I design artwork in Photoshop to be sold as downloadable files for printing.

However, I'm having ongoing issues with printed colour problems and seem to be going round in circles with this problem. I design the files in Adobe RGB and make sure no areas are out of gamut, as I'm assuming most people will print on their home printers or take the files to copy shops.

However, when I do a soft proof in Photoshop for my Canon Printer the colours change pretty dramatically - significantly darker, duller and more washed out. When printed they look just as bad, so the soft proof is pretty accurate.

Adjusting the colours of the artwork so that they look better on my printer isn't an option because I'm selling these as downloads, so the files will be printed on a wide range of printers.

I know that it is impossible to control how colours are managed once the file has left my hands, but I really want to be sure that it's not a problem with the colour profile I'm designing in, or something I'm doing wrong. I got hold of some PDI test images to do a comparison, and while they did print out a bit darker there didn't seem to be a noticeable difference between what was on screen and what printed on paper in terms of colour.

I certainly didn't look at them and think "YUCK!" like I do when I print out my own designs. This makes me think it's something I'm doing wrong. Having said that, when I took my designs to a copy shop they printed out very decently on their laser printer. I'm at a loss as to what I should do. Any insights would be VERY much appreciated! Thanks.

  • Switching to sRGB is more standard and might yield better results. I've never had much luck with the Adobe RGB profile.
    – Scott
    May 1, 2018 at 15:34
  • There are two different systems at play. Colour printer drivers have been optimized for colour photography to print well. Graphic designers must work their magic by 'hacking' that reality. Before you release your work into the wild, you must provide a way for pigments to be rendered correctly. That almost always involves the concept of "colour management."
    – Stan
    May 1, 2018 at 15:35

2 Answers 2


End-use inkjet printers want you to send them RGB data. Don't send CMYK color files to print on an end-user inkjet printer if you are expecting anything close accurate color.

End-use inkjets don't really understand what CMYK data is. So when you send them a CMYK file, it confuses them.... so they do the best they can. They convert the unknown color (CMYK) to something they do understand RGB. Then, for output, they convert that RGB to CcMmYyK for their internal inks. This results in multiple color conversions within the print driver itself and often results in color shifts.

A possible exception to the above statement is if your particular printer has an onboard RIP internally. Some higher-end inkjet printers do come with a RIP (raster image processor) and these are designed to convert CMYK for output along with vector data and other postscript things. These typically are the more expensive printers (~$500+), not the $150 printer you pick up at Amazon, Staples, etc. And generally they market the printer as having a RIP, because it's a big selling point.

Using Adobe RGB is also a possible mismatch. Most end-use inkjet manufactures build their machines for the "unknowning" or "uncaring" user. To this end, they often use the most common, standard color profile which is sRGB. For the average users printing from the internet, Word, or some other general application, sRGB is a perfect choice.

Because you know enough to change your profile to Adobe RGB, you may be introducing the color mismatch there. The printer has to convert your Adobe RGB profile to a profile it uses (sRGB). Any profile conversion "on-the-fly" by the print driver can result in undesired shifts. Working in sRGB will be far more universal overall and will probably result in prints which are more accurate where color is concerned.

I would suggest you work in sRGB rather than Adobe RGB. This is especially true if the goal is to provide files that can be printed by many users on their end-use printers.

If you find prints via sRGB are fairly color accurate but slightly darker, you could possibly adjust for that. You may be able to calibrate the printer itself. Calibrating the printer may help fix the darker prints without any need to adjust the actual artwork. I'm not familiar with Canon printers so I can't say for certain. (Random link found via Google about calibrating a Canon printer)

Or, you could adjust the artwork to compensate for the slightly darker inks of the printer. But adjusting artwork would make your files more "localized", which it seem may not be the goal overall.

  • Thank you for mentioning the RIP in your answer for printing graphics.
    – Stan
    May 1, 2018 at 16:48
  • @Scott, thanks so much - makes sense what you say and explains why I've been getting these results. sRGB it is, then! The darkening of the image doesn't worry me too much as I'm pretty sure it's due to my particular printer, and as you say, adjusting for that will only make the files more "localized", which is definitely not what I want.
    – Sarah
    May 2, 2018 at 6:55

What you probably doing wrong is using RGB, and not using a CMYK swatchbook.

If you want to be sure that colors print as expected, you must refer to a PRINTED sample of the color, created with CMYK inks. I recommend Trumatch color swatchbooks. I guarantee you will get the colors you expect if you use CMYK swatches and input those CMYK values into Photoshop or any other professional graphics program.

Using RGB is a recipe for mismatch. There isn't any magic to using CMYK ink values with CMYK inks and CMYK swatchbooks. But anything else is voodoo.

Yes, yes, I know, RGB can be translated, and many print drivers and amateur graphics programs try to accommodate people working in RGB. But it makes no sense and isn't the way things work in the real world. 100% yellow and 100% M is a particular red that always looks the same in CMYK and never looks like 100% R.

  • Thanks for the reply. There seems to be so much conflicting information about this, as I'd previously been advised to work in RGB for home printers. In fact, I did a test and changed the files to sRGB and they printed out much better! However, from what you say, if I work in a CMYK space from the start will that avoid any problems, regardless of where it's being printed?
    – Sarah
    May 1, 2018 at 15:07
  • Yes, it's really accurate to work in CMYK because you can have exact swatches. Make yourself a reference sheet -- create swatches using only CMYK colors, don't use any profiles or conversions, and print the document. Now you know exactly how 50% C and 50% yellow (for example) will look. This is the whole reason for having swatchbooks. It's how professionals work. They do not assume anything about onscreen colors. You can invest $10,000 in monitor calibration and not get results as good as a $50 swatchbook. At least in my experience.
    – user8356
    May 1, 2018 at 15:16
  • One reason RGB became popular is because many low-cost programs won't work with CMYK. And some graphics formats don't understand anything but RGB (I'm look at you, GIF). But RGB is a light - based system, not an ink-based one.
    – user8356
    May 1, 2018 at 15:19
  • Uhm... most inkjet printers want you to send them RGB data. You should really not be sending CMYK color to an inkjet printer. It confuses them. See here: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/99592/… -- the issue here is probably a mismatch or uncalibrated workflow. At least that would be my guess.
    – Scott
    May 1, 2018 at 15:19
  • OK - when you say a mismatch, are you referring to a mismatch between the colour space I'm working in (Adobe RGB) and how the printer manages that colour space? What's confusing me is that the PDI test images print a bit darker but match pretty well what I see on my screen, while my designs change quite dramatically. I'm also confused by the fact that creating them in the sRGB colour space leads to much better print results, on my home printer at least.
    – Sarah
    May 1, 2018 at 15:39

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