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Help System > Color matching

Color matching

Here's the TL;DR:

  • If you're using a very good monitor and you've calibrated it with a hardware calibrator, our prints will probably very closely match what's on your monitor.
  • If you have previously printed your images on a very good photo printer with more than 4 inks, and you have used the correct ICC profile with that printer, our prints will probably very closely match your prints.
  • No printer, including us, can promise that every color within our prints will match every color on your monitor or on other prints you've done.
  • For big, expensive jobs, order a small print first (a "proof") on the same paper, to ensure that your big, expensive print job will meet your expectations.

Our eyes are marvelously sensitive to tiny variations in color.

Example 1: This image shows seven very slight variations in gray; from cool (on the left) to neutral 50% gray (in the center) to warm (on the right). Can you see the difference?

gray bar from cool to neutral to gray

Example 2: This image shows seven very slight variations in purple; from a purple with slightly less blue (on the left) to a purple with slightly more blue (on the right). Can you see the difference?

purple bars, from less bluish-purple to more bluish-purple

The two above examples—shades of gray and shades of purple—illustrate colors that are extremely difficult or impossible to absolutely match across all monitors and printers. Here's an explanation why:

Monitors, printers, and color

Did you know that monitors and printers produce color in totally different ways?

Monitors produce color by mixing red, green, and blue:

red, blue, green

All office color laser printers and most inkjet printers (that are not "photo printers") produce color by mixing cyan, magenta, yellow, and black:

cyan, magenta, yellow, black bars

Our top-quality printers produce an extremely wide color gamut (range of colors that can be produced) by mixing cyan, photo cyan, magenta, photo magenta, yellow, blue, red, gray, photo gray, matte black, and photo black:

11 different color bars of LUCIA PRO inks

Because printers and monitors produce colors differently, it's impossible to guarantee that all colors will look exactly the same across all monitors and all printers.

Color management to the rescue, sort of

Color management is a term used to describe a process by which scientists and hardware manufacturers (of printers, monitors, scanners, cameras, etc.) work together to ensure that a particular color on one device looks the same on another device to the greatest extent possible.

Color management includes things like:

  • Calibrating your monitor with a hardware calibrator
  • Using correct ICC profiles for your printer and the paper you're printing on
  • Viewing prints and your monitor under special "D50" (5000°K) lighting, which is a neutral white—not sunlight or regular indoor light bulbs
  • Selecting the right "color space" (sRGB or AdobeRGB) on your camera for what you want to do (usually sRGB for Web work, AdobeRGB for printing, but not necessarily always)

Indigo Image Lab does all the above things, and more, in an effort to produce prints for you that exceed your expectations and that have colors that match what you expect.

But, as we said, it's impossible for us to guarantee that the prints we produce will have colors that always exactly match what's on your monitor, or that match prints you've gotten from other printers.

Here are some of the reasons why colors might not exactly match:

Viewing conditions

The color of light changes drastically through your day, causing the appearance of things to change drastically, too. Your eyes are used to these changes, so you hardly notice them, but they can wreak havoc on the process of comparing and inspecting photographic prints.

Note: an auto-changing version of all three of the below prints is at the bottom, letting you more easily see the color differences.

Here's our standard test print under neutral (5000°K) conditions that we use to inspect our prints:

test image under neutral conditions

Here's our illustration of how the print might appear when viewed by a window on a cloudy day. The light is 7000°K bluish-white (you don't realize it, but it is), imparting a bluish cast to the image:

test image on a cloudy day

Here's our illustration of how the neutral print might appear indoors under warm (2700°K) lighting, imparting a yellow-orange cast to the image:

test image under warm indoor lighting

Here's a rotating comparison of each:

test image under warm indoor lighting

Different inks=different colors

There are three different inks that most printers use on paper.

Toner is a colored powder that's only used in laser printers.

Dye inks are used in most consumer-grade inkjet printers (not ours). To understand a dye ink, imagine taking a glass of water, adding a few drops of liquid food coloring, and stirring. The dye is completely dissolved in the water.

Pigment inks are used in most professional inkjet printers (like ours). To understand a pigment ink, imagine taking a thin sheet of bright red plastic and shredding it into tiny, tiny pieces, so each piece was almost too small to see. Then, take a water bottle, add a teaspoon of the shredded red plastic, and shake. The water looks red, but if you'd pour a little onto water and let it dry, you'd have a very thin film of red plastic on the paper.

Pigment inks result in an actual layer of colored dry pigment on your paper. The prints are more water-resistant and fade-resistant than dye-based inks. But, pigment inks are more expensive and have a shorter shelf life.

The result of all these different inks is that a shade of (for example) purple might look a little different on different printers, even though they're both printing the "same" color.

Different papers=different colors

Every paper has its own characteristics, and these characteristics change how a print will appear. Papers vary in color, from plain white to bright white. Here's our illustration of the difference in color between "economy bond", "white", and "bright white" paper:

regular bond, natural white, bright white

Also, some papers are "office papers" and have only one layer, some are "photo papers" that have six layers or more that are designed to hold ink at the surface, and some are "fine art" papers, with a special ink-receiving coating over 100% cotton rag paper. Some have optical brightening agents to make them look whiter by absorbing UV light and emitting a tiny bit of blue light, and some don't.

Different papers=different gamuts

The term gamut means: "the total number of different colors." A paper that can print a large gamut (usually called "wide gamut") is a paper that can show lots of colors. A paper with a smaller gamut (a "narrow gamut") can't show as many colors as a paper with a larger gamut.

High-quality photo paper and fine art paper has a wide gamut, while plain copier paper has a much narrower gamut.

So, let's say one paper has a large gamut and can print this exact color:


Another paper with a smaller gamut cannot print that color. The closest color it can print is this one:


So, if you would send the same image to the same printer, using the same inks, but with different papers, the printed colors might be very different, depending on the paper used to print the image.

Other color-matching factors

There are other factors that can significantly affect how colors appear on your monitor or on your prints:

  • Monitor display modes. Is your monitor set to "sRGB mode" or "theater mode" or "gaming mode"?
  • Monitor display settings. Are the brightness, contrast, gamma, and color temperature settings adjusted correctly?
  • Print driver color matching. Do you have color management turned on or off? Have you selected the correct paper and ICM profile for the paper you're using?

Order a proof, to be sure

The point of this whole page is that you must order a small proof in order to be absolutely sure of what you're getting.

When we say, "order a proof," we mean submit an order at a small size, say 8" x 10", on the same paper you intend for the larger print. A small proof like that will cost less than $20, including shipping, even on our most expensive paper. Plus, you'll get an extra little print for you to hang somewhere at work (or at home)!

Or, use our Test Print

You can view and download our Test Image, and then order a Sample Pack. When you get the Sample Pack in the mail, you can compare our prints with your monitor (or prints) to ensure they match.

If your monitor is calibrated, and you have previously produced prints that use the correct ICC profiles, then the colors should match almost perfectly.

Read more about our Test Image and how to use it.


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