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Getting Accurate Colors When Printing Proofs from InDesign

J.K. wrote:

I am in the process of printing a postcard out of InDesign CS3. The background was created in Photoshop CS3, and the information has been added with InDesign. When printing a proof from Photoshop, I get the color I expect to get. Printing out of InDesign, I do not. I even created a box in InDesign with the same color values, and the color is still not correct. I have checked the color profiles, and the object color profile, and they are the same. Any Ideas?

What you’re talking about is “color matching” or “color management,” and to mix it right, you need 4 parts science to 1 part magic, along with a small sprig of luck and an olive. (And of course, it should be shaken, not stirred.)

The bad news is that I can’t tell you exactly what is going wrong in your particular situation. The good news is that I can tell you a number of things to look for, in hopes that you can troubleshoot the problem sufficiently.

Ensure the same color space. If you spec a CMYK color in Photoshop, but the image is in the RGB mode, you’re not going to get what you expect. Even if you convert that RGB image into CMYK, you still won’t get the CMYK values you specified. If you want a CMYK color in Photoshop, you need to make sure the document is in CMYK before you spec it. Seems obvious, but this messes up a lot of people.

This is interesting because a number of people import RGB images into InDesign. That’s not a problem; InDesign converts RGB images to CMYK beautifully. But if you need to have number-accurate color matching between the image and an InDesign swatch, you should probably convert the image to CMYK, then match the color numbers, then import the CMYK version into InDesign.

Ensure the same meaning. CMYK and RGB swatches are meaningless unless you associate a “profile” with them. For example, there are many different “reds” and “cyans.” The profile says what the colors actually look like. So check the Edit > Color Settings dialog box to make sure both Photoshop and InDesign are talking about the same colors. If you’re working with CMYK colors (which I assume you are here), you almost certainly want the Photoshop’s CMYK color profile to be the same as the InDesign document’s CMYK color profile. By default, they are (in the U.S., it’s US Web Coated SWOP v2).

Note that this actually gets rather confusing, because the color profiles in Color Settings are not necessarily the profiles assigned to the InDesign or Photoshop document open in front of you. InDesign actually makes it rather difficult to figure out what the current document profile is. Perhaps the best way to find out is to choose Edit > Convert to Profile. The current document settings are listed as “Source Space.” Then press Cancel — don’t actually use the convert to profile feature unless you really know what you’re doing.

When the CMYK working space color profiles are the same, then speccing a CMYK color in Photoshop and as a swatch in InDesign ensure that both programs are talking about the same color.

Do you need to embed profiles? A lot of people say, “always turn on Embed Profile when saving documents from Photoshop. These people are apparently unaware that InDesign ignores profiles embedded in CMYK images by default, so you’re just wasting space. A lot of space! CMYK profiles are usually 1 or 2 MB large. Doesn’t seem like much, but that adds up pretty fast after 50 or 100 images.

You do need to embed your CMYK profiles if there’s a chance that the CMYK image will be opened for further editing later on, especially by someone else who may not know what CMYK space you’ve been using. But if you’re just making images to send off to print, then it’s sort of silly to embed the profile because InDesign generally uses the actual CMYK numbers in the image, ignoring its color.

As usual, I’m oversimplifying a bit here. I go into more detail in Real World InDesign, Real World Photoshop, and my Beyond the Basics title (which should be out in another week or two).

Preserve Numbers. If you’re printing separations or to Composite CMYK rather than RGB (see below), make sure that Preserve Numbers is turned on in the Color Management pane of InDesign’s Print dialog box. It’s okay if that checkbox is turned on but also grayed out. Same thing goes in the Output pane of the Export PDF dialog box: You should use Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers) — not the plain ol’ convert to destination. When Preserve Numbers is enabled, InDesign just passes CMYK values through to the printer, rather than trying to match CMYK colors. For most of us, in most cases, that’s a good thing — it avoids things like 100% black turning into four-color CMYK black.

Printing Proofs from InDesign. If you’re going to print a proof from InDesign to a color printer, you first want to visit the View > Proof Setup > Custom dialog box. Choose the final output printer here — the press profile, not the proofer! Then, in InDesign’s Print dialog box:

  1. In the Output pane, choose whether your proofing device is Composite RGB or Composite CMYK. In general, I treat color inkjet printers and color laser printers as RGB devices. Even though they use CMYK inks or toner, they tend to expect RGB data to be coming at them, so that’s what I like to send them.
  2. In the Color Management Pane, choose Proof. The profile you last used in the Proof Setup dialog box is remembered and shows up here. Again, this should be the profile of your final press device (or use something like SWOP if you have no custom profile).
  3. In the Color Handling pop-up menu, choose Let InDesign Determine Colors.
  4. In the Printer Profile pop-up menu, choose the profile for your proofing device. Most good inkjets come with a number of custom profiles, one for each different paper stock or resolution you’re using. Pick the closest one you can. If you don’t have a custom profile for that printer, consider just using sRGB IEC61966.

Don’t expect a lot from a laser. No matter how good your color laser printer, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get as good or as consistent color as from an inkjet printer. You can get reasonable color, but don’t expect miracles. That said, the colors between Photoshop and InDesign should still match on a color laser printer (which was the original question, if I recall).

Turn off driver color management. When you print from InDesign or Photoshop, that program does all its color management, and then hands the file off to the printer driver to print it. Well, in many cases, the printer driver gets in the act, too, doing further color management! That’s bad. So, while you’re in the Print dialog box, click Printer (on the Mac) or Properties (Windows) and figure out how to turn off your printer’s color management settings. That may be in the ColorSync panel, or in the printer’s special settings, or both. You often have to search around a bit to find it.

Trust the Numbers, not the Proof. Ultimately, if you spec 50% cyan in the CMYK Photoshop image, and you spec 50% cyan in InDesign, and Preserve Numbers is turned on, you’re going to get 50% cyan in both places on press. Period. So if your color proof on a desktop printer doesn’t look exactly right, you should immediately open Window > Output > Separation Preview then turn on Separations in the panel’s View pop-up menu. Now scroll around the document, watching the numbers in the panel. That’s real. I love that feature.

In general, if you do all these things, you should be getting pretty accurate color, and the colors between Photoshop and InDesign should certainly match up.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things along the way here, and as I said, I’ve oversimplified a number of steps and concerns. My late co-author Bruce Fraser is likely arching his eyebrows like mad right now, wherever he may be. I encourage folks to jump in and suggest other color management fixes they’ve found useful.

If you want more about color management, check out the titles I mentioned earlier. Also look for Real World Color Management, and you may be interested in the post I made a couple of years ago about why it’s not so bad if you’re not “synchronized” in your Suite.

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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45 Comments on “Getting Accurate Colors When Printing Proofs from InDesign

  1. David, great posting — you’ve crammed a lot of Good Advice into very little space! But you left out an important thing: the Document Blend Space — whether this is set to RGB or CMYK makes a huge output difference. Sometimes. At least on rainy days, if they contain an “R”.

  2. I am a printer, so I get this exact question sometimes. When you wrote “I treat color inkjet printers and color laser printers as RGB devices. Even though they use CMYK inks or toner, they tend to expect RGB data to be coming at them”, that is the correct thing to do.

    Most consumer grade inkjet printers only want RGB data. If you print CMYK to them, they convert back to RGB, then to the CMYK for the particular inkset in the driver.

  3. I’ve been through this before printing lasers for our agency’s books. I tried all of the fancy color management options on InDesign, but discovered when I printed just using the defaults InDesign came with along with my print driver everything printed perfectly. I turned off my Color Settings and everything, and it worked fine.

  4. David, thanks for writing about CM, I think this is still quite unexplored area. While my English is not so well, can you define what exactly are you reffering to when you use (in 2nd paragraph) words ‘spec’, ‘convert’ and ‘mode’?

  5. I’ve always been frustrated trying to print in InDesign. Even after reading this greatly written article, I still can’t print matched RGB colors.

    I have a logo with a solid RGB background. If I try to match it in indesign with the same color using the same RGB numbers – it will match on screen but not printed.

    Curiously, if I try to do the same thing with CMYK files and numbers, everything matches up on screen and in print.

    All in all it’s ok because most things I design are for CMYK, but if you’re trying to make a quick flyer to print at home and you just want to leave it RGB, kiss accurate color goodbye!

  6. “Trust the numbers not the proof”
    This is the ultimate truth in colour management, it is accurate and to a point demystifies the CM process.
    Talk to your printer about proofing as well, they know their presses and can suggest colour profiles or even apply them for you at repro stage.
    Remember the days of film and colour accurate cromalins? Digital proofing has it place in the streamlined workflow of pdfs and
    ‘straight to plate’ but I do miss the certainty of a cromalin.

  7. David – great post!
    Big fan of the InDesign Secrets site…
    I’ve tried and tried as well with all the CM settings, still find it safer and less stressful to keep numbers AS IS as long as i’ve converted rgb to cmyk. Unless I have a huge RGB pdf I might use CM from indesign. I’m still old school. (pre-press & printing)

    I agree with Tim, I miss seeing a crom or m/p proof over a digital one.
    50% black actually being a 50% k dot.

  8. Something to keep in mind — if you have any transparency in Indesign CS2, and this includes drop shadows, you’re almost certain to get odd rectangular patches around the transparency area where the colour is brighter and grainier. I nearly killed my brain trying to fix this issue, then gave up and laid all the transparencies out in Photoshop.

  9. hi,
    I’ve read the posts and am still having trouble with this issue. I have logos designed for me indesign. though i work on a calibrated screen and so does the designer our colors don’t match. I need to export the logos and designs out of indesign often to photoshop and when that’s done the colors look completely different. it seems that when you input numbers for cmyk or rgb they should change correspondingly, but that doesn’t seem to be the case and i’ve begun to not trust the color management aspects of these programs for that reason.

  10. Robbie, I can tell you without a doubt that the Adobe creative suite color management system is extremely robust. If you’re seeing something that is “completely different,” then there’s a very good chance that it’s something inconsistent or wrong in your workflow. Color Mgmt is not simple, but it is (for the most part) logical. I’d encourage you to take a look at some of the other sources mentioned in the post.

  11. Hi
    I have problems with my HP ColorLaserJet 3600 running on my Mac. When I print out of Photoshop the colors are as expected. When I use the same picture in InDesign or export it as pdf and print it, the colors are way too dull.
    But, when I import this pdf in Photoshop and print it from there, all colors are as expected again…
    The same pdf printed on another CLJ 3600 on a windows machine will have also the colors as exprected.
    >So, I think this is a driver confict on the Mac.

  12. Now I found a solution:
    I just opened the pdf (created in InDesign) with Apples preview-> and tadaaa, it works as like you would expect it…
    (But why the colors are strange out of InDesign an Acrobat I still don’t know)

  13. There are posts here stating that InDesign color management is robust. It isn’t. Using the same color profile on InDesign as in Photoshop (in CS3, on a mac) results in different outputs. This is because the color print engine in InDesign is different to Photoshop’s. To get good matches, you either have to create new InDesign specific profiles OR output to PDF and reimport into Photoshop. I think this is something to do with the fact that InDesign does not switch off color management, and so you end up double color managed. Not sure. Various posts on the web about it, but lots of people are waiting for Adobe to fix. Come on Adobe!!

  14. Barney, I think you may have some facts mixed up. ID and Pshop do use the same color engine (unless you change the defaults). ID and PShop provide the same color results when printing, as long as your settings are the same throughout the process.

    I’d be curious to see the posts you refer to on the Web.

  15. David, love the post.

    I do series of book covers monthly where colors must match. Need to ensure I’m using CM correctly when doing the export to pdf from ID.

    Our print house said some images were too saturated and ink coverage was not to exceed 270, so I created a photoshop profile with ink limit not to exceed 270. Now when I create my pdf from indesign what do I turn on and what don’t I? The colors indicated in indesign MUST remain the same. I did go into colour settings and change CMYK to the profile I created in photoshop. Do I check preserve numbers, include profiles?

  16. Pingback: InDesignSecrets » Blog Archive » Can You Turn Off Color Management?

  17. When I go to select a paper under printer profile in InDesign’s Color management print window my choices are limited to profiles like: Document RGB, srgb or iMAc followed by cryptic names like sp1410 1410 Pgpp, sp1400 1410 pgps Which should I choose to get somewhat accurate color proof on my non-postcript 1400? Epson won’t help with InDesign interface. Thanks

  18. @Ronni: you’re going to have to take up the cryptic profile naming with Epson! But I’m guessing the sp1400 is probably at least one profile for your Epson 1400. Better if you can find out what paper that profile is designed for.

  19. This article is very interesting. But i would like the RGB issue to receive the same treatment.

    When i try your method if RGB photographies imported in an indesign RGB doc, i never succeed to have descent color ! With my HP B8850?

  20. I’ve been a photoshop user since version 1, so I should have known all this, but the details got away from me with the last round of upgrades. This article was so clearly stated, I immediately went out and bought Real World Photoshop CS3. I read and reread the 80 or 90 pages on color management, and now feel like I’m in control again. Thank! I got some great prints off my inkjet, that converted beautifully to the web and to a gang printed brochure.

    Next step is to purchase a monitor with a wider viewing angle. My old CRTs didn’t have much color shift from top to bottom of the large screens. My LP screens frequently have that problem, but HP has a new, inexpensive monitor with viewing angle of 178 Horiz /178 vert. I’m going to give it a shot. (#HP LP2275w).

  21. This is a great discussion and here’s what I’ve found regarding printing RGB docs to a Brother color laser through InDesign…

    Everything stated above is correct, but it’s tricky to know what to do with the printer dialog box. So here’s the steps I took to match color:

    1. Correct your RGB image in Photoshop using the proof profile of your laser printer. Don’t convert it to that profile. Leave it in Adobe RGB.

    2. Import the RGB file into InDesign making sure that nothing is converted to a different profile.

    3. In InDesign print dialog-> color management, choose: Print: Document (not proof). The profile listed should be Adobe RGB. Under options choose, printer profile: sRGB IEC61966-2.1. Check “Preserve RGB Numbers”

    4. Click the printer tab and in your Brother Laser dialog box under Color Matching, choose ColorSync “Automatic” NOT Brother Color.

    5. Print away.

    You will now get accurate color printing on your laser printer between your Photohop doc and your InDesign doc every time. Whether it looks the same on your screen–well, that’s a different matter. But it will look the same when you print it from Photoshop or from InDesign. One note: if printing from Photoshop on that laser, you should select “Let Photoshop Manage colors” and use Relative Colorimetric rendering using the profile that the “Automatic” Colorsync setting used in InDesign. Cheers.


    I am just finishing up a comic book project which I have been working on for many months now, and each time I do a test print from my Indesing PDF, the Photoshop and Indesign CMYK colors never match…. This is very strange, because the CMYK colors DO match perfectly to the last decimal! (The print shop that I go to has some kind of printing program which can read the CMYK colors…kinda like the Seperation preview in Indesign (which also says my colors match!)

    This is what I did to make my comic…so maybe someone can help me out….?

    I placed my orange-brown CMYK comic images (the original comic images are black – 100% of each CMYK color, with an Hue/Saturation layer above them, which changes the color) from Photoshop CS2 into Indesign CS2 to do the layout and add the text. Both of my Photoshop and Indesign color spaces DO match… I made a New Color Swatch in Indesign, using the CMYK color I get in Photoshop when I use the eye-dropper tool, so everything matchs up nicely. That’s actually about it….

    I guess the problem must be when I export the PDF from Indesign. I have not yet tried to export the PDF from Indesign with Preserve Numbers selected…so maybe that will work…? I doubt it though, not with the luck I’ve been having….

    Any feedback from anyone to help me out would be very much appreciated! Thanks! ;)

  23. Thanks for the nice reply last week!

    I did turn ‘Preserve numbers’ on…but it still printed out wrong (the colors still didn’t match…) :(
    Is there anything else you can advise me with?…. My last resort is to import the whole Indesign PDF into Photoshop and then save everything new again as ‘flattened .psd images’ – and then replace the new flattened .psd files into Indesign and save for another ‘final PDF’. I’ve done this before….and the color DOES match when printing….but it is a very annoying and slow process – especially when working in 400 dpi. I end up with so many files and lose my vector data (everything turns into pixel data when imported into Photoshop)…. This process also reduces the line quality a bit from my artwork…. That is why this method is my last resort…. Do you recomend doing this method if it works…? The weird thing is that the Seperation preview in Indesign says that my colors DO match….I just don’t get it….Maybe Adobe just hates me….

    I look forward to hearing from you again,

    Best wishes and Happy Holidays,

  24. It took me an hour to figure this one out.
    After an Indesign crash and recovory I had the same problem. I had to set the “Transparancy Blend Space” back to Document RGB.

    Greetz, Jos Plas

  25. Oh lordy, I will be so grateful if someone can help me. I am trying to print a document from Indesign on my Epson R1800 but when I go to Color Management > Printer Profile, none of the icc profiles I downloaded from show up. The options are document RGB, working RGB, apple RGB, etc, but no paper or printer profiles. They show up in Illustrator, but not Indesign. So frustrating.


  26. Caitlyn, I think I can answer that, if you’re on a Mac. (If you’re on Windows, apologies and please ignore what follows!)

    I experienced exactly the same problem myself, and fixed it. The problem is that Snow Leopard stores its profiles in a different place from where InDesign looks for them. But it’s an easy fix. Firstly go to your home folder, then Library, then ColorSync. Right-click (or control-click) on the Profiles folder and choose Make Alias. Then open a new Finder window, and navigate to /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Color/Profiles . Move the alias you made into that folder. Re-start InDesign and you should see all your own profiles listed along with the default ones.

    Good luck!

  27. Thank you SO MUCH!
    I’ve been wrestling with the damn printer at work four hours now when indesign simply refuses to print correctly, and after a frustrating google session i finally found this fantastic post saving my day and the production deadline.

    I can’t thank you enough, this gave insight and cleared things up big time for me, and at the same time finally gave the printer the respect it deserves.

    Damn, i love you for this!


  28. I am still really confused. I am in the UK and I just want to print final proofs for my own portfolio from Indesign CS4 on Epson Heavyweight Matte paper; using a Epson stylus photo 1400. I have tried all the settings suggested above however my prints still come out very dark. Are you able to advise me what colour workspace I should use if I’m only printing to my inkjet and not going to a printing press. I am working on a MacBook Pro and someone suggested that I should get ColorMunki Photo calibration software as the screens can be overly bright. However just as a test I took one of my placed Photoshop files and lightened it by a considerable amount. On reprinting from Indesign the file was still dark.

    If you are able to help I would appreciate it as the more I read the more confused I get and the more settings there seem to be.

  29. Hi,

    I’m having similar color problems, but I’m not so much concerned with RGB/CMYK conversions as my PDF just printing super, super dark. The colors look perfect in ID and as an exported PDF, but when we print, everything is very dark.

    I sort of attributed the issue to resolution issues between computer screens and print, but reading this I wonder now if it’s because we use a laser printer. Can I get any clarification on this?

    I’m just tired of nothing looking like how I designed it.


  30. @Lauren: it sounds as though the trouble is when you print the PDF, yes? Or is it also when printing from InDesign? In either case, it is likely a factor of the color management settings (either in Acrobat or InDesign). Laser printers will never give you super accurate results (that’s why most people use inkjets for color proofing), but I use a laser printer most of the time and I can get pretty good color. You might look at the printer driver settings for your printer (in the print dialog box); perhaps they’ve been set to Darken or something.

  31. I am trying to print a coffee table book using Indesign having lot of photographs in it. It is designed in version CS3. I am using tiff or jpg formates of images in CMYK. The result on offset printing or digital press is coming very dark. I need a help how to controll. If I use coreldraw using the same images results are good. Need help in controlling the colours in Indesign version CS3.

  32. I want to have Printer determines color management rather than Indesign (and then set right icc profiles from the printer) because I dont like what indesign/photoshop does to it.

    Is there a way to do this (like there is in photoshop)

  33. I am working only with RGB images. I color correct them but the minute they are brought into InDesign, the color changes. I have color settings the same in Photoshop and InDesign but I can’t seem to find where InDesign in changing my colors.

  34. I have a document where there is a blue gradient fill in the background with a white eps image set at 10% opacity, then a grey halftone pattern at 50% on top of that. I now need to get the overall resulting colour value (grey blue) to use in another project also in indesign. I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get that colour to use on its own for my new project. The eye dropper doesn’t work.
    I tried pasting a pdf of the original document into the new document to get the eyedropper to work on the area that has the colour that I need but when I do that I get a colour that looks ok on screen, but when I print it using the same printer as the original document they are two very different colours.


    • Renata: Try opening Window > Output > Separations Preview; then choose Separations from the pop-up menu in the panel, then hover the cursor over that area and look in the panel. That will give you the real CMYK breakdown for that area.

  35. Is there any problem while printing, the error {transparency blending space cmyk’} showing in the PDF separation preview ?

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