Hardware and Software Choices

I've worked on Macintosh, PCs, and Unix machines over the past 20 years, and my system of choice is a Macintosh. When Macintosh computers first came out in the mid-1980s, they were not taken seriously. They weren't very powerful, and applications for them were weak. However, after several years of development, the improvements in both applications and the system interface appealed to the artsy folks at many agencies and design houses. Eventually, Macs filtered their way in to the separation film houses and became a serious retouching tool. The relative cost of a Macintosh system was far cheaper than the traditional high-end systems, and the slick interface attracted many artistic people, including me, to the platform.

Every year, the latest and greatest computers roll out. To be perfectly honest with you, I really haven't noticed a huge difference between retouching on a G4 computer and a top-of-the-line G5. Sure, the filters are speedier on the newer computers, and the network speeds have increased, but for your basic photo retouching, I find it hard to justify the newer machines. People may have other experiences, but having worked on as many machines as I have, I don't feel any great need to rush out and get the latest machine. I still rely on an older G4 for most of my retouching.

While this tutorial was written using Photoshop CS2, many of the techniques have been part of my repertoire for so long that they are somewhat version independent. If you have a slightly earlier version of Photoshop, you should still be able to effect the same changes in almost all cases.

Output Choices: Monitors and Printers

Here's an important point to remember: each of your output devices must be calibrated properly, or crucial color calls will be off.

I always calibrate my monitor and generate a profile for it. You should, too. I like the ColorVision SpyderPRO, but GretagMacbeth makes good units as well. You should always make an effort to get your monitor looking its best. I won't go into color management details, but a properly calibrated monitor will certainly help you create better looking, more accurate images on screen (and far less finger-crossing upon output).

You may be wondering about using a second monitor. Well, I tried a second monitor for the palettes for a while and, while it certainly frees up your image area, I quickly discovered that I kept taking my eyes off my image area and I wasn't as productive. Some people swear by a second monitor. And while larger screens are pretty cheap these days, I do think that there's a point at which an image is too large on a screen. And if the screen is too large, you start to feel like you're in the front row of a movie theater: your head continually shifts from side to side trying to take it all in. So, let's dispel the large screen monitor myth right now. I'm perfectly happy with a 20" monitor and wouldn't want to work on anything below that. By the way, my present monitor is a CRT and not an LCD monitor. The LCDs look pretty cool, but for the money, the CRTs are still a better deal!

Should you replace your monitor? If you are unable to adjust your monitor and achieve the proper calibration adjustments asked for when calibrating your monitor, it is time to replace your monitor.

If you use an inkjet printer for your color proofs, make sure you have an accurate color profile for your machine. I would suggest getting a custom profile generated for your printer for each type of paper stock you print on even if you have a supplied profile for the printer as printers typically vary on output even if they are of the same model.

Manufacturers of printers often make available profiles on their web sites that can be downloaded for your particular printer. Another way to get a profile is to have one made specifically for your printer. There are services on the Internet that can do this for you. You download their print target and print it out on your printer, then send the printed target to them and have them read how the color chips on the test sheet print out. From that information, they can generate a profile.