Review: ColorVision PrintFix Pro Suite
Designed for photographers, the suite includes two different hardware and software products.
Achieving color-correct output at a reasonable price is always a worthy objective. Finding a tool to help you do so, however, is not the easiest task in the world. When Datacolor (www.datacolor.com) offered up a review copy of its ColorVision PrintFix Pro Suite, a product primarily designed for photographers and home users versus high-end print operations, I was curious to see if it might indeed prove to be a good solution??"??"?particularly for users and shops just getting into color management and using RGB output devices.
The PrintFix Pro Suite consists of two different hardware and software products: a USB Datacolor 1005 Spectrocolorimeter with profile-creation software and a Spyder2Pro colorimeter for profiling your monitor (LCD or CRT). Two quick, initial points here:
??"??"? The responsiveness and stability of the measurement devices are not intended to be within the same tolerances as high-end calibration devices. The key difference is that these are spectrocolorimeters, not spectrophotometers; hence, they are less precise, but they also are considerably less expensive. They use six LED sets each of red, green, and blue for a total of 18 LEDs and are certainly up to the task of providing color-measuring tolerances that meet the standards of many professional photographers, who represent some of the most color-critical consumers out there.
??"??"? The Spyder2 Pro colorimeter is vastly superior in terms of both hardware and software to the original Spyder; the result is a much more accurate monitor-color calibration.
The calibration process
Calibrating with the Spyder2 Pro requires a couple more steps than with the original Spyder, but the outcome is worth it. One interesting and helpful capability of the new software is that it allows you to make some corrections for ambient light in your monitor workspace. In fact, when I set up the original test in an area in which a light was shining directly on my monitor, the software alerted me that these were poor conditions for achieving accurate color. When I changed to a more suitable work environment, it allowed me to proceed.
Keep in mind, however, that the ambient-light reading is not terribly sophisticated: It doesn??"??"??t worry about the hue of light, only the level of light??"??"?and even then only in general terms (it read my lighting conditions as ??"????medium??"??"?). So be forewarned that you should be working under some type of color-balanced lighting conditions, not yellow fluorescents common in office spaces. Still, some consideration of ambient lighting is better than none at all.
The process of setting up the monitor check is pretty straightforward: You answer a few questions about your working conditions and monitor settings, take an ambient light reading if desired, and then place the Spyder2Pro directly on the monitor (a suction cup is provided for CRTs and a counter-balance weight for LCDs). The software then produces a series of red, green, and blue targets for the spectrocolorimeter to read. One thing the Spyder2Pro adds is a gray target, which is beneficial since neutral grays are the hardest thing to hit in color management. The software then writes a profile for your monitor. Once calibrated, the software also prompts you to recheck your calibration at a user-defined interval (the default is every two weeks).
PrintFix Pro: Everything is here
The PrintFix Pro software is impressive. If the Spyder2Pro is a big improvement on the original Spyder, the PrintFix Pro package is night and day compared to ColorVision??"??"??s PrintProfiler. I??"??"??ve used very sophisticated printer-profiling software that costs thousands of dollars, but everything you need to create a printer profile based on ICC standards is here. Automation is about the only thing you??"??"??ll find on some high-end systems that??"??"??s not included in this software.
To create a profile, you go through an initial set-up pro??"?cess and then print out a target. Several targets can be used depending on how precise you need to be and how much time you have to read them. I wouldn??"??"??t recommend using the 150-patch target??"??"?it simply doesn??"??"??t supply enough data to provide the accuracy users want for professional output??"??"?but the 225-patch target should be fine for most users. There??"??"??s also a 729-patch target, which can be used if you??"??"??re incredibly patient. Keep in mind that each patch must be read by positioning the spectrocolorimeter over the patch and clicking. The more patches you read, the more accurate the profile.
As you read each patch, you??"??"??ll get an audible click followed by a bell sound when the patch has been read. Unfortunately, this doesn??"??"??t necessarily mean you have made an accurate reading??"??"?it??"??"??s not difficult to move your hand while the device is read??"?ing, causing it to misread the patch. In any case, the software will proceed to the next target patch, which will be highlighted in red so you know which one to read. If you read the wrong patch, it will accept the wrong data. But you can hit the cursor back button to go back and re-read any target. You can also go back and re-read patches at a later time. It took me about 15 minutes to complete the process with the 225-patch target, which included going back and fixing a few bogus readings.
Just as I completed this review, the company announced the release of PrintFix Pro 2.0. Although I did not have an opportunity to work with 2.0, its new features include: a new gray axis algorithm (designed to enhance the quality of tinted and black-and-white prints); a Curves Import function, allowing users to apply adjustments to the profile rather than to each individual image; Profile Softproof capabilities (see the effect of custom profile and settings changes before making a test print); multiple test image options that let users easily switch from the standard test images or use their own personal images; and new advanced presets (pre-built or custom).
Results that measure up
Throughout this process, the software compares the LAB color values that are known to be in the target file with the corresponding values of the color patches that your printer actually prints. The profile that??"??"??s created is a mathematical attempt to make those values match. The thing about color management, however, is that those values will never actu??"?ally match 100%. The idea is to make them match as closely as possible with the different machines, papers, and inks.
The PrintFix Pro Suite is a good way to get quality color management at a reasonable price. The process may seem relatively tedious and the tools may not be as precise as systems that cost several times as much money, but the end result is what is important??"??"?and this product will give results that measure up to some pretty sophisticated color professionals.
Price on the ColorVision PrintFix Pro Suite is $649.
Stephen Beals (firstname.lastname@example.org), in prepress production for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.