A while back I posted about using the Canon Photoprint software or letting the printer manage the colour to get accurate (or less red) prints from the Canon Pixma Pro 9000 series. Those solutions were cheap. This one is not but I think it is worth the investment if you want accurate prints (and an accurate display for that matter).
X-rite makes the Color Munki Photo system. I call it a system, they don't but it really does work that way. Color Munki provides three key services. First, it creates a calibration for your monitor. Second it creates an ICC profile for the paper of your choice on your printer. Third it allows you to match your display profile with your printer profile.
There are many display profilers out there. Most want you to adjust brightness and contrast before starting but many displays give you very limited control over these settings. Most use some kind of colour banding and intelligent eye to create a display profile. I used the Huey Pro for years and it was pretty good, except I could never get my Dell 30" display to match my Dell 24" display which was really annoying because they are side by side. I lived with it but was mostly unhappy with the difference between what I saw on the screen and what came back from the lab. The Color Munki takes things a step further by doing colorimetry. The very first time I ran the display calibration, both monitors resulted in identical representations of the same image. Finally I was seeing what I would get from a professional printer and I was also seeing the same thing on the two displays. The process is fast, incredibly simple and as I calibrate my displays every two weeks, extraordinarily consistent. I noticed a very sharp difference between the Huey Pro calibrations and the Color Munki calibrations. Color Munki for the win!
To really get the best out of your printer, inks and papers, you need a proper profile. Paper vendors provide ICC profiles for their paper that you can download and while it looks like a pain to do this for every paper you might use, it's a big part of getting an amazing image. Most of the pros I talk to who do print themselves prefer the Epson printers. The images are incredible, but my own experience is that the print head clogs up if you aren't using it all the time, cleaning it is very difficult and involves disassembly and may not help. After dumpstering an Epson R1800 because its head was clogged and discovering loads of complaints about even the current devices, I went Canon.
I started with the Pixma Pro 9000. When two of my cameras were stolen and I had to replace them, I took advantage of Canon rebate programs and got a 9000 Mk II and a 9500 Mk II. The difference is substantial. The 9000 Mk II prints very quickly and uses dye based inks. The 9500 Mk II takes much longer to produce output and uses pigment based inks called LUCIA. It has more ink tanks and is ideal for archive quality black and white images. That's not to say that the 9000 Mk II doesn't do a good job on black and white but the 9500 Mk II really is a rock star in this regard.
If I use only Canon ink and Canon paper, I can let the printer manage colour and get pretty darn good output. But I wanted to use different papers and whenever I let Colorsync on the Mac manage colour, my prints would be too red even with the vendor supplied ICC profile. As you can imagine, this ticked me off something fierce. Bring on the Color Munki.
The creation of a printer profile is not quick and consumes two sheets of the paper you want to build a profile for. The first pass the software produces a series of stripes (see figure) that you then scan over with the Color Munki colorimeter. It then constructs a second special print page that you print and scan as in the first step. Once complete you have a custom profile for your printer and that particular paper type.
To see if it actually made a difference I took the same image and made three prints on the Canon Pixma Pro 9000 Mk II. Image #1 was printed from Adobe Lightroom and I let the printer manage colour, printing on Canon Glossy Photo Paper. It was a nice print. Image #2 was printed from Adobe Lightroom and I used the paper profile supplied by Canon and let Colorsync manage the colour. Colorsync is the profile manager in OS X on the Macintosh. I don't do Windows but I am sure that there is a similar ICC service on that platform. The image was sharp but WAY too red. Absolute crap. Image #3 was printed from Adobe Lightroom using the ICC profile created by Color Munki for that same paper on that printer. The image was awesome. It looked better overall than letting the printer manage colour by enough of an edge that I would do things this way always. and so much better than what image 2 looked like, you would swear someone has spilled red ink all over the second image in comparison.
I'm not alone in finding issues letting Colorsync manage colour on Canon Pixma Pro printers. Plenty of complaints on the internets. For me, that problem is now solved. I've built profiles for Ilford Pearl and Hahnemulle Rag and love the output. Inkpress advises to use the Canon profiles and their metallic gloss is stunning using the Color Munki profile.
Matching Printer and Display
You get what you see. Nuff said.
The Color Munki Photo was not cheap, in the $500 range. If you don't need or want to calibrate your printer (you like the images you get, and using ICC profiles doesn't give you junk) maybe it's overkill for you. If you want want display profiling there are less expensive alternatives but having owned the Huey Pro and tried a friend's Spyder 3, I think that I would go Color Munki regardless. If you do want to make your own profiles for your paper and your printer, the Color Munki is the tool you want and need.
I recommend it highly and also recommend other tools from x-rite like the Color Checker Passport. My prints are beautiful and accurately represent what I get out of my editing tools. One of the side benefits is that instead of thousands of images languishing on the hard drives or in a web portfolio, some of them also now reside on my walls and in the homes of friends and family. My buddy Bryan told me that he heard over 95% of photographers never print anything. I think that's a shame and nothing encourages you to print your photographs like a great print.