Epsonow Magazine

Page 11 - Print Image Matching Technology

In early 2001, Epson unveiled to the world its PRINT Image Matching (P.I.M.) technology. Developed for the future of digital imaging and aimed at the consumer digital still camera (DSC) market, P.I.M. offers vast improvement in printing DSC images. To fully appreciate PIM's advantages, it's worthwhile understanding some additional perspectives.

Historical Perspective

In the mid-1990s, the sRGB colour space was developed to "...complement the current color management strategies by enabling a third method of handling color in the operating systems, device drivers and the Internet that utilizes a simple and robust independent color definition."¹

The colour space, which is shown below, was put forward at a time when the photographic print quality of consumer inkjet printers was a far cry from that which we now take for granted. It was also a time when the majority of digital still cameras (DSCs) were somewhat rudimentary in comparison to those of today.

Camera Perspective

When a picture is taken with a DSC, the camera's firmware interprets each pixel of the captured image as varying intensities of Red, Green and Blue. Even though the majority of DSCs can capture an enormous gamut - range - of colours, most work in such a way that the RGB values are mapped to the somewhat restricted range of colours within the sRGB's triangular theoretical colour space.

The result is that when colour values fall outside the triangular gamut of the sRGB space, they are either clipped or scaled to a position within the gamut. For display on computer monitors, most of which adhere to the sRGB standard, the results are actually quite excellent. But when it comes to printing on six-colour photo quality printers, it's an entirely different matter.

The New Perspective

Of course, the developers of sRGB foresaw potential problems in dealing with colours outside the sRGB space and even commented: "Carrying around out of gamut data would permit one to utilize the full capability of their devices, albeit at some risk. This risk is that my red may be brighter than your red since we have different printers."²

In order to address this potential problem, the need existed for a technology that did permit people to utilize the full capability of their devices, such as DSCs and printers but without the risk. Hence, Epson's PRINT Image Matching technology.

Essentially, PIM provides a means by which extended information about a captured image can be recorded and "passed on" to PIM-enabled software and printers. This extended information includes:

  • colour space;
  • contrast;
  • saturation;
  • shadow;
  • highlight;
  • sharpness;
  • gamma level (brightness);
  • colour balance.

All this information is stored within the header of the image file generated by the DSC's software (firmware). What makes it particularly attractive to the digital imaging industry is that the technology works within various industry standards, even to the point where images captured on PIM-enabled DSCs can be read by non-PIM software and applications, albeit without the advantages of recognising the extended information.

The beauty of this is that the camera vendor can incorporate software within the camera to adjust each of the above printing parameters to match the components of the camera itself. Thereby, we have consistency - the printer and software can interpret this information and deliver a print that reflects more accurately than ever before the optimum settings established by the people who know more about their DSCs than anyone else - the manufacturers.

Seamless Operation

As a photographer, Print Image Matching is designed to function just as any good technology - hidden in the background. All the user has to do is point and shoot in automatic mode or select an image type such as Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Scenery or Sport. The PRINT Image Matching-enabled digital camera takes it from there, automatically digitally tagging the picture with the manufacturer's optimal image settings for that specific camera model, mode and that specific image.

That encoded information allows each PRINT Image Matching-enabled digital camera model to custom set the different parameters, such as gamma and colour space. Then, all of that print-specific information is automatically included as part of the EXIF header in the JPEG file, where it is read and utilised by a PRINT Image Matching-enabled photo printer or software programme.

One of the inherent advantages of P.I.M. is that it is a software-based technology. Because of this, implementing the technology in-camera requires only software changes and as a result, minimal additional cost to PIM-enabled camera's price.

What it really comes down to is ensuring the photographer's original intentions are automatically reflected in the printed image.

The move to PRINT Image Matching is definitely underway, with digital camera manufacturers releasing PRINT Image Matching-enabled digital cameras and Epson's Epson Stylus Photo 810, 890, 895 and 1290 models providing support for the new standard.

Software developers also are joining the PRINT Image Matching family, with negotiations in process between Epson and developers. For users of the above-mentioned Epson Stylus Photo printers, PIM-enabled software by way of Epson PhotoQuicker 3.0 is already available.

A print utility designed specifically for the Stylus Photo 6-colour range, PhotoQuicker 3.0 is available for download from Epson Australia - Epsonow Magazine Volume 1's Web site.

What's Being Said

Since its unveiling, PRINT Image Matching has generated quite a deal of commentary within the digital imaging media. At The Imaging Resource, a Web site that offers comprehensive and unbiased digital camera information, the new technology was particularly well received. In an article written by The Imaging Resource's News Editor, Michael R. Tomkins, the comments made included:

"Our own take is that anything which improves print quality without adding complication for the consumer is a good thing, and in this light PRINT Image Matching looks like it could shine. If Epson can do as good a job of signing on software and printer companies as they've done with digicam companies for their launch, there will likely be enough momentum to ensure a place for their technology. This would seem a good thing as it will allow the consumer who doesn't want to know how their camera works or how to tweak good results out of it, to get better quality prints without needing to intervene..."³

From the US-based InfoTrends Research Group, a leading market research and consulting firm focusing on PC imaging, image capture technologies and markets, Analyst Michelle Lampmann commented:

"PRINT Image Matching technology provides a printing solution between digital cameras and printers, providing customers with optimum image output results. InfoTrends' digital camera user studies show that image quality and print quality are the two most important camera features. With the photographer's intentions being captured correctly in the printed image, Epson's technology will contribute to meeting customers' expectations for quality digital photo printing."