Most serious designers, photographers, artists, and imaging experts use ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles in their work because these profiles provide reliable, predictable colour matching across all kinds of input and output devices – from CRT and LCD monitors to scanners, inkjet and laser printers, and printing presses. Yet for many people, the question is whether building custom profiles, rather than using visual estimation and the generic profiles that come with many printers, is worth the time, trouble, and expense. There are a number of high-priced packages that provide ICC-profile creation, but you can manage a colour workflow effectively on a budget, with Monaco Systems’ MonacoEZcolor 2.5.1.
MonacoEZcolor comes in two versions. The version we tested includes Monaco’s Optix monitor calibrator, which supports both CRT and LCD monitors and costs $548 (around £360). A version without the Optix costs $299 (£200), but we recommend that you don’t skimp here – if you’re relying on a monitor when making important colour decisions, it’s better to trust the RGB measurements from a colorimeter than to rely on your eyes. (Note that the EZcolor software doesn’t work with other monitor calibrators.)
EZcolor uses a step-by-step approach to building profiles, with separate modules for profiling displays, scanners, and printers. For example, profiling our PowerBook screen and a Cinema Display was as easy as attaching the Optix calibrator and stepping through the on-screen instructions. This profile automatically becomes the System Profile in OS 9, and it’s stored in the ColorSync Profiles folder in OS X.
The scanner module also performs well, again providing step-by-step instructions for scanning the enclosed industry-standard IT8 colour target and matching it with stored reference data.
When it comes to building print profiles, EZcolor makes one essential trade-off that separates it from full-featured profiling packages – it uses your scanner rather than a costly and more-accurate spectrophotometer as a measuring instrument. You print the special EZcolor target on the printer being profiled, tape the original IT8 target to the same sheet, and then scan them together. The EZcolor software compares its internal reference values for the two targets with the scanned values, and calculates both the scanner and printer profiles.
You can apply these profiles in Adobe Photoshop and other imaging and graphics programs, where they visibly improve colour accuracy and enable colour matching across an incredible variety of devices. The process of creating and applying profiles is explained in the concise and well-organized documentation.
While the printer-profiling module is good, a few minor user-interface glitches mar this otherwise excellent program. Overall, the program performed flawlessly, generating profiles that made an obvious and immediate difference in colour quality.
EZcolor also has a very basic profile-editing feature, but it’s not especially useful, which is no surprise for a product in this price class. In fact, profile editing and the ability to make scanner profiles are the two features that distinguish EZcolor from its main competitor, the £299 Spyder PhotoSuite Pro, from ColorVision, which also does a good job of building monitor and printer profiles.
Professional photographers, repro houses, and commercial printers will still need a spectrophotometer-based profiling package such as MonacoProfiler (£2,800) or GretagMacbeth’s ProfileMaker Pro (from £3,358), which provide advanced profile-editing tools and precise control over black generation. However, if you’re ready to adopt colour management, but are unwilling to shell-out thousands of pounds for a spectrophotometer and a high-end profiling package, MonacoEZcolor is a cost-effective way to visibly improve colour accuracy.