What You Should Know About DxO PhotoLab Soft Proofing

by Aug 21, 2023Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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What You Should Know About DxO PhotoLab Soft Proofing

Soft Proofing in DxO PhotoLab is relatively new, and I seem to get a disproportionately high number of questions about it. So in this article, I want to explain what it is and how you can use it to produce accurate prints of your photos. I’ll also explain some of the common mistakes when Soft Proofing and how to avoid them.

DxO PhotoLab is a great photo editing tool that produces the highest quality images from your RAW files. I’ve been using it for years, but it was only in Version 6 that DxO introduced Soft Proofing. This is important because it means we can print our photography and feel confident the print will look like the photo.

What is Soft Proofing

When we Soft Proof an image, we can view it on our computer so that it looks like it would if printed. This is important because when we print an image onto paper, it will often look quite different to what we see on our computer screen. Soft Proofing allows us to make adjustments to an image so that the print will match our photo. Best of all, we can do this before making the print.

If we couldn’t Soft Proof our photo before printing, we would need to print the image first to see how it looks. We would then need to judge how the print compared to the image on screen, before making adjustments. Typically, we would end up making several rounds of adjustments before getting the print to look right.

This was the position we were in prior to version 6 of PhotoLab.

Preparing the Image for Soft Proofing

Before Soft Proofing an image, complete all editing so that the image looks the way that you would like it to. You can see an example finished image below that I want to print.

Finished image ready for printing

Do remember that when editing your images, it’s important that you are working with a correctly calibrated screen. If you aren’t sure how to do this, read my article explaining screen calibration. Working with an uncalibrated screen almost guarantees that your prints won’t look the way that you expect them to, and you will probably (incorrectly) blame your printer.

To begin Soft Proofing, open the finished image in PhotoLab and create a Virtual Copy. This is important as we will be adjusting our image so that our print faithfully reproduces the original. These Soft Proofing adjustments often change the finished image, so you don’t want to apply them to the original image file.

You can create a Virtual Copy of an image in the PhotoLibrary module.

Right click the thumbnail of the image you want to print. This displays a popup menu where you can choose the “Create Virtual Copy” option. After selecting that, you will see a new copy of the image appear as a thumbnail.

Remember, when you use the Virtual Copy feature in PhotoLab, it won’t create a second image file on your computer. The copy image only exists within the PhotoLab database.

You can now select the Virtual Copy by clicking it’s thumbnail. Then you can open it in the PhotoLab Customize module for editing. This is where you will find the Soft Proofing feature.

Turning on PhotoLab Soft Proofing

In the Customize module, select the Colour group of controls. You can see the group icon indicated by the red arrow in the following screenshot.

Turning on Soft Proofing in DxO PhotoLab

After selecting the Colour group, scroll down the list of controls on the right of the interface until you find the Soft Proofing panel. You can see this highlighted with a red box in the screenshot.

When you turn on the Soft Proofing panel, you will probably see a warning message displayed. This is warning you that you are now using Soft Proofing and that it’s recommended you work with a Virtual Copy of the image. As we have already done that, you can click the OK button to close the message.

The other change is that the image is now on a white background to help you judge how the print will look. If your image fills the screen as in the screenshot above, try reducing the magnification level in the toolbar at the top of the screen.

Setting the image magnification to 40 so that the soft proof appears with a white surround

Here you can see that I’ve changed the magnification to 40%. This creates a white edge around the image where the background becomes visible. It makes it easier to judge how the image will look when printed.

Finding a Suitable Paper with Soft Proofing

Now it’s time to use the settings in the Soft Proofing panel to help select a suitable paper for printing. We can do this by changing the “ICC profile” dropdown which usually defaults to the sRGB colour space.

Soft Proofing panel in PhotoLab showing the ICC Profile

Click the dropdown list and select the ICC profile for the printer/paper combination that you want to use. If you can’t see the profile in the list, use the “Installed RGB Profiles” option. This lists all the installed RGB printer profiles on your computer.

If the profile that you want isn’t listed, then it’s not correctly installed, and you will need to download and install it. You can learn more about this in my printer profiles article.

After selecting the profile for the paper that you want to use, you may find that it changes some of the colours in the image. You can check for this by clicking the “Compare” button, found in the toolbar along the top of the screen. When you click and hold down the button, you see the original image. Then when you release it, you see the Soft Proof again.

If you find that the paper you want to use causes a significant shift in colour, it’s probably best to choose a different paper for printing. The way to do this is by checking different profiles for the papers that you could use; being able to do this is another benefit of Soft Proofing. Personally, I like the Fotospeed range of fine art papers which I’ve reviewed in the past.

Out of Gamut Colours when Soft Proofing

If you see a  colour shift when Soft Proofing an image, it’s because the printer can’t reproduce the colours in the image with that paper. When this happens, the problem colours are referred to as being out of gamut.

You can check to see which colours are out of gamut by clicking the Gamut Warning icon to the top right of the Histogram panel.

Gamut warning indicator

Having clicked this, any colours that are out of gamut for the selected paper are displayed with a red warning. You can see an example of this below.

Checking the gamut warning for different paper profiles

Here we see the gamut warnings clearly in the image on the left. This was produced by setting the Soft Proofing ICC profile to a Fotospeed Matt paper. The image on the right is also a soft proof but using a Fotospeed Baryta paper. Notice that the gamut warning is hardly visible because the paper can handle the range of colours in the image. This confirms that the baryta paper is probably the better choice for printing this image.

Now, you may be wondering, if the colours in the image are out of gamut, what happens when they are printed. That’s what the next option in the Soft Proofing panel controls.

Picking a Rendering Intent

The rendering intent appears in the “Intent” dropdown of the Soft Proofing panel and has two options. These are Perceptual and Relative, and they control what happens to the out of gamut colours so that they can be printed.

Let’s compare the two using our image set to print to the Fotospeed Baryta paper. The image on the left uses the Perceptual rendering whilst the image on the right uses Relative.

Comparing Rendering Intents when Soft Proofing in PhotoLab

Notice that the image on the right is darker than the one on the left. That’s because the Perceptual rendering (left image) adjusts all colours in the image to ensure out of gamut colours can be printed. With the Relative rendering (right image), only the out of gamut colours are changed so it doesn’t affect the rest of the image.

Now we know that when we come to print this image, we should set the printer to use Relative rendering.

Adjusting the Soft Proof for Printing

So far, we’ve used the Soft Proofing in PhotoLab to determine paper and print settings. We now know which paper and rendering intent to use. But what we haven’t checked is how the print will look on paper. For that, we need to turn on the “Simulate paper and ink” option in the Soft Proofing Panel.

When you turn that on, PhotoLab produces an accurate simulation of how the printed image will look. You can see an example below.

Simulating paper and ink in the Soft Proof

Here, the image on the left uses our chosen settings. Then the image on the right has the same settings but uses the simulate paper and ink option. Notice that it has slightly less contrast, although not much. This isn’t always the case, and some papers will produce a distinct change in the image. Sometimes there’s sufficient change to warrant picking a different paper.

What we need to do now is adjust the soft proof so that it looks as near to the original image as possible. I’ve found the best way to do this is by setting the preview to split screen. You will then be able to see the original image next to the soft proof.

Now you can adjust the Soft Proof to achieve the best possible match with the original image.

One word of warning is to beware areas of black. These will almost never appear as dark in a soft proof as they do when viewing the image on a screen. Paper and ink have a lower dynamic range than a screen can produce. Attempting to match the blacks in the soft proof to the screen, will usually make the image too dark.

When you are happy with the soft proof, you can turn off the Soft Proofing panel and print the image.

When you do this, be aware that the adjusted image may look wrong when the Soft Proofing is turned off. If this happens, avoid the temptation to adjust it further. Remember, the adjustments you have applied are intended to make the print match the finished image. It doesn’t need to look right on screen, only when printed.

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