As I am preparing my photos to be printed for the first time I wanted to ask for your advice. Let me explain what I did and what I am not sure of.

  • at first I changed profiles from RGB to CMYK FOGRA39 ( didn't see any difference though ).
  • then I double checked that all photos are at least 300dpi for the sizes I want to print which are at most 20x20cm
  • at the end I exported images to jpgs
  • after all that I placed them together and exported them as pdf in two different versions:

a. Pdf for monitor

b. PDF for print

visual effects are completely different. In option A photos are exactly the same as after exporting them to jpgs from photoshop. In option B photos are a bit darker and they lose some saturation.

my question is pretty simple. Should I still go for PDF for print and the actual print won't be as dark as I can see on the screen? Or should I oversaturate and overexpose all of the photos to balance the lose of saturation and lightness when exporting pdf for print?

I attached comparison of option A result and option B. Last photo is the best example of the difference.enter image description here

  • "for screens" is largely uncontrollable for the end user. There is no telling if users have calibrated monitors or if they are using color profile-aware applications. For me, I design for CMYK if something is to be printed.. then largely accept whatever the CMYK to sRGB conversion does. Working in RGB and then relying on an accurate RGB to CMYK color conversion has never been something I see as viable. But that's merely my preferred workflow.
    – Scott
    Nov 10, 2023 at 21:59
  • I agree. I unfortunately learned about CMYK after I already edited photos. Then I had to convert colour profiles and I added some brightness and saturation as last finishes. In the future I’ll surely work on CMYK from the very beginning.
    – Patryk
    Nov 10, 2023 at 22:46
  • There will always be a slight difference between RGB and CMYK. RGB has a larger gamut than CMYK. There is nothing you can really do about that..
    – Billy Kerr
    Nov 11, 2023 at 11:45

2 Answers 2


You told the used CMYK color profile for the photos placed to the layout. You didn't tell at all what's the color profile of the projected print process. I guess it's something more newspaper like and the result surely is dark. Let the document CMYK color profile be the same as the one given by the print house. Ask them to give the full list of the needed CMYK color settings for reliable previews in your layout program.

A short receipe of a full disaster: "CMYK printing will make my bright colors dull. I compensate it beforehand by increasing the contrast and saturation." The result will be a muddy mess except in case the printer fixes it without asking.

The whole idea of the color management is to show on your screen what the printing will give. People usually check carefully there's no unprintable colors.

For doubled security there's a preview mode called "gamut check" or "gamut warning" which clearly marks all areas which have unprintable colors.

People normally make their designs from the start so that printable colors are enough for a good look.

  • Thank you for your suggestions. I actually called printer service and they only told that they want CMYK. They didn’t specify and I was surprised by this too. I will surely not compensate it by oversaturation ect now that you explained it. In that case I’ll try to find more info about gamut check and see if I can run it too. I’ll also call them again to ask for specific setting for CMYK.
    – Patryk
    Nov 10, 2023 at 22:43
  • Can you just tell me one more thing? Should I expect the printing result to be pretty the same as displayed in my pdf for print file when I see it on my computer? I understand it varies depending on the print house settings too but I guess there is no chance the photos will be brighter than what they look like in the ‚pdf for print’ example.(the darker version)
    – Patryk
    Nov 10, 2023 at 22:50
  • That depends on what software you use and are they set for consistent colors. I have used (low cost or free) PDF editors which know nothing of CMYK printing. Foxit Phantom was one of them. Acrobat is quite reliable in that sense and can show plausible predictions of printing results; assumed the computer itself also is in the consistent color management chain. For that reason Adobe bothers to ask a fortune of its applications and gets it. The layout making application should show exactly the same. Otherwise something is not set properly; for ex. the color management is turned off.
    – tapesmoke
    Nov 10, 2023 at 23:24
  • Thank you for answering that.
    – Patryk
    Nov 11, 2023 at 9:26

First, talk to your print provider to see what they like but you will find that most print providers won't know the intricacies of color.

Second, if you really care about color you have to brute force it through printing proofs, but that can get really costly. Most printers, including myself, hate printing proofs because it's disruptive to our production flow.

Your images are tough. White backgrounds, shadow detail. This is tough for any printer.

ICC profiles can help you but it only matters if the print provider can honor them as well.

I've been in print for 12 years. My dad started the biz in 93 and he never understood the nuances. Most printers will just rely on changing CMYK curves and rely on the human eye because the intricacies of ICC profiles are too technical and unreliable unless you create a true infrastructure around it. Adjusting CMYK curves is unreliable and ripe with human error.

If you decide to print proofs, make sure you return the proof and tell them that they have to closely target it. Most people don't realize that our printers (like many other manufacturers) change quickly. Even within the same day our

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