How to soft proof easily in Photoshop

Whether you edit your photos in a huge colorspace like ProPhoto RGB or even a small one like sRGB, you’re eventually going to run into issues with “out of gamut” colors when your image is printed or viewed on another computer. For example, a vibrant Adobe RGB green may be a little more dull on a monitor that supports P3. Or a vibrant sRGB magenta may not be printable. Knowing how your images will look like on the web or as a print is extremely valuable. That’s exactly what “soft proofing” is, a preview of how your image will look will look on another monitor or as a print.

Soft proofing helps you:

  • Optimize your images to look their best when printed or shared on the web.
  • Consider various print options, such as the ideal paper to preserve the colors or shadow detail of your image.
  • Be more aware of how your image will appear. Whether you try to make changes or not, the  final result will be different if some pixels are out of gamut (by definition, out of gamut colors cannot be reproduced on the monitor/paper in question).

Other than standard color spaces like AdobeRGB, you will need to install ICC profiles for anything you wish to proof (such as your monitor or specific papers/printers). You can create your own profiles with tools like the XRite i1Studio or download them from your the printer manufacturer or your commercial print lab.

Lumenzia (v11.3+) and Web Sharp Pro (v4.0+) include options for soft proofing. They are designed to make the soft proofing process faster and easier, as well as tools for correction in Lumenzia. These panels take different approaches, as Web Sharp Pro is only intended to output images for the web.


How to soft proof in Web Sharp Pro:

  • Go to Settings / General and set the “proof when hovering over sharpen” to either soft proof or gamut warning. You simply choose one or the other, and “soft proof” is going to be the best option most of the time.
  • The “colorspace” you choose in Settings / General is what will be used for proofing. So you can proof as sRGB, P3 (on MacOS), or Adobe RGB. You cannot proof other colorspaces because they are irrelevant (since these are the only options for exporting the image).
  • Just hover over the “Sharpen” button in the main panel, and the soft proof or gamut warning will be shown (unless your colorspace is set to “do not convert”, as there is nothing to soft proof when the output is unchanged).
  • If you wish to change the color used for the out of gamut warning, go to PS prefs / Transparency & Gamut and click the color swatch.

If you wish to confirm the profile when using the out of gamut option, you can go to the flyout menu (top right of my panel) / tool tips & info and turn on “Document & PS info”. This will show proof/gamut info as extra text below the normal panel area (be sure to click and drag down the bottom edge of the panel to see it).

Note that Web Sharp Pro does not include corrective tools, but you may use Lumenzia or add a top group layer named “soft proof” and Web Sharp Pro will toggle the group on and off with your proofing (see the Lumenzia demo in the video above to learn more).


How to soft proof in Lumenzia:

  • Click “Gam” to see a popup window with options. Note that the “Gam” button is disabled if there is no image open or your active image is in 32-bit mode (soft proofing is not accurate for HDR images, you should convert to 16-bits and then soft proof).
  • Choose your desired profile from the dropdown. You’ll notice that the list is much shorter than what you see in the Photoshop setup dialog, as the majority of the options are not useful and Lumenzia is automatically reducing the clutter to help you find relevant choices. Both RGB and CMYK profiles are supported. You may click the filter checkboxes to help shorten the list of options further.
  • In the hover options section, check the soft proof or out of gamut warning options as desired. You may select both.
  • When soft proofing is enabled, you may have the option to choose the perceptual rendering intent. If the option is greyed out, the currently selected profile does not support it. Most of the time, “relative colorimetric” is best. However, perceptual may be optimal for images with color gradients which are out of gamut (such as the soft color transitions of a rose petal).
  • When the gamut warning is enabled, you may also click on the color swatch to set the color used for the warning. Middle grey is often the best choice, as it clearly stands out in the middle of out of gamut colors.
  • Click “Done” once you’ve selected the options you wish to use and then just hover over the “Gam” button to see the soft proof and/or gamut warning.

Just like Web Sharp Pro, you can go to the flyout menu (top right of my panel) / tool tips & info and turn on “Document & PS info” to see red text describing any soft proof you use through the panel.

The “Gam” button also includes an option to “add soft proof corrections group“. This creates an HSL adjustment layer with a layer mask biased towards out of gamut pixels for the selected profile. This group is automatically made visible when you hover for a soft proof, so that you may directly compare your original image (without proofing) to your corrected image (with proofing). The mask utilizes density to help ensure smooth results (see this tutorial to learn more about why density is so useful and how to adjust it). The easiest way to use the proof corrections group is to hover over “Gam” and hold <shift> as you move away (to make activate the soft proof and the corrections group), adjust the HSL layer as desired or add other corrections to the group, and then hover over Gam again to compare your corrections to the original.


How to soft proof with Photoshop:

Soft proofing in Photoshop is setup through View / Proof Setup / Custom:

  • You can then select the color profile you wish to use for proofing (this is the “device to simulate”).
  • Rendering intent is often best as “relative colorimetric”, but some images benefit from “perceptual”. Note that while Photoshop always gives you a choice, many profiles do not support it and you’d get the same results as relative colorimetric (if the ICC profile file isn’t 1MB or larger, that’s usually a clue that it does not include the lookup tables for perceptual intent rendering).
  • I recommend leaving “black point compensation” checked and leave the other options alone unless you understand them fully.
  • Then check View / Proof Colors to soft proof or View / Gamut Warning to see which pixels are out of gamut.
  • You may change the gamut warning color via PS Prefs / Transparency & Gamut / Gamut Warning Color. Middle grey is often the best choice, as it clearly stands out in the middle of out of gamut colors.

Whenever soft proofing is active, the proof profile name will show in the document tab (ie the file name at the top of your image). This only applies for soft proofing, not gamut warnings. You can confirm the status of the gamut warnings by reviewing the View menu.


How to compare different profiles with MacOS ColorSync Utility:

If you use MacOS, you can use its “ColorSync Utility” to view and compare ICC profiles. This is a great way to compare gamuts for different profiles. A few quick tips:

  • Select the profile to review in the “profiles” tab.
  • Click and drag to view the gamut from different angles.
  • <option>-click and drag up to zoom out (or down to zoom in). This is helpful to see very large spaces like ProPhoto.
  • Right-click and choose Yxy to view the color space with the traditional horseshoe plot of spectral colors (these are the most saturated colors we can see).
  • Right-click and choose “hold for comparison” and then click on another color space to compare the two gamuts directly. You should hold the larger space (which will show as a colorless wireframe) to make the comparison easy to view.
Greg Benz Photography