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Make Your Own Transfer Function

What you see is not always what you get

by Ralph W. Lambrecht

2011-Mar-12

This paper is essentially an excerpt of a chapter called ‘Make Your Own Transfer Function’ in the book ‘Way Beyond Monochrome, Ed2’, published in 2011 by Elsevier, Focal Press, ISBN 978-0- 240-81625-8. The analytical evaluation method presented in this paper is based on manual methods described in that book. A basic understanding of the photographic process, including sensitometry and densitometry, and the use of Microsoft Excel, is assumed. This paper and the accompanying spreadsheet is provided as is, and the user agrees to accept all consequences that may result from their application, without holding the author responsible or liable in any way, shape or form.

The purpose of a transfer function is to bring the subjective tone-reproduction cycle full circle, and closely match the fi- nal print to the on-screen image. To do so, a transfer function must correct for the differences between the actual and the desired process characteristics. In order to design a transfer function, these differences must be clearly understood. Desired process characteristics are typically expressed through a personal rendering intent, which gives us de- sired print reflection density for every on-screen value. Our spreadsheet provides several tabs with different rendering intents for glossy, pearl or matte papers and personal pref- erences in shadow contrast. The target densities for each rendering intent are shown in cells C11:25. With the help of a step tablet, we are able to determine the actual process characteristics, regardless if an analog or digital process was chosen. Comparing actual and desired process characteris- tics will allow us to design the necessary transfer function. A well-designed step tablet simplifies the development of a transfer function. The self-made example in fig.2 has a tonal spacing of 1% for the extreme highlight and shadow

a tonal spacing of 1% for the extreme highlight and shadow tones and a 2% spacing

tones and a 2% spacing in the midtone area. It is available from my website or can be constructed easily with any suit- able drawing software. Open the step tablet in your photo editing software, and run it through your process, whatever that may be, to bring it to paper. For example, if your process includes a digital inkjet negative, send the file to your printer with your typi- cal settings and produce such a negative. Then, make a test

fig.1 The purpose of a transfer function is to bring the subjective tone-reproduction cycle full circle, and closely match the final print to the digital image seen on the computer monitor.

(based on an illustration by White, Zakia and Lorenz, The New Zone System Manual, Morgan & Morgan, Inc. ISBN 0-87100-100-4)

fig.2 A well-designed step tablet simplifies the development of any transfer func- tion. This self-made tablet has a tonal spacing of 1% for the extreme highlight and shadow tones and a 2% spacing in the midtone area. It is available from my website or can be constructed easily with any suitable drawing software.

fig.3 After running the step tablet in fig.2 through the chosen digital/analog pro- cess, and the print has fully dried, the actual output densities are measured and entered into cells D11:25. The software will calculate the output densities in cells E11:25 and plot the transfer function.

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© 2006-Apr-06
by Ralph W. Lambrecht
7 8 8 8 9 100% © 2006-Apr-06 by Ralph W. Lambrecht print of that negative

print of that negative on your chosen photographic paper. Tone it, if that is part of your standard process, and wait until the print has fully dried.

Open the spreadsheet and select the tab with the appro-

priate rendering intent. Measure the actual output densities

for all input percentages listed in cells A11:25 with a densi-

tometer, and enter the values into cells D11:25. It’s up to you

to measure absolute or relative print densities, because the

software will adjust the target densities in cells C11:25 ac- cordingly, calculate the output densities in cells E11:25 and plot the transfer function. The input and output values are then entered into the ‘Curves’ adjustment dialog box of the photo editing software (fig.4) and saved as a transfer function for future use. From now on, this transfer function is applied to every digital image after final image manipulation, and just prior to committing it to the chosen process and the print media this transfer function was made for. This ensures that the final print will always be a close match to the on-screen image as seen on your monitor, even if process and paper changes, because all transfer functions designed this way are based on the selected rendering intent.

this way are based on the selected rendering intent. fig.4 The input and output values are

fig.4 The input and output values are manually entered into the ‘Curves’ adjustment dialog box of the photo editing software and saved as a transfer function for future use. This transfer function is applied to every digital image after final image manipulation and just prior to committing it to the chosen digital/analog process and the print media this transfer function was made for.