Why Does the Epson Print Preview Image Look so Bad?
Printer paper and ink cost money, so it's only natural that people tend to look for ways to conserve them. If you could tell how an image would print before committing it to paper, that would be a good thing. That's the idea behind color management. It's also the idea behind the Print Preview window in the Epson printer driver. But if so, why does the image in the Epson preview look so bad when you let Photoshop manage the color?
When you think about it though, there's a perfectly logical reason why it looks wrong. If you turn off color management in the Epson driver and manage color from Photoshop, the driver preview has no idea how to interpret the data you are throwing at it. It can't see the original unconverted image. All the Epson driver sees is the data on its way to the printer, without any context. Conversion to the specified printer profile already happened upstream in Photoshop and color management is turned off in the driver. This data only "looks right" once it becomes ink on a particular kind of paper — hopefully the same ink and paper used when creating the profile used.
So when controlling color management from Photoshop, displaying a preview image "correctly" in the Epson driver really isn't possible without some sort of hook into Photoshop — a hook that does not exist. The best Epson could legitimately do is to warn you not to use their preview image if you manage color in Photoshop rather than the printer driver.
The Epson preview doesn't always look bad of course. If you don't use the color management print settings in Photoshop and let the Epson driver handle everything, the preview doesn't look half bad. Not perfect, but at least in the right ballpark. But this way you would be limited to the color controls Epson provides rather than the extensive color management support offered in Photoshop. Even with ICM enabled, the driver is limited to profiles built in by Epson rather than allowing access to true ICC profiles from any source and for any paper.
If you want to save paper and ink, soft proofing in Photoshop, LightRoom or another application that supports soft proofing is your best bet. You can then preview your image directly in your editing environment and make any needed adjustments using regular editing tools. For final confirmation, the application's print (or print with preview) dialog shows correct color and lets you confirm page layout just fine. Given this, you can simply ignore the Epson preview image. Or since Epson provides a checkbox to turn the preview feature on or off, you can just leave it unchecked.
Original image of Balsomroot
as it appears inside Photoshop CS3
The Balsomroot still look the same
in the Photoshop CS3 Print dialog.
This also matches closely to how
the image actually prints.
This same image in the Epson preview
with driver ICM off and color managed in Photoshop.
Not pretty and best ignored.
Frankly, I'm not sure why Epson hasn't ever added anything to the dialog for their print drivers about this issue since a simple warning would avoid a lot of confusion. The only thing the Help file for my Epson printer says is "to see a preview of your document before printing it, select this checkbox. When you select the Print option in your application, a Preview Window appears showing how your printed document will look." But this really tells only part of the story and leaves their customers using application color management to fend for themselves. With the increasing popularity of digital photography, this is unfortunate, but at least once you understand why the Epson preview doesn't work, you can simply ignore it and rely instead on how your image looks in Photoshop or whatever color managed application you print from.