Friday, November 5, 2010

Printing Series: Chromix ColorThink Pro

ColorThink Pro has arrived. Go 'whoa!' all over again.

If you’ve been following my printing series you’ve probably seen me mention the name Douglas Dubler a few times as being the ultimate paper profile guru. Well as you might imagine, I’ve talked with Douglas quite a bit during this series to get advice on improving my own profile making skills so I could share my knowledge with you. During these conversations Douglas would frequently recommend ColorThink Pro as “the” tool to analyze your profiles to make sure you are generating something that is better than what comes with your printer.

Now Douglas is a wildly successful photographer with pockets significant deeper than many of us can ever dream to have, so I was skeptical at first. When I mentioned this to Douglas he was quick to point out that this product could actually save you money by allowing you to validate if your profile was any good or if it was the right profile for the image you were going to print. When I asked how, he said “simple, by preventing you from wasting paper, ink and time on something that isn’t going to look good when its printed.”

This got me to thinking – wow, that sounds cool, but can it really do that? This lead me to go to the web site and check it out, but at first it seemed like a useless tool that just generated some funky graphs. I’m not the uber-geek type, so I thought this app was totally useless. However, I had already made arrangements with Chromix to get a copy and review it, so I gave it the proper due diligence and learned how to use this product properly. It was only then that I discovered the significance of what this product can do with multiple 3D graphs overlaying each other and its powerful worksheet feature. It was at this moment I realized a few things:

  1. Adobe Photoshop’s soft proofing kinda sucks – they should license this technology!
  2. I can see exactly what is the correct paper (including rendering intent) for my image to maximize the colors rendered on the page. This allows me to know how to get the best print, and try several papers without spending a penny! Wow, that’s both great for my pocketbook AND the environment!
  3. While the learning curve is a little tricky at first, once you understand it you’ll find yourself wasting hours playing around in this product because it is just cool as hell to do “what if” scenarios.
  4. The ColorSmarts Guide feature is more than just help – it is an advanced wizard system that will allow you to do some powerful things that only geeks would discover on their own (hence the propeller beanie I think <g>).
  5. I love this tool!

I’ve also realized in writing my review that I could write a book on this that would probably lose half of my audience so I’m going to do a rather short review that hopefully will grab your attention so that you will take time to learn more online.

Profile Inspector

image
Profile Inspector Overview Tab

Profile Inspector is a useful tool that will detect any file format problems in your profile, as well as show you the files contents in human readable form. Some of its data can also be edited to give you more human readable names in other products and much more.

This tool can also be your starting point for launching the graphs or the profile medic which can be used to fix a profile that has file format errors (not for correcting profile data errors).

Graphs

Without a question the most valuable feature of this product is the graphing feature. While there’s a bunch of different types of graphs that you can render, split, spin, etc… the thing I found most useful was the ability to identify a bad paper profile. Here’s an example of such a profile:

Mouse over to see good profile graph, mouse out to see bad profile graph

3D Paper Profile Graphs
Hover to see the good profile graph and
mouse out to see what a bad profile looks like

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that the above graph has nasty chunks missing out of it, and those chunks represent colors that are missing. I knew right away after looking at this profile that something went seriously wrong and that I shouldn’t attempt to print with it (paper and ink saved).

I’ll show more graphs later in this article, but you can do 2D, 3D, and even split them to see inside.You can also change the type and opacity which is useful when graphs overlap each other.

Video

While I found the design of this feature too crude and difficult to use for the average user (remember, I’m programmer who does user-interface work), the concept is really great as you can share the results of your graphs in a video.

Here’s an example I uploaded to YouTube for my Epson Exhibition Fiber review. This graph shows a very good paper profile with an impressive gamut.


Epson Exhibition Fiber Profile 3D Graph
(profile created by Epson)
 

ColorSmarts Guide

This is a cool tool because it allows you to experiment and learn about features you may not realize exist in this product and it tries to tell you what it did so you can learn yourself. Each time I use this product I try to experiment a new way and check something out. For tonight while writing this review I went down down this path…


Step 1 – Evaluate Device RGB Calibration


Step 2 – Choose a RGB Device Profile


Step 3 – Graph the results

image
Step 4 – Summary of what was done

While this isn’t the most exciting chart I’ve ever generated, you get the idea of how the workflow of this tool works. It’s the same basic concept for other selections as well, and the key part here is that you learn as you go when the summary tells you exactly what it did.

The cool thing is that even in cases like this you learn about something new that you might not need at the moment, but you’ll remember later when you do. In past wild rides like this I learned about other cool things that I didn’t realize existed before, so this is a handy learning tool.

Graphing image data against display and paper profile color gamut's

Since I already had the display profile loaded, I decide to change the graph type to a smooth volume and lowered the opacity. I then added a paper profile and left it at flat so I could tell which profile was which and then I added a plot of the colors used in one of my images I typically print on this paper.

You can see an example below that shows what I loaded:


Plot Items Dialog allows you to show/hide profiles
as well as control settings

Using the graph I could analyze my image to see how much of the colors were out of the gamut of the paper profile versus my display profile. It’s much easier to see when you click on the image and view it full size, but you can also see the spikes in the center that are the points of the image.

What this graph tells me is that my display has a very wide color gamut that is much larger than my printer profiles color gamut. It also tells me that while my display can render all of the colors of the image, my paper profile can not (a.k.a., out of gamut colors). This is useful for me to know as I may want to work on my image to bring those colors back in gamut for the paper I want to print it on.

Display, Paper and Image profiles in a 3D Chart
Image Colors inside of
a LexJet
Metallic Paper Profile inside of
a
NEC PA241W-BK Display Profile

Typically the display graph wouldn’t be needed in a image to print analysis, but I did it here just for fun and illustrative purposes. Where this type of analysis is more useful is in the worksheet mode which I will discuss next.

Worksheet Mode - The Ultimate Soft Proofing Tool

Worksheet mode is really cool because you can do transformations (among other things) to see what happens when you convert from one profile to another profile – which is effectively what Photoshop is doing for you when you soft proof an image to see what it might look like when it is printed. Now the images I show you here are for illustrative purposes because there’s no way in hell you’ll be able to see the colors accurately because these images don’t have the color depth of ColorThink Pro AND you are viewing them in a browser. However, you can use these screen shots to get an idea of what I did when you are playing around with your own demo copy.

Here’s a cool one where I wanted to see what happened when my ProPhoto RGB image had the paper profile applied and I was viewing that result in an sRGB color space (like you do in Lightroom or Photoshop by default). The net result (which sadly you can’t see below very well) is that color is lost during each transformation such that sRGB isn’t as colorful as what will actually get printed.


For Illustrative Purposes Only – Colors are inaccurate in  your browser and in the file

Now the above exercise is totally geek stuff that isn’t super useful in the real world so now let’s look at a more useful real-world example.

Identifying Out of Gamut Colors

A common problem I have is that Photoshop will show me ugly gray patches to show that I have colors out of gamut, but I don’t know what colors they really are or what to do with that information. In the worksheet I can actually plot a chart that shows the differences and use a tool to see exactly what colors (in RGB values) are out of gamut (shown in yellow in the middle column).


Examine where the colors that are out of gamut actually are in your image

 

Conclusion

I’m not worthy to review all of the features of this product because many are simply over my head. In addition, many don’t apply to my work. What I really find it most useful for is printer profile evaluation especially in cases (as shown earlier) when I have a bad printer profile or if I want to see where my image is out of gamut for a given paper profile. Using this data I can either work to create a better paper profile, use a different paper or adjust my image to get the results I need.

ColorThink Pro can save you both paper and ink by helping you to identify a bad profile or conversion errors while soft proofing. It’s an important thing to remember because in time this product can pay for itself, so while it may be expensive at first it may only take about 20 large prints that didn’t get printed because of data learned in this product before you break even. 

For people who don’t have soft proofing software (i.e., Lightroom users), this product is extremely valuable for their workflow as this is the most powerful and accurate soft proofing tool I’ve used.  Of course, I realize that this is likely to be a small subset as those doing proofing should have Photoshop. However, even Photoshop users will enjoy the benefit of more accurate soft proofing both visually and in the worksheet and graphs - when they learn how to master this tool.

Finally, I recognize that this isn’t for the beginner or budget minded as it isn’t a cheap $50 product. After using it I recognize that it is cheap for what you get and the hours it had to take building this software could easily justify a price as high as most RIP software.

To this end I have worked hard with Chromix to offer their first ever discount that is exclusive to readers of this blog. I realize this might not be enough for some of  you, but for those who live and breathe printing you should seriously consider taking advantage of this offer while it lasts. 

For those who generate their own paper profiles and can afford it, I highly recommend this product. For the budget minded, go get some good lenses and a ColorMunki first, and come back here when your generating your own paper profiles.

For more information visit Chromix or their wonderful wiki which is filled with tons of great info on color management and more.

Exclusive Special Offer

I am thrilled to announce an exclusive special offer for readers of this blog only. You can save 10% off when you enter apply ronmartblog discount in the shopping cart notes when you purchase any of the following products:

You MUST enter apply ronmartblog discount in the shopping cart notes to get the 10% discount, so do not forget this important step! The discount will not show up in your cart but will be confirmed and applied by Chromix when your credit card is charged.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is really cool - just what I need. I require really accurate color reproduction and this I believe will show me what print media is compatible and what is not - by showing the colors that are reproducible. I have, I believe, a really accurate system for making color images using a photo-spectrometer to measure the colors of my subject. Now I need to validate my paper media choices for printing.

Ron Martinsen said...

Then this is the right product for you! You'll love it!

Here's a tip - there's a bit of a learning curve at first so if you are struggling to figure it out then be sure to contact their support - it's great - and they'll hook you up so you can get the most of it!

Don't forget, the only discount on the internet is here too!

Anonymous said...

Try MAIDOTEC color management suite.

http://www.maidotec.com/en/color-management#3

They will blow you away, and it's GPU accelerated !