"My Prints are Too Dark!" Tips to Adjust for Modern LCD/LED Monitors

Plexworks offers an artwork printing and cut service for the general public. Understandably, most of our customers not professional designers. Because of this we receive artwork of varying degrees of quality and color fidelity. I'd like to discuss some of the misconceptions we occasionally get when a customer reports their print appeared darker than their monitor originally showed them.

Bright Colors for the Masses

LCD and LED monitors are designed to offer bright, high contrast visuals by default, simply because most users find that this configuration is best for most work they are performing on the computer.  If no calibrations are performed for print, then the majority of artwork will appear quite bright on a backlit monitor.

If the original artwork file does not have any brightness or contrast adjustments for printing baked directly into the file, its actual color fidelity is darker than your monitor.

Is Your Print Really Too Dark? 

If you're comparing your print to your monitor, keep in mind that the monitor image viewing source is lit from behind, not relying on the reflection of surrounding light sources, as the print is.  Paper does not have its own lighting source.

Because paper does not have its own lighting source, ambient lighting will affect how bright it looks.  If you're viewing the print in a dark room with a single, low output light bulb, it's very possible your print only appears dark in your current location. Take the print outside, or in to a properly lit room, and see if it still looks too dark.

Let's use this example - a customer reported that their print was much darker than appears on their monitor.  You can see in both cases, the artwork on the monitor is backlit, and by default if not configured for printing will appear very bright.  Additionally, the room its currently viewed in is quite dark, with a warm luminescent light that will make the print appear almost orange or sepia in tone.  There is no way our prints can accomodate this kind of viewing environment to match what appears on the bright, cool blue LED screen its compared to.


Photoshop: Lighten your Artwork for Print via Adjustment Layers

Properly calibrating monitors for print factors a number of elements, such as your monitor type and ambient light.  Specialized software and hardware is also used to assist with this task.  Most of the customers we serve will not have access to these tools. For those who use Photoshop to send artwork, however, there is a loose workaround. Additionally, we'll look at room lighting.

Adjustment Layers was introduced in more recent versions of Photoshop.  These layers allow you to nondestructively add and adjust various filters to the image layer below it.  In this case, we would choose Levels.


  1. In the Layers palette in Photoshop, choose Levels from the fourth icon from the bottom left. Name this adjustment layer "Printer"

    In the Properties palette, you will see a series of sliders and presets. Under Presets dropdown, select "Midtones Darker".  This darkens the illustration by 25%.  What we're trying to do here is first present an environment that would try to replicate our printer.  


  2. Next, create a second Levels Adjustment layer and name it "Preferred".  We will then use the sliders in the Properties Palette to lighten the image.  Try adjusting the Midtones slider (the slider in the middle) it until it suits your desired brightness.  You may try 1.25 as a starting point.


  3. Now, hide the "Printer" adjustment layer.
  4. Save your Photoshop file and submit to us.

The resulting image may appear almost too bright and washed out at first, however, keep in mind that it's your monitor that is creating this appearance, not Photoshop.  We are using this method to assist in creating an environment in which your monitor is closer to printed paper, which as mentioned before, does not have a backlight.  The graphic, when printed, should more closely match the appearance of the image of your monitor without the adjustment layers turned on.

Working in a Neutral Light Environment

A default monitor that uses LED or LCD often displays a cool temperature lighting.  If the room you work in has a dark, warm lighting, this won't help to assess the printed paper.  Consider working in a cooler lighting environment, such as a fluorescent lamp.

Try a Test Print Yourself

If you own a color inkjet printer, you can see how your print may appear on paper and in the environment you may decide to view it in upon receiving our print.  While the inkjet paper's brightness may not match our cardstock exactly (ours is 95% brightness), it can help you assess how your artwork might look when printed.

Will FA Send a Corrected Print for Free if the Original Print is Darker than Expected?

As you can see, it's quite difficult to anticipate the artwork quality and fidelity that customers may send us, due to varying monitor calibrations, viewing environments. We cannot tell what the print looks like on your individual monitor, and therefore can only work with the image we received from you.  The service does not include color correction, nor for the price of the print do we offer consultation on individual fidelity.  I'm afraid that we will not reprint artwork that is deemed darker than expected.


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