Soft-Proofing in Photoshop

Soft-Proofing is an advanced technique that will help you get even more from your prints.

Soft-Proofing is a very powerful tool that allows you to make an accurate assessment of how your image will look when printed through a particular print process. Although not intended to replace hard-proofs (actual test prints) accurate soft-proofing will reduce the need for multiple hard-proofs as problems can be eliminated before ink goes to paper.

Soft-Proofing Requirements

To properly soft-proof you need to have an accurately calibrated monitor and an accurate ICC Profile for the print process you are assessing.

Check first that Photoshop is correctly accessing your monitor profile by selecting Edit, Color Settings from the menu. Under the heading Working Spaces click the RGB drop down box and look for ‘Monitor RGB – [your display profile]’.  You may need to scroll UP a bit. You will see something like this.


Having found your display profile, you know it is correctly installed in your operating system and is being accessed by Photoshop.

Make sure you have installed the ICC profile for the printing process you want to simulate. This might be your own Custom Printer Profile or one for the Finer Image Fine Art Printing Service. You can install an ICC profile by simply copying it to the color driver section of your operating system which is typically found at the path C:\WINDOWS\system32\spool\drivers\color

The Soft-Proofing Process

Open the image that you want to make a soft-proof for. The image must itself be tagged with a colour space (e.g. Adobe RGB 1998). From the menu select View, Proof Setup, Custom.

Soft Proof Setup

In the Device to Simulate drop down, select the ICC printer profile for the printer/paper combination you want to simulate. Do NOT tick Preserve RGB numbers. In the Rendering Intent drop down select Perceptual. Tick the Black Point Compensation check box and tick the Simulate Paper Colour check box. Click OK.

Visual Assessment of a Soft-Proof

The first thing you will notice is that your image has become a rather flat, low contrast version of itself. This is because Photoshop is now simulating ink on reflective paper which has a lower contrast that pixels on a light emitting monitor. Although things feel a bit alien at first you should soon get used to it. The key thing is not to use a white 'wallpaper' in Photoshop as this will appear brilliant white by comparison and throw your ability to make assessments.

It can be useful to increase the image canvas size with a white border since it is the white in a print the most effects our tonal perception. From the menu select Image, Canvas Size and increase it by say 15% using white as the Canvas Extension Colour. This border will appear as the paper white rather than monitor white.

It help to asses your image one stage at a time.

Tonal Assessment

Relative to the paper white does the image look heavy/muddy or thin/light. What about contrast. Is it too high and unrealistic or lacking enough punch to look real.

Pay particular attention to detail in the shadow and highlight details. Are the Blacks blocking up or is there a lack of detail in the highlights. Adjust the curves accordingly.

A Curves adjustment is generally the best tool for making these kind of edits.

Colour Assessment

It is possible that your image may contain colours that are beyond the printable colours of the printing process. You can check this by turning on the Gamut Warning. From the menu select View, Gamut Warning. Any areas that are outside the printers colour pallet will be overlayed with the Gamut Warning colour (grey by default). Zoom into the problem areas and toggle the gamut warning view on and off (Shift+CTRL+Y). Action may or may not be required depending on how much similar colours are blocking up. Bringing colours back within the palette of the printer is often solved by tweaking the saturation and brightness of the colour(s) in question.

Conversely you may want to boost overall saturation and the gamut warning will let you know how far you can go before you start to push colours beyond the gamut of the printer.

To toggle the Soft Proof view on and off press the CTRL+Y on your keyboard.