Soft Proofing Your Images in Lightroom 4.


Making fine art prints in Lightroom was always possible, but it just got a lot easier with the introduction of the soft proofing feature in Lightroom 4. Soft proofing simulates how your image will look on the printer/paper combination you are using with your print. Prints always look different than how your image looks on a screen for a couple of reasons. On a computer monitor, you are seeing your image backlit, similar to looking at a slide on a light table, while a print is reflecting light back at you. Also their is a different gamut of color that can be displayed on a screen compared to the gamut of color present in printing ink, and different types of paper absorb that ink in different ways. When you use the soft proofing option in Lightroom (or Photoshop), the program uses a printer profile to simulate how that image will look once you print it out. In some cases, particularly with matte papers, there can be significant differences.

Before you can use soft proofing, you need to first install printer profiles for the paper you plan to use (these can usually be downloaded from the paper manufacturer’s website.) Once installed, soft proofing is enabled in Lightroom 4 by clicking on the Soft Proofing check box under the image preview in the Develop module.

Checking the soft proofing box will bring up the soft proofing panel under the histogram, and this is where you can select your printer profile. You will also see a button for creating a “Proof Copy”. This creates a virtual copy of the image. This lets you make a separate set of develop settings for your print if you find that it needs additional work after checking the soft proof.

As you can see in the above screen shot, there are now two versions of this image in the filmstrip. The second version is the virtual copy, which is not an actual copy of the image file, but a second set of Lightroom instructions for that image. Virtual copies are handy any time you want to save multiple versions of the same image. For example, you can have a color version and a black and white version. In this case, since the image needed some additional changes before printing on the matte paper I’m using, my virtual copy will store those settings without overwriting my original settings which I still like for monitor display.

When it’s time to actually print your image, be sure to choose the same printer profile in the print module (as seen above), and choose the right paper in your printer driver and make sure the printer driver is using integrated color management (ICM in my Epson driver) and no color adjustment (since this has been applied by choosing the printer profile in Lightroom.)

By using soft proofing and correct printer profiles (both in Lightroom and your printer driver,) you should have better luck matching what you see on the screen to what you see in your prints. Of course, this assumes you’ve calibrated your monitor (for more on how to do that, see the series of articles on Color Management by Bill Campbell in the Tips from Other ‘Togs section of the site.)

Any questions? Post them below in the comments section.

Have a great week!


P.S. There’s still time to sign up for my Lightroom in a Day seminar in Rye, NH on April 14th.

6 Responses to “Soft Proofing Your Images in Lightroom 4.”

  1. xai says:

    What do they mean when they say soft proof an image…..What exactly are you doing to it.

    • Soft proofing an image is looking at it on your computer monitor after your software (Lightroom in this case) adjusts the image based on the printer profile for the paper you plan to use. SO, it’s basically trying to simulate how the image will look once it’s printed.

  2. Kat says:

    Hi Jerry,

    What would you suggest I set my profile to if I’m providing the image as a jpeg for the client to choose where they print the image?


    • Hi Kat,

      If you’re talking fine art prints on an ink jet printer, you would need to check with the client and find out what printer/paper combination they are using. If you’re talking about images that are to be printed on brochures or in books or magazines, I wouldn’t worry about the printer profile. Just make sure you calibrate your monitor and use the Adobe RGB (1998) color space when you export your images. They might request a different color space, but that’s still the industry standard.


  3. Kat says:

    Great, thanks Jerry.

  4. Jan says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I have been wondering what the soft proof box was for, and I think you may have gone a good way towards solving my photo printing problems. Thanks again!

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