Learn Soft Proofing in Lightroom - An Introduction

If you have recently read my Lightroom Printing tutorial you will no doubt have seen that I recommend Soft Proofing your image before you commit it to print. If you were wondering how to carry out soft proofing in Lightroom, this tutorial will explain the essentials

Soft Proofing is the process by which you simulate (in software) how your image will look when output to another devise. Typically this will be a printer but could also be a specific monitor. By viewing this simulation (soft proof) you can determine if you need to make any further adjustments in order for it to be seen at its best.

Many software packages offer soft proofing and it was introduced into Lightroom in version 4. Personally, I find the printing and soft proofing so good in Lightroom that it’s worth the upgrade price alone. It’s remarkable how quickly you can save the cost of the upgrade by not making wasted prints.

The other point I should make is that your monitor must be correctly calibrated. It’s no use looking at a soft proof on screen if your monitor isn’t calibrated. How can you have any certainty that the soft proof is being accurately displayed if the monitor isn’t calibrated.

Why Soft Proof Images

Let’s take an example where I want to print one of my landscape images on matte paper. I can use the soft proofing features in Lightroom simulate how the final print will look before I print. This might allow me to see that the image is too flat and probably needs a boost in contrast even though the image looked fine when not viewed as a soft proof. I can also check a soft proof of the image using a gloss paper profile and see an improvement in contrast. This allows me to make a decision, do I adjust the image to improve the appearance on matte paper or do I print it on glossy paper.

Printed output rarely looks like the image you see on screen. Soft proofing allows you to see this without needing to spend time and money producing the print.

Where to Find Soft Proofing in Lightroom

The Soft Proofing function in Lightroom is found within the Develop Module. At first you might find this a little counter intuitive and wonder why it’s not with the Print Module. This is because any adjustments to make the soft copy look good would need to be made in the Develop Module. It therefore makes sense to place the soft proofing function there so that you are not constantly switching between modules.

Shown below is a screen shot from the Develop Module.

Figure 1 - Screen Shot of the Lightroom Develop Module

There are two methods by which to activate the soft proofing feature in Lightroom:

  1. There is a small checkbox to the bottom left of the main image preview area called “Soft Proofing”. Click this to toggle the soft proof mode on and off.
  2. A much quicker way and the one I prefer is to press “s” on the keyboard which will also toggle the proofing on and off.

Once you have soft proofing turned on you will see the words “Proof Preview” at the top right of the image preview area as shown below.

Figure 2 - Showing the image preview is a Soft Proof

There are a few other changes also once you are in the Soft Proof mode:

  • Two small icons appear to the top left and right of the histogram
  • A “Create Proof Copy” button may be shown below the histogram (we will cover this shortly and why this may not always be visible
  • A “Profile” drop down list
  • An option to select the rendering “Intent”
  • A check box to select to “Simulate Paper & Ink”

Taking a Closer Look

The two icons at the top left and right of the histogram allow you to switch on Gamut warnings. These are warnings that highlight parts of your image that have become either too dark or too light to be displayed correctly. It’s also possible to get gamut warnings that a particular colour is beyond what can be displayed properly (by your monitor of printer). Different monitors and printers (and by printer I mean printer, ink and paper combination) have different gamut ranges. What might be out of range for one printer and paper combination might be fine on another. Soft Proofing allows you to see this and using these gamut warnings and correct the problem.

Click the top left icon that looks like a computer screen and you will toggle the gamut warnings on and off for your monitor. Any problem areas will show as Blue for areas that are too dark and red for areas that are too light. The icon in the top right is the gamut range for the printer and paper which are also displayed as blue and red. If you identify gamut warnings when you are viewing a soft proof of your image it means you need to make an adjustment to fix the problem. Typically this would be by adjusting the brightness, contrast and/or saturation.

The "Profile" drop down list allows you to select the colour profile to be used for your printer and paper combination. It is this profile that determines how the ink will be laid down on the paper to produce the print. It also determines how the Soft Proof is rendered on the screen. An interesting exercise is to switch between two profiles, one for a Matte paper and the other for Gloss and notice the change to the soft proof. You need to ensure you have the correct profile installed for your printer and paper combination. Typically you can download these from the paper manufacturers web sites although some such as Permajet and Fotospeed odder a free profiling service for their papers.

The "Intent" option allows you to select either "Perceptual" or "Relative" and should match the rendering intent you set in your printer. The rendering intent is how your printer will treat any colours that are out of gamut. "Perceptual" is a good general rendering and "Relative" is usually best when the colour range is very limited. If you are unsure which option, "Perceptual" is a good all round setting.

"Simulate Paper & Ink" is a good option to select if you will be printing. You will see the image becomes a little duller when you select this as the computer is simulating how the final print will appear. You might then decide for example that you need a brighter image or perhaps more contrast or saturation. Remember however that a print isn’t going to appear as “alive” as when viewed on your screen; printed images reflect light where monitors reflect light.

Suggested Soft Proofing Workflow

When it’s time to soft proof your image, this is my suggested workflow:

  • Select the image you want to soft proof and open it in the Develop module.
  • Switch into the soft proofing mode by either clicking the “Soft Proofing” option to the bottom left of the main preview or by pressing S on the keyboard.
  • Create a copy of the image for soft proofing by clicking on the "Create Proof Copy" button. Once clicked the button vanishes so you know you are working on a copy. This ensures you preserve your original image and any editing you do is purely to correct the copy image for printing. Remember, because you are optimising your image specifically for printing it might look dreadful when you turn the soft proofing off.
  • Click the Gamut warning option on the top right of the histogram so you see a warning if you push the image beyond the capability of the printer/paper combination. You can see an example of this in the screen shot below.

Gamut Warning

Gamut Warning

  • Use the controls in the Develop module to apply any adjustments until the soft proof image is looking as you want it to. Be sure not to have any out of gamut warnings as a result of your adjustments; one or two small areas are ok but generally speaking out of gamut areas will lose detail. The next screen shot shows the same image but adjusted to correct the gamut warnings.

Adjusted Soft Proof

Adjusted Soft Proof

  • Once you have your soft proof looking how you want it to you can switch Lightrooms print module with confidence your image has been corrected for printing. If yuo experience problems with your print it’s often the result of selecting something incorrectly in the Printing module or using an incorrect colour profile that wasn’t intnded for your printer and/or paper.

Good luck.

I hope this article has helped you understand how to peform soft proofing in Lightroom. For a much greater understanding of soft proofing, image adjustment and printing, please seem my books on Amazon:

Perfect Prints every Time

Essential Colour Management






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