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Is CMYK necessary to get good prints?

I play a cat and mouse game with the printer every time I have cards printed. Too dark, too red, too much contrast… go home and edit and back into town to try again.
Finally, I asked the print shop guy if he had any advice and he said to save it in CMYK because that’s what all their printers use. ?
Since I only use Elements for editing, and Elements doesnt support CMYK, I will have to purchase a full version of Photoshop to do this. I’ve tried using free online converters but it’s still a cat and mouse game since I cant upload the new converted CMYK image into Elements to rework it due to Elements not capable of importing CMYK.
So, my question is this: Once I get an image on my monitor to look like my painting, how do I get it onto my cards with correct colors?
BTW - I have an Epson Pro Stylus 3880 but I have trouble getting colors right on it as well. Also, I feel the laser printers give a more professional look than my ink jet.
Seriously, it shouldnt be this difficult. :frowning:

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I use a photo service occasionally, and to get the colors right to print out, they need slightly lighter photos of the painting, because the painting prints out darker in the professional print jobs.

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It is difficult. I tried selling prints I made from my Epson 7520 Workforce large flatbed printer…had too many complaints so I gave it up. People feel prints should be cheap but they don’t understand the cost involved with printing them properly.

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Hi Lori. It’s a can of worms, isn’t it? So many variables involved. I have some suggestions that might help.

Be sure your monitor is calibrated and the controls are locked so you don’t accidentally change the settings. Block any ambient light in the room when you’re editing.

Make sure your lighting is consistent when you photograph your artwork. If your camera can shoot RAW, use that instead of JPEG. You can save as JPEG after editing, but use a high quality setting. TIFF is often preferred by photographers.

Ask your printer for a color profile file for the brand and model of printer they are using. Install that and select it in your preferences when you convert from RGB to CMYK. Also ask them to print a color test strip for you that has the four process colors plus a gray scale from black to white. Place the scale alongside your artwork and include it in your photos. Then adjust the photo to match the test strip before you crop your image.

Before you buy Photoshop, you might try out the free, open-source image editor at Gimp.org. It does support CMYK and there are plenty of tutorials available on their site and on Youtube.

The paper you select also matters. More absorbent papers increase the dot-gain compensation needed.

It helps to remember that the RGB color space has a much larger gamut than CMYK does. That just means you can paint, and your screen can display, a lot more colors than your printer can put on paper. Some vibrant, saturated colors, like neon purples and chemical greens, simply cannot be reproduced with process color pigments. Expect those punchy colors to come out duller than you’d like.

Of course, all of this assumes your printer is doing a good job of maintaining and operating their machines for consistent results. If not, you won’t get the beautiful prints you want no matter what you do.

If you decide to get a fine art printer to help you, consider Lisa and Joe Diebboll at The Highland Studio, Cold Spring, NY. I used them back in the late 90s and early 00s when printing some of my digital artwork. Not cheap, but they’re great people to work with.

Hope all this is helpful. Good luck!


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I struggled with making note cards from my paintings for years. Finally I came up with a system that works for me. I use my Epson printer to print the card back and title on the front. I buy packages of 50 blank note cards with envelopes at Michaels when they are on sale. The images I have printed at Costco or Walgreens. I find Walgreens to be a little better printing, but often prints a little too dark. I photograph my paintings using an inexpensive photo cube which I bought on eBay. This eliminates glare. I take my photos in jpeg format which is what Costco and Walgreens takes. I usually put the jpeg into Photoshop and make sure it is 300 dpi, and set the image to 4” x 6” so the printer does not crop my image (although sometimes they do anyway). I sometimes have a white end which I trim off later. I wait until Walgreens has .10 or .09 cent sale on prints. I print up 100+ images and file them in photo boxes by image. When I get a card order from one of my boutique shops which sell my cards, I just print up the card with my info, glue the image to the card, slide it into a plastic bag and it is ready to sell. Yes, it is a lot of sweat work to make the cards, but it saves lots of wear and tear on my printer and is really quite cost effective. I think my cards cost about .35 each for me to make and sell for $4 each. (Less if wholesale to a shop). I consider them advertising and I have sold quite a few original paintings as a result of folks buying my cards and contacting me. Make sure you have your name, website and contact info on the back of your card. I am lucky enough to sell in a high tourist gift shop and local nursery gift shop as well as a number of art galleries. I feel they are a very successful marketing technique. You can see examples of my note cards on my DPW gallery. I also make up sets of my note cards which I sell by theme. Hope this helps you.

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That is always the case for me as well. I lighten my card images 20% before printing.

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Agreed. It has been very labor intensive. If only there were a fool proof method.

Gary, this is very helpful. I have calibrated my monitor and the printer guy says he doesnt have an icc profile (?) but I will try your other tips. Thanks for the help! :slight_smile:

My method is similar to Regina’s. I scan my images, compile them on 8.5x11 sheets, upload them to Staples, and order digital color copies on high-quality semi-gloss paper. If the color or density isn’t quite right, it’s very inexpensive to adjust and re-print. IMO the quality is amazing. Then I cut them out and mount to cards, adding a hand-embossed border. It’s labor-intensive, but I enjoy it and have produced and sold quite a few for events.