A printer profile 1 is a software translator that is matched to the colour characterisitics (or colour profile') of your printer, ink, and paper combination.
The colours that come out on an ink-jet print depend on the colours of the dyes or pigments in the ink, how they are mixed, how densely they are deposited, and the colour and absorbency of the paper on which they are deposited. In other words, the colour reproduced in a print is influenced by the ink set, the way the rinter works, and the paper.
The printer profile is a software translator that corrects the signal being sent to a printer so that a standard colour sent will be printed as the standard colour. A printer profile, for a given combination of printer, paper, and ink is made after measuring the colours printed when a known 'target' image is sent to it.
Profiles may be found on the websites of the major photo printer manufacturers (e.g. Canon, Epson, HP). Typically, printer manufacturers supply profiles1 only for their printers, inks, and papers.
Profiles for high quality third-party papers (e.g. Ilford, Hahnemüle) in printers from major manufacturers can usually be found on the paper manufacturer's websites. Unless you are making your own custom print profile, it is necessary to download and install the recommended profile2 for the paper you're using in your printer.
Because issues of sample variability can mean downloaded profiles are not quite right, making your own profiles, or having a profile made for your own printer with your favourite paper, is a good option.
It is important to realise that you cannot expect good or consistent colour performance when you use third-party inks in your printer unless you have a profile made.
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