightness (because the screen is a light source and he paper isn't) but you can get good results results, here are the options depending on how accurate you want the colors to be:

    1. Just print in high quality on photo paper

    If you like the way colors look an screen right out of camera and you never calibrated your screen than it's likely you won't notice the problem from uncalibrated printer (but it will never be the same as on screen).

    This should be good enough for most people and will probably match the results you get when you get the photos printed in cheap labs.

    2. Calibrate your monitor

    If you're serious about getting the right colors you first need to make sure what you see on screen is really what's in the file, this will probably get you predictable results (that is, the difference between screen and printer will be predictable and you can learn to compensate).

    There are several systems that will let you calibrate monitors, some are not very expensive.

    This should be enough for most serious hobbyists and pros

    3. Use name brand paper that has profiles available

    The next step is to use good paper and get printer profiles for that paper you are using.

    4. Calibrate your printer

    The next step is to get a device that can calibrate both your screen and your specific printer with the specific printer you are using.

    Those are definitely not cheap and this should be good enough for everyone.

    5. Know when to stop

    This rabbit hole goes very deep, if you want truly accurate color you might find yourself in a black shirt (to avoid reflection) in a room with gray walls and special balanced lights (to avoid color casts) manually adjusting color space conversions.

    +1 for the need to knowing when to stop. Sometimes reading the various resources one is led to think that until s/he hasn't spent a lot of money there is no point in even trying. This is definitely not true, be it for a lens, a camera, a monitor, a printer.. actually for a lot of things in life :-)

    I would recommend *against* profiling a laser printer. They change too much as they warm up. Experience says it's an exercise in frustration. Also, yay for #5!

    I think the best advice as mentioned above is to know when to stop and don't try to achieve perfection between a monitor and a print. It's nearly impossible despite how much calibration you might do. If you're looking for a high quality print consider a pro who uses high quality paper and high end printers. Often times they might even send you a proof if you purchase a decent sized order.

    Double yay for #5. I worked at Kodak in late 80s mid 80s doing early monitor calibration work. We were showing some samples to a art director who hated our stuff, "It has an orange cast!" he said, while, of course, wearing an orange shirt. Sigh...

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution


Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM