CMYK Struggles

I’ve spent the day battling with CMYK. It’s happened before and I’ve seldom managed to get things to work properly, despite reading all the documents, following the setting up of color preferences and all the rest.

I’m finishing off my latest Blurb publication, ‘The Deserted Royals’, which definitely has no connection at all with the Windsor family and their offspring, but about the Royal Docks, which when I photographed them in 1984 were more or less a ghost town. More details – including how to order – shortly.

Before I’ve always printed using sRGB image files – which are still the only option if you use Blurb’s free Booksmart software. But now I work with Adobe’s InDesign, and Blurb say you can get better results, particularly in the shadows, with CMYK files. Although I’ve been happy with the quality of my previous books, the black and white images were at times just a little too far from neutral for my taste, usually with a slighly green or cyan tone, with variations on different print runs. I’d like them to be neutral (or perhaps even a very slightly warm neutral) and more consistent, and I’m told CMYK is the answer to that problem also. Though it might make sense to send the files as slightly warm in the first place in case they drift a little. As we found long ago with inkjet printing, black and white is much more sensitive to these things than colour. There were of course even worse problems with printing black and white chromogenic films like Ilford XP1 and XP2 on colour paper, which few processors really managed to solve consistently, though in the darkroom the solution was simple – print them on black and white paper.

Blurb have some clear instructions on how to set up a Blurb color-managed workflow and print good black and white books (and different instructions online if you use Booksmart), with a video showing even the slowest in town how to set things up in InDesign. There are instructions too on how to prepare your files in Photoshop, converting from a neutral or toned RGB file to a suitable CYMK file, and there is a great Blurb book by Franz Huempfnerwith 33 proofs of pure or toned black and white images with the Blurb ICC Profile and some other CMYK Profiles” available to view in full as a preview on Blurb. It gives full instructions on how to do it and links to some useful presets and actions for Lightroom and Photoshop.

So I try it out. I start with an sRGB file, absolutely neutral having been converted in Lightroom from the original grayscale TIFF scan. Wandering across it in Photshop with the eye-dropper confirms R=G=B at ever point.¬† Converting it to CMYK using the Blurb ICC profile but saving and updating the image in InDesign gave a flatter image with a slight cyan cast. I got even worse results using a custom ICC profile suggested by Huempfner and others, or some of the presets he gave a link to. I played around with it a bit, checking and double-checking I’d done everything correctly, including updating the files in InDesign.

Eventually I gave up, and started writing about my problems. I decided I needed an illustration, so tried again exactly what I’d been doing earlier. No changes, following exactly the same directions. And it seems to have worked.¬† Of course I’ll only know if it does give a more neutral result when I get the printed book back from Blurb in a couple of weeks.

It’s in a way possibly not that important. I’ve decided to go over to publishing in digital format in any case, assigning the ISBN for this ‘book’ to the PDF file. Two reasons, cost and quality. I can sell the PDF through Blurb at a sensible price and there are no expensive delivery costs – and I could also produce my own PDFs. Secondly, the quality of the images on a good screen is better than any printer can produce. Of course books do still have some advantages, and I’ll certainly want my own printed copy for the bookshelf. And as Huempfner points out, Wilhelm Reseach gives the HP Indigo inks used by Blurb’s printers have a dark storage life over 200 years without noticeable¬† fading or colour balance.

I’m still not happy about CMYK conversions, and haven’t found any of the various methods suggested by Huempfner or the presets and actions he links to give results I like the look of. Using the Blurb ICC profile without any toning is the only way I’ve managed to get results I like. Although some of the tonings look great in his book, when I tried them on my own images they seemed not to give quite the same results, mainly altering the image tone too radically for my taste.

3 Responses to “CMYK Struggles”

  1. Verichrome says:

    Pay special attention to the comments by Andrew “digitaldog.net” Rodney, who literally wrote the book on color management for photographers.

  2. Thanks for that. Some interesting things by Andrew R and trshaner.

    There is a lot in the talk there that agrees with my experience with Blurb, though the problems I had yesterday were with Photoshop and Indesign, not that I wasn’t trying to do things right, just that for some reason the software wasn’t working properly.

    I wrote a series of articles on colour management for photographers around ten years ago, and Andrew Rodney was one of the people whose work I looked at then. I suspect what he says about how Blurb work is correct, and it makes some sense given they work with different print companies around the world.

    I’ve actually been pretty pleased with the colour books I’ve done with Blurb, and the b/w too. Fortunately I’ve only used the standard and premium luster papers where trshaner reports only very slight shifts, and that’s been my experience too. I’ll be interested if this remains the same using CMYK rather than sRGB, but feading the forum it seem’s more than likely. So for the next book I’ll perhaps try to make up my own preset to give just a very slight warming to counteract this. But yet another reason to prefer PDF.

    I think in my articles on colour management I suggested that photographers should stick to supplying their work as RGB, and leave it to others to convert to CMYK. Unless you know exactly what is going to be done to the files there are too many things that can go wrong – an even if it isn’t the photographer’s fault that is where the blame will sit. I normally supply work as sRGB, although I print myself from AdobeRGB I’ve found some people treat everything as sRGB.

    So one extra bit of advice for people wanting books from Blurb. Stick with Premium Luster or Standard paper. At least until Blurb release proper profiles for the different papers.

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