For too long now a sense of paranoia has been propagated amongst the photographic community, in part by those within the community and mostly by those that stand to profit from selling ‘solutions’ to that community.

CMYK file delivery is something that every photographer can offer and should offer. It enables us as photographers to stay in touch with our images further down the supply chain. It is also a very useful skill to understand and equally is an exciting addition to our knowledge.

The days when huge mistakes were made when converting from RGB to CMYK are long gone. There really is not that much that you can do nowadays that is going to render your images irretrievably unusable. In the early days of digital file supply there were many a printer who – when waking up one day to realise that their revenue stream was suddenly no longer going to include scanning (which accounted for some 40% of the litho costs on a photographically heavy project) and the RGB to CMYK conversions (some 20% of the litho cost if done and supplied with Cromalin’s), tried to make life difficult for the poor photographers who dared to supply ‘press-ready’ files.

Not only was there no open-loop colour management control, just about all presses operated a closed loop (within the building of the printing press) system of judging colour and the stability of the press conditions.

So, for any photographer to deliver press-ready files in those days was only going to cause trouble. Not only were we unlikely to generate a useful CMYK conversion for the press, but the printers weren’t interested in giving us the chance. Consequently many horror stories of photographers making unforgivable mistakes which ended up printed on millions of items of packaging that were then stored in warehouses until blame could be attributed and a solution found, were rife.

The fact is, that with the release of Photoshop 6.0 in September 2000, colour management came to the fore and started to allow us to dabble with it. This single event gave photographers the power to test, predict and control their images through various colour spaces – namely CMYK conversion and hugely accurate proofing using inkjet printers.

This was the beginning of the demise of C-type and R-type printing as we could now print our own images quicker, better and cheaper than using a lab.

So back to CMYK.

There are 2 proviso’s regarding anyone who ventures along this path.

1. The majority of photoshop installations that I have come across in this industry are set-up as North American + Web default.

This is obviously wrong, but is unfortunately how Photoshop chose to install itself by default for too long. No one realised that once you got Photoshop onto your computer you then had to look in the settings and set it up according to the jobs that you required Photoshop to perform. An obvious mistake which has been rectified in the recent releases of Photoshop where the application will ask you what settings you want to use for the application before installing.

This is how your Photoshop Color Settings should look:

2. You do not make your RGB to CMYK conversions in Photoshop by using IMAGE>MODE>CMYK color…

This is a ‘blind’ conversion. You cannot see what RGB Colour Space you are coming from NOR what CMYK Colour Space you are converting to OR how the conversion is being made. That is bad.

To convert to CMYK you need to use EDIT>CONVERT TO PROFILE
Check your RGB space is correct
Select the CMYK space you want
Use the Adobe ACE engine
Use Relative Colorimetric intent
Use Black Point Compensation
Use Dither

and here is what that should look like:


So long as you select a Fogra CMYK profile for Coated / Uncoated stock as necessary for the printing of the document, you will get a very useable result. This method will work for 90% of all images that relate to ‘normal’ photography.

The problems only start when you have images with particularly ‘difficult’ colours (out of CMYK gamut) or ‘extreme’ RGB photographs (i.e. over saturated, over contrasty, over retouched).

Nowadays, printers are more interested in getting paid by their clients than making photographers look like amateurs. They have also adopted a more forgiving file delivery method whereby they can receive a diverse range of image data and control the variance in house on their systems.

So, where does that leave us?

We can do an RGB to CMYK conversion with a high degree of confidence, but we would still like to ‘proof’ it.

Easy. All you need is an Epson.

For years Epson printers have been more than capable of reproducing the full gamut of CMYK. SO all we need is a way to get the Epson to ’emulate’ a CMYK press.

I’ll deal with this in a separate post.