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By Tom Hauenstein
Many people who print see the Rendering Intent option and are not exactly sure what
it is and how it works. They usually select a Rendering Intent option a friend or
colleague tells them to use and then think nothing more of it.
It turns out that this selection can have a huge effect on how your image appears,
and should therefore be understood fully. The following article defines what Rendering
Intents are and describes the differences between the four options.
What is a Rendering Intent?
Rendering Intents are mathematical rules on how to deal with out-of-gamut colors
when moving from one color space to another. In other words, chances are that when
you print an image there will be colors that your camera captured that are impossible
for your printer to reproduce.
The printer driver can’t just delete the sections of the images it can’t
reproduce or you would get images with large sections of nothing. Therefore, the
driver changes those out-of-gamut colors to colors it can actually hit. The method
it uses to do this is a Rendering Intent.
You may or may not have noticed that every time you hit print, there’s a Rendering
Intent option. You can see it in the Photoshop CS3 print window (see Figure
1 at the end of the article). If you open up that
drop-down menu you will see there are four options…
Perceptual Rendering Intent: Good Photographic Option
The Perceptual Rendering Intent is a good option for photographers. When using this
option, the driver will take the out-of-gamut colors and move them to the closest
in-gamut colors, which is a good thing. It will then shift the in-gamut colors so
the relationship between all the colors remains the same.
For example, let’s say you have a dark blue next to a red in a picture and
that dark blue is out of gamut but the red is in gamut. The Perceptual Rendering
Intent will change that blue to a blue that it can hit. However, it will also change
the red (even though it could reproduce it because it is in gamut) so that the relationship
between the red and blue is maintained.
Most color gamuts get larger when you go to lighter colors. A printer can’t
hit that many dark rich colors, but it can hit a large number of pastels. Therefore,
in order to bring colors in gamut and maintain relationships the Perceptual Rendering
Intent will often lighten or de-saturate the image. It is the best rendering intent
for printing transitions and gradients because its main goal is to preserve the
color relationships. Therefore, a gradient moving from dark blue to light blue will
appear smooth with this rendering intent.
Relative Colorimetric Rendering Intent: Another Good Photographic Option
The Relative Colorimetric Rendering Intent is also a good option for photographers,
but it comes with certain risks. Relative Colorimetric will also move the out-of-gamut
colors to the closest in-gamut color. However, it will not change any of the in-gamut
As in the example above, let’s say you have a dark blue that is out of gamut
next to a red that is in gamut. The Relative Colorimetric Rendering Intent will
also change that blue to the closest blue it can hit, but it will not change the
red that is in gamut. Therefore, the red is closer to the red you originally shot,
but the relationship between that red and blue has been visually compromised.
The goal of Relative Colorimetric Rendering Intent is to alter the colors in the
image as little as possible. Therefore it will be less likely to de-saturate an
image to bring it into gamut. It is not a good option for printing gradients, however,
because the gradient will appear rather choppy.
Picture a front-lit head shot… As the light fades away toward the side of
the head, the flesh shifts from highlights to midtones to shadows. Perceptual will
handle this shift smoothly. With Relative Colorimetric you might get weird lines
where it makes sudden jumps in the dark areas.
However, it’s nice if you’re printing on matte papers since matte
images naturally look less saturated. If you print with the Perceptual Rendering
Intent it may de-saturate that image even further, leaving the print looking washed
Saturation Rendering Intent: Bad Photographic Option
The Saturation Rendering Intent’s main goal is to preserve saturation over
color. So if there’s a dark blue that is out of gamut, then the driver may
switch it to a dark green because it has a closer saturation. This option is to
be used only for charts and graphs, like pie charts. I can’t imagine a situation
where a photographer would see a blue sky shift to a green sky in certain areas
and be happy with that result.
Absolute Rendering Intent: Another Bad Photographic Option
This is used for proofing. For example, let’s say you want to proof a newspaper
print that is done on a yellowish or warm stock by an offset press. You are printing
the proof on your inkjet printer onto a bright white stock. You can set the white
point of an ICC profile so that it replicates that warm or yellow white point of
that newspaper stock. In order to use that custom white point you would select Absolute
Colorimetric. This is also not useful for photographic output.
How Do I Determine Which Rendering Intent is Best for My Image?
You can soft proof in Photoshop and see how each rendering intent will affect your
Here’s where you select the Rendering Intent for Photoshop
CS3 and CS2, ImagePrint, and the Canon Plug-In:
Rendering Intents in Photoshop CS3
Rendering Intents in Photoshop CS2
Rendering Intents in ImagePrint
Rendering Intents in the Canon Plug-In