Printing Your Lettering And Illustrations Part 3: Proofing Lamp


In the previous two posts, I’ve been talking about getting better print results with colour calibration.

When I was going through the initial process of figuring all this out, I still had one missing step that was shining right at me.

My lamp.

At that time, I was using an inexpensive (re. cheap) task lamp with an incandescent bulb for proofing. Back in olden times, before we had LED, these were the round bulbs that got super hot and burned out like a flash bulb.

I didn’t give much thought about the kind of light the lamp was giving off. I took my print and walked over to a window.

The change was dramatic. Now it looked like what I had on my monitor.

I needed a proper light.

The physics of colour temperature are complex. Simply put, colour temperature is measured in Kelvin (K) and falls on a scale of warm to cool. A warm bulb would be around 2700K, the type people would typically use in their homes. A “daylight” bulb would be around 5000K.


kelvin scale


I inspected the bulb I had been using—after I let it cool down from its volcanic temperature—and discovered it was “warm”. Of course, all that warm light falling on my print would skew the appearance.

A decent balance of warm and cool would fall between 5000-5500K. This would be considered “daylight”. This was what I needed for objective proofing.

After doing some research, I picked up a portable OTT lamp to do my proofing. They’re typically used for crafting work, where decent illumination is needed. At first, the light from a 5000K bulb may be a bit overwhelming. I wouldn’t necessarily call it bright. It’s just that we’re so used to warm bulbs in our homes that a daylight bulb can be a bit jarring.

I’ve since moved on to a Bestek LED lamp. This lets me easily switch from a roughly 5000K “proofing” light (it’s actually around 4900K), to a warmer setting when I want mood lighting for sketching or reading. When I look at my print under the lamps equivalent “daylight” setting, and compare it to what’s on my monitor (using Photoshop soft proofing) it gets me 95% there. There are no weird colour shifts or surprises.

It’s not always necessary to purchase a specialized lamp. Try experimenting with 5000K bulbs in the lamps you already have. Just be sure the Kelvin spec is listed.

You may also see a lumen rating on the package. This refers to the brightness of a bulb. Don’t confuse lumens with watts, which measure the energy use, not brightness.

You may be asking “But My friend/client/mom likely won’t be looking at the print with a colour balanced light”. You’re right. They may be looking at it in a sun drenched room, by candlelight, or next to a lava lamp. You may not have any control over where a print will be displayed, but at least in your own environment, you will know that it’s correct. The goal here is to make sure your colour management process is consistent.

Tip: Let your print sit for about an hour before doing any critical comparison. I know it sounds like a long time, but the ink will still be evaporating, so you may notice some colour change. Also, don’t stack your prints until they’ve dried for 24 hours.

Also consider the lighting in your workspace. Your monitor shouldn’t have any strong light projecting onto it. If there’s a window in the room, try to position the monitor so the window is behind it, or off to the side. Make sure there are no other artificial lighting sources projecting onto your monitor.

To sum up, here are the three things to save you from unnecessarily burning through ink and paper:

  1. A properly calibrated monitor.
  2. Using the correct ICC profile for your paper and printer.
  3. Using a colour balanced (daylight) proofing lamp.

A monitor calibrator and lighting equipment will require some expenditure, but will save you in the long run. Ink and paper can be expensive, and your frustration counts, too.

Bonus tip: Don’t let your printer sit idle. If left unused, the ink will dry up. You’ll know this from blobs, lines and gaps in your prints. Usually, a head cleaning will fix the issue. The problem is that it uses ink each time, and that ink would be put to far better use for actual printing. If left for a long time, the printer may become a large, expensive brick. Print something at least once a week. The minimal cost will save you in the long term.