When printing (on photo paper) a design with a colour that I took from a photo (using the Gimp colour picker), this colour does not come out right. It is a quite different shade, both lighter and somewhat different quality (more reddish/brown). The design is created using Latex and then PDF, i.e. colour defined in Latex using the RGB values from Gimp.

I understand there are computer monitor colour profiles and printer colour profiles that may be involved, as well as various technical problems. Am wondering if there is any simple way to get the same colour on the paper as in the photo (on the screen). Without having to know more details than I have stated here.

Clarification: "same" as in at least from a distance, squinting.

  • What is the specific colour you sampled? It might be out of gamut for printing on any printer. RGB colours cover a wider gamut than physical inks, so chances are the colour is actually unprintable.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 25, 2019 at 8:42

2 Answers 2


Photo paper does not help if you print with CMYK inks (=standard in low cost home and office printers) Your screen image can have plenty of unprintable colors, the loss of bright blue is the easiest to notice. That's because CMYK inks are far from ideal theoretical color filters.

The printer driver does its best to keep the printed image recognizable and you see it as reduced colorfulness. If you have poorly calibrated screen, you get additional color shifts, for ex see everything on screen as hue shifted or more saturated than on a calibrated screen.

Assuming you have a calibrated screen, you should in the beginning make the design with printable colors. Many of us use Photoshop and other premium priced Adobe's programs because they understand CMYK printing limitations, can show at least somehow useful prediction of the printing result and can compress RGB images to the printable color range when the print color profile is known. Print houses and high end printer manufacturers generally give the profiles.

Adobe also gives a bunch of common color profiles as included when one installs their software. Those profiles can be useful even when print color profile is not known. I have used a profile named Euroscale Uncoated to predict what a low cost Epson printer gives. The printer presents itself as sRGB capable device, but flattens colors as it likes. I guess this is a must for most PC users. They have Microsoft Office which knows nothing about CMYK printing.

Adobe is generous. People who do not have Adobe's software can get and use those color profiles. They should be inserted to Windows, not to any application software. The color management is a part of Windows. International Color Consortium (ICC) keeps available a wide variety of color profiles which are for standardized print processes.

GIMP knows nothing about CMYK printing. But Photoshop isn't the only one for CMYK. There exists also low cost and free CMYK printing aware programs. As free CMYK aware photo editing and painting program I want to lift up Krita. See this page of it's manual: https://docs.krita.org/en/general_concepts/colors/color_managed_workflow.html

A simple method: Check if there is some reduced saturation range which will be printed acceptably. Then flatten the used color palette to that range.

ADD in May 2022: GIMP 2.10 understands CMYK print profiles, it can show the CMYK printing result and can show a warning if something is unprintable (=out of gamut) in CMYK. This all is availabe in the real time when one edits his RGB image in GIMP. The actual conversion to CMYK must still be done outside GIMP, for ex. in Krita, if one wants to use Freeware.

  • Am using Linux, and there is a package icc-profiles which would seem to be similar. No idea how it compares to Adobe.
    – Tomas By
    Jul 25, 2019 at 8:35
  • @TomasBy no exact knowledge are those same. I guess they are, because too much difference would make either of them useless. Adobe cannot stay alive if their versions are useless.
    – user82991
    Jul 25, 2019 at 9:07

I'm going to tackle this very very briefly, because colour workflow management could take an entire book to explain.

These are your critical fail-points. if any of these are out, your end result will be unpredictable.

  1. Screen calibration & profiling.

  2. Printer calibration & profiling.

  3. RGB > CMYK profile translation, if your printer uses CMYK profiles. Lots of consumer printers do it themselves internally.

& the tough one...
4. Some RGB colours simply cannot ever be reproduced in ink.

The first two can really only be done with suitable hardware colorimeters.

  • Ok, so answer is "no".
    – Tomas By
    Jul 25, 2019 at 7:41
  • It's not a simple task, I'm afraid. It took me years to figure it out & I still can't get it right for some CMYK printers even now. I always do a test pull first, to make sure ;) You can sometimes cut out half the task by getting a pro print shop to do it from sRGB. You'd be amazed at how sympathetic RBG printers are these days. I even do 'pro' work that way sometimes.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 25, 2019 at 7:51
  • For what it's worth, the PDF looks fine on at least three different computers (ie same colour, and roughly the one I want). The printer is a HP Officejet.
    – Tomas By
    Jul 25, 2019 at 7:53
  • Then you only have points 2, 3 & 4 to figure out ;))
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 25, 2019 at 7:54

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