Eastern Maine Camera Club

Developing Photographers

Do Your Prints Come Out Dull and Muted Like Mine? 

Last Christmas I decided to try sending a photograph to Snapfish for printing and pickup up at Walgreens in Brewer.  It seemed like a great idea to me.  They have some really good prices and I wanted to see how the quality was.  So I came up with a plan to print my own, then print one at Walgreens and compare the two. 

So, first I prepared a file to print, which is where the color space part of this story comes into play.  I’ve always heard that it’s best to use the Adobe RGB color space for printing, and the sRGB color space for photos that I plan to display on the screen.  So following that logic it made sense to prepare the photo for printing by setting its color space to Adobe RGB. 

So after preparing the file using AdobeRGB I printed it on my Epson 1400.  In case your wondering, yes I have color corrected my monitor using an inexpensive Eye One calibrator.  I took my time making sure that all my printer settings were correct, used Epson gloss paper with the correct profile.  The results were great.  The picture was very vibrant, just as it appeared on my screen.    

Now that I had a nice color corrected file that printed well my next step was to upload it to Snapfish and order a print.  I ordered the same size which was priced significantly less then what it costs me to print it at home.  I also specified that I would pick it up at my local Walgreens. 

Later that day I took a trip to Walgreens and picked up my picture.  At first glance it looked pretty good in the store.  I didn’t take time to study it closely until I got it home.  Then I was able to compare it to the one that I had printed.  Boy was I disappointed.  It looked nothing like the one that I printed.  The colors were much more dull and muted. 

At that point I was ready to give up on the Walgreens printing until I accidently stumbled on to something very curious on the Snapfish web site.  At the same time I uploaded the test print file I also uploaded some other files from the same series that I planned to use to make some gifts.  Quite by accident as I was looking at them I noticed the test photo appeared muted in the SnapFish album online, and the other ones I had uploaded looked quite vibrant.  After scratching my head for a while I realized that the difference was the color space applied to the photo.  The vibrant ones in SnapFish were sRGB and the muted ones were AdobeRGB.   Here’s a snapshot I took of two of the images as they appeared in snapfish:

  

Figure One.  Screenshot of Two Pictures from a SnapFish Album View

So let me review what happened.  I printed the file with the Adobe color space at home and it came out vibrant, exactly like the picture on the right. 

I sent the Adobe color space photo to SnapFish and the print came back muted, like the picture on the left.  So the key is that the SnapFish print matched exactly how it appeared on the screen when I uploaded it to the site.

Another interesting fact.  If I look at the two photos side by side in Photoshop Elements or LightRoom it’s impossible for me to tell the difference.  They both look like the photo on the right above.  It’s only when I look at them on the SnapFish web site that I can see this difference.

The next logical thing to do would be to order a print using the sRGB color space.  But I got busy and this project dropped off my radar.  Fast forward a year and a few days ago I came across this blog (from 2007) that explains exactly what causes this behavior in detail.   I highly recommend reading this blog if you're interested in this problem.   http://www.photographybay.com/2007/04/12/the-mystery-behind-color-spaces-adobe-rgb-vs-srgb/

The bottom line is this.  If you have prints coming back from a printer that look dull and muted you might want to check into what color space they are expecting you to use. 

I’m going to give SnapFish another try.  I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

Posted by Kevin Doyle Saturday, November 26, 2011 1:56:00 AM
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