Last week Monte Trumbull, renowned nature photographer and technical editor for my Lightroom books, emailed me a link to a new Lightroom plug-in for soft proofing.
This is big news: I and many other photographers have wanted soft proofing in Lightroom for a long time. To my knowledge, this is the first soft proofing solution available for Lightroom. I’ve tested the plug-in extensively and my review follows.
First, a bit about soft proofing: Soft proofing allows you to preview what a photo will look like when printed on a specific printer/paper combination. A soft proof uses the printer profile to display an on-screen “proof”. You can then make any necessary adjustments to get the image to look its best before sending the file to the printer. Soft proofing can be used to preview prints you’re making yourself or when sending out files to a print service provider. Soft proofing can save enormous amounts of wasted time and materials and helps you avoid unpleasant surprises when printing your photos. Soft proofing is especially useful when printing images that have a wide color gamut (lots of colors) or a wide range of tones (deep blacks to bright white). Some papers and canvases are better at color reproduction than others and soft proofing helps you see this before you actually make the print. allowing you to choose the ideal material for printing each photo. Up ’til now, soft proofing has been done almost exclusively using Photoshop or RIP software. The ability to soft proof images in Lightroom is a huge step forward for photographers making prints of their images. (Search Google if you need to know more about soft-proofing in general…)
Now on to the plug-in. When I clicked the link Monte sent me, I was taken to http://www.lightroom-plugins.com/ProofIndex.php. To the right of the page are two prominent download links, one for a Windows installer and one for a Zip package with the plug in files for both Mac and Win. I also downloaded the manual. I used the Live Support link to contact the developer and I soon received a response from Jim Keir, a friendly chap who not only provided my license key but an installer for the newest version (which should be released by the time you read this).
Installation and Activation
I decided to test the plug-in with Windows 7 first and later tested on OS X. I launched the Windows installer and in just a couple of steps had the plug-in installed. Couldn’t have been easier. On Mac, I simply put the SoftProof.lrplugin in Lightroom’s Modules folder.
When I next launched Lightroom I received a notification that the catalog needed to be updated to support the new plug-in; OK. (NOTE: to be on the safe side, make sure to back up your catalog before updating for any plug-in!)
Next, in Lightroom under the File menu > Plug-In Manager, I chose the SoftProofing plug-in and entered my email address and key. The plug-in was already active; nothing more to do there. All told, the download, installation and registration process took less than five minutes.
Using the SoftProofing Plug-In
To use the plug-in you need to first select a photo in either the Library or the Filmstrip. (If you have multiple photos selected, the Active photo will be the one used for the soft proof.) You initiate the SoftProofing plug-in from the File menu > Plug-in Extras, so it’s available from anywhere in Lightroom. On Windows, you can use the keyboard shortcut Alt+F+S+S.
The SoftProof window is clean, simple and easy to navigate. The middle of the window shows two previews: the original on the left and the soft proofed version on the right. Controls I started at the top right of the plug-in window, where there are dropdown menus to choose your monitor and printer profiles from a list of profiles installed on your system. (The Filter Profiles checkbox limits the profiles listed to only those appropriate for output; I leave this checked. To see all profiles on your system, including input profiles such as those for scanners, cameras etc. uncheck the box.) Choose different printer profiles to preview how the photo will look with the corresponding printer/paper combination.
Below the profile selectors are options for Intent (Relative or Perceptual), Black Point Compensation (always leave this on), Simulate Paper White (which I always leave on) and Gamut Warning. Gamut Warning is disabled when Paper White is active; with Paper White turned off, you can enable Gamut Warning and you can set the color of the warning overlay by clicking the swatch to open the color picker. All these settings work the same as those in Lightroom’s Print module and are also identical to soft-proofing in Photoshop.
After choosing your profiles and proofing options, the central preview display is automatically updated. You can also switch to a view showing just the soft proof.
Along the top of the window is an area where you can save Presets for up to four paper profiles. The first, large button labeled O. Orig. simply resets the soft proof back to the original state, with no printer profile applied. To set the other four Presets, first choose the printer profile from the dropdown at the right side, then click the Set button to store that in the desired Preset position. After it’s set there, the button below changes to show the name of the profile and you can then quickly switch between soft proofs for your four saved profiles just by clicking the appropriate button.
Save and Stack
This button, located below the preview area, exports a copy file with the soft proof settings applied. The exported file is saved as a full resolution, highest quality JPG and appends the selected printer profile to the end of the file name. The new file is automatically stacked with the original.
Put to Practical Use
For most photographers, integrating the new capability provided by this plug-in will require a bit of tweaking to the print workflow. Here’s how I do it:
1. Develop the master (original) file so that it looks exactly the way I want on my calibrated monitor.
2. Make a Virtual Copy (VC) of the finished master file.
3. Soft proof the VC using the plug in.
4. From the plug-in, do a Save and Stack.
5. Back in Library use Compare view to see the VC and the soft proof file.
6. Adjust the Soft Proof using Quick Develop so that it’s as close a match as possible to the VC.
7. Sync the Soft Proof settings to the VC.
8. Print the VC using the same settings that were used in the plug-in.
Here are some ideas, comments and suggestions that will make your workflow easier:
- Use Virtual Copies for printing. You can adjust VCs to make the best possible print for different conditions while preserving your finished master file in its original state. Never modify a master file for a specific kind of output. More about this is discussed in my article at the Lightroom Lab.
- When adjusting a print file based on a soft proof, the goal is to get the soft proofed version to match as closely as possible to the non-proofed original. This will provide the best possible color match for the print.
- One of the most useful features of the SoftProofing plug-in is that it allows you to see the difference between Perceptual and Relative intents. Some photos will look notably better with one or the other intent. Even if you only use the SoftProofing plug-in to see the difference in rendering intents before printing, your prints will start coming out much better.
- You can use the above workflows when preparing files for a lab. Get their custom profiles for the type of prints you’re ordering, go through the soft proofing and adjustment process for prints using virtual copies, then Export your print files (or use the Print module’s Print to File function).
Areas for Improvement
For the most part, the plug-in worked as I expected it to, with only a few minor shortcomings:
- With the Save and Stack feature, I often had to switch between views and image sources several times for the stacked proof copy to be visible in the Grid and Filmstrip.
- In my testing the Save and Stack feature did not update Collections; the new JPG was only visible in the Folder view.
- After I clicked the 0. Orig. button, clicking the other presets or choosing different profiles did not update the proof preview; it just stayed on Original. This remained in both views. I had to cancel to get out of the plug-in and go back in again to see soft proofs.
- Adding Tooltips in the plug-in window would be a welcome improvement, especially for people new to the concept of soft proofing.
- The plug-in window interface could be better designed to make use of available space.
All in all, these are minor nits for a v1 release and there was nothing in my experience that would keep me from recommending this plug-in.
The Mac and Windows version function identically; both are super easy to use and work as advertised. The soft proofs I see with this plug-in are on par with any soft proofing I would do in Photoshop.
One significant difference between using this plug-in and working in Photoshop is that you can’t make adjustments when looking at the soft proof. In Photoshop, you can look at your soft proof and use layers to adjust saturation, curves etc. and see the effects in real time. With this Lightroom plug-in, you can see a soft proof and render a reference file showing the proof conditions, but you need to do the adjustments outside the soft proof environment, which could result in numerous trips back into the plug-in to check results. All in all I don’t see this as a huge downside; just a new way of doing things.
As the first of its kind, this plug-in is long overdue and is a “must-have” for photographers wanting to have the most possible control over their prints. Kudos to Jim for putting out a great product at a great price, and one that well serves a real need.
You can get a free trial version for Mac or Windows here
The plug-in is also listed on Adobe’s Plug-In Exchange