How to get the best scans from Vuescan (profiling & scanning) [Updated]

April 25 2013, 60 Comments

[Update April 27th, 2014] Rough Profiler 1.7 now runs on Mac OS 10.9. I’ve tested it and it seems to work great. Thanks Howard for sending me the tip.
[Update May 8th, 2014] Another tip from Howard that I’ve been testing. He read through Agryll CMS SCANIN document and discovered when scanning in “RAW” gamma 1.0 should be used instead of gamma 2.2. The difference is subtle, but gamma 1.0 does provide a small amount of extra colours in the shadows. More colours are definitely great to have. If you are archiving your film and want to get the most out of your scans gamma 1.0 is the better choice. The colour shift is small, and would probably only be noticeable in large prints.
[Update October 16th, 2014] I’ve added an extra step after assigning a profile: converting the working colorspace to AdobeRGB or ProRGB. This will provide a proper working colorspace for editing your scan. It also decompresses the shadow detail. Thanks so much to James for discovering this. He also has a few more great tips in his comment below; like using a lower dpi scan, and that manually exposing your film target may not actually increase the accuracy of the profile. Great stuff!

This is a follow up to a post that I wrote over a year ago about how to properly what I thought was properly profile your scanner with Vuescan, Vuescan: how to profile your scanner/film. After much discussion in the comments I realized that my process of profiling and scanning was completely wrong, and most of what I wrote in my post was useless. But the thing about great discussions, are great solutions. I feel we found the best way to profile and scan film in Vuescan. I want to give a special shout-out to Martin Jericho who really was the catalyst in creating this process.

Achieving good scans with just Vuescan is not an easy thing to accomplish. Vuescan is one of the most powerful scanning softwares available today. And with the resurgence of film, programs like Vuescan play a very important part in creating digital files for todays industry. If you’ve arrived here frustrated after hours and hours of trying to get a good scan from Vuescan, or trying to colour-match your slides to your scans to no-avail, you are not alone. Everyone who has collaborated to create this profiling and scanning process has been in your shoes.

Right off the bat, there are two things you should know about Vuescan. The first is Vuescan does a really lousy job of creating scanner profiles from film targets. Secondly, Vuescan doesn’t like 3rd-party ICC profiles. Which means all that time we spent creating and testing different profiles in Vuescan was a waste of time. This is why every result didn’t look right.

This process of creating a proper profile requires some patience. By utilizing Vuescan’s ability to scan raw files and a 3rd-party program to build an ICC profile, creating a profile is fairly simple. Just so you don’t think something has gone wrong or you’ve done a step incorrectly, initial raw scans from Vuescan will appear very underexposed. The explanation for the underexposure is that the proper gamma has not been applied. Another important note, this process uses raw-tiff files not raw-DNG files. You will most likely have to perform the steps below a few times before you have created a proper ICC profile.

Here’s what you’ll need:

– An IT8 scanner calibration target on the specific film you want to profile (you can buy them from Wolf Faust, one of the only guys who still creates them)
– An ICC profile generating program. If you have a PC, LProf or the beta version of Rough Profiler are available to use. If you have a Mac, Rough Profiler is the program I use. Rough Profiler’s website is in spanish but the program is in english. Rough Profiler 1.7 is compatible with Mac OS 10.5 to OS 10.9. Also, Rough Profiler is only compatible with OS 10.5 and 10.6. It will not work with Lion or Mountain Lion. Unfortunately Rough Profiler is one of the only functional GUI containers for Argyll CMS (the code that actually profiles) for Mac. If you are running Lion or Mountain Lion I suggested creating a virtual machine that runs OS X 10.6. You can create a virtual machine using VirtualBox. A lot of Apple repair shops (not the Apple Store) will have old versions of OS X kicking around if you don’t have the disc buried in a desk drawer.
– Photoshop and Vuescan

Step 1: Scanning your IT8 target

Create a scan of your IT8 target in Vuescan. If you are using a medium format scanner, try your best to make sure the target is straight on the glass.
Input Tab: Set the input like a normal scan. I don’t scan targets at the max resolution as the files tends to be really big, 2000dpi works fine for me.
Select the target area. If your scanner allows, leave some grey around the target.
 – Exposure Lock: Select Exposure Lock and record the value that is shown. You will need to reference this value if exposure adjustments are made.
Multiple Exposure: This option is not available for all scanners. For profiling do not select this option.
Filter Tab: Infrared Clean > Light (if this option is available to you)
Color Tab: Color Balance > None,  Scanner Color Space > Built-In, Output Color Space > ProRGB
Output Tab: Make sure you have selected Raw file. Raw File > Selected, Name your  scan (for profiles, I usual reference the film type), Raw Size Reduction > 1, Raw File Type > 48bit RGB, Raw Output with > Save, Raw save film > Not Selected, Raw Compression > Off, Raw DNG Format > Not Selected
Scan your IT8 Target

Vuescan - Preview Crop

Vuescan - Exposure Lock

Vuescan - Filter Tab

Vuescan - Color Tab

Vuescan - Output Tab - Raw file

Step 2: Create an ICC profile

Open your ICC profile program. (I will be using Rough Profiler as my example.)
Input: Preset > None, Chart Type > IT8.7, Reference File > Select the text reference file that accompanied your IT8 target, Test Chart > Select the IT8 scan you created, Gamma > 2.2 1.0
Click Create Ti3 (required to create an ICC profile)
– Once Rough Profiler has created a Ti3 file the preview window will display your target with the sample squares
Output: Quality > High, Force cLUT Absolute > None, Algorithm > XYZ cLUT, Profile Name > The name that will appear in Photoshop, File Name > The name that will appear in your finder
Click Create ICC
– The ICC profile will be saved to the same folder as your IT8 target scan. There will be three files created; ICC profile, Ti3 data, and a diag.tiff file showing your the chart overlay
You have now created an ICC profile!

Rough Profiler

Rough Profiler - Ti3 Overlay

Rough Profiler - ICC Profile Complete Log

Step 3: Placing your ICC profile into your system

– Place your newly created ICC profile into your system so that Photoshop can find it.
Mac: Library > ColorSync > Profiles. (I create a folder called Film just to keep things organized. The folder doesn’t show up in Photoshop)
– Mac OS 10.7+ users: The Library is hidden by default. The quickest way to access it is: Click the Go menu and hold down the Option key, Library will appear.
– PC: I am unfortunately not a PC guy, so I do not know the ins-and-outs of installing profiles. The guys at Red River Paper explain how to install profiles for a PC and Mac, How to Install Profiles on your Computer.

Step 4: Assigning  your ICC profile to the IT8 target scan

Open Photoshop
Open your IT8 target scan
Assign your new profile: Edit > Assign Profile > Select your profile
– [New Step] Covert your working colorspace: Edit > Covert to Profile > Select a Destination Space Profile – I’d suggest either Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB 

Photoshop - Edit > Assign Profile

Photoshop - Choose Profile

Raw Scan vs Profiled Image

Step 5: Checking the accuracy of your ICC Profile

Open up the Information Palette in Photoshop.
Bring your curser over the first white box on the greyscale chart, box 0.
The RGB values of this box should be around the 240 to 250 zone. You don’t want to any of the values creeping up to 255 (clipped).

Greyscale chart - Box 0

Step 6: Repeat to achieve a proper ICC Profile

– If your RGB values are not hovering in the 240 to 250 zone, repeat steps 1 through 5.
– Adjust the Exposure Lock or RGB Analog Gain values in Vuescan by +/-0.05 depending on your RGB value, and rescan your IT8 target.
– Once you are satisfied with the RGB values, go back to Vuescan and record the Exposure Lock value.
– Use the Exposure Lock value when scanning the particular film you are creating the ICC profile for.
– You have now created a proper ICC profile.

Scanning: A good base but not perfect
Creating a custom ICC profile is the best way to achieve the most accurate representation of the film you are scanning. Setting the Exposure Lock value in Vuescan will give you a great base exposure to start with. That said, it does not necessarily mean that it will be a “perfect” images. Depending on the light used to create the photograph you will most likely have to do some colour correction, especially with slide film. Also remember different film companies have different colour casts in their film; Fuji blue/green, Kodak red/orange. Light meters measure the exact amount of light directed towards it, properly exposing for highlights. This can cause images to appear under-exposed. Adjusting the Exposure Lock value will create a scan closer to the exposure you had in mind. [Tip: I usually do a quick low-res initial scan to gauge if I need to adjust the Exposure Lock value.]

The profile is embedded in the image’s metadata, you can catalog it in Lightroom or Aperture or any other processing program you like. Just remember, this is a tiff file not a camera raw file – you will not have the same raw editing controls as a digital image. The definition of a raw-tiff scan is Vuescan capturing all of the data that the film has, this is different than a camera sensor capturing light coming through a lens. The DNG file setting in Vuescan utilizes the Adobe DNG file format to create archival files that allow you to reload the image into Vuescan and adjust settings like curves or white balance, this saves you from re-scanning the film. If you do decided to create archival DNG files, I would suggest using 64bit RGBI colour space. 64bit RGBI is 16bit Red, 16bit Green, 16bit Blue, and 16bit Infrared.

That’s how you profile and scan with Vuescan. In the end, Vuescan is just used as a power scanning program. Profiles are created in a 3rd-party ICC profile generating program, and you apply the profile itself in Photoshop. Scanning raw files in Vuescan ensures that you are capturing all of the information the film can provide without having Vuescan applying any of it’s adjustments to it.

I find it interesting that no one is sharing scanner ICC profiles online, especially since film is coming back. I understand there are a lot of different scanners out there and even between the same scanners there are differences, but properly created profiles should get you pretty accurate colours. I want to change that. I have created a full set of film-specific scanner ICC profiles for the two scanner that I use; Nikon LS-8000 and Epson 3200. These profiles will only work properly if you have the same scanners. You are free to download them and use them. All I ask is that you pass along this post to a frustrated film photographer who can’t seem to get their scans to match their film so that we all can be happier film shooters.
Films include: Fuji Provia 100F, Provia 400X, Velvia 50, Velvia 100/100F, Astia 100/100F, Sensia, Sensia 100, RTP II; Kodak Ektachrome family; Agfa RSX, RSX II, CT Precisa.

Nikon Coolscan 8000 ED (LS-8000) ICC Profiles
Epson Perfection 3200 Photo ICC Profiles

'60 Responses to “How to get the best scans from Vuescan (profiling & scanning) [Updated]”'
  1. Del Simcox says:

    Appreciate the help provided by all of the contributors here! I am new to this game – but I have downloaded RoughProfiler to generate the ICC profile to use in Photoshop Elements.

    I have a Plustek 8100i which came with an IT8 slide, but no reference file to provide for RoughProfiler. Plustek has not responded to my request for a reference file. Is this something that I can obtain from a 3rd party?

  2. Del Simcox says:

    I figured out the process shortly after posting . . . the IT8 reference is provided by LaserSoft. On LaserSoft’s website, there is a table of reference files referenced by a number prefixed with “E” that’s on the IT8 slide. I downloaded that file and used it in Rough Profiler. So now I’m creating the ICC – I’ll report back on my experience.

  3. Santiago says:

    Hi again.

    Since my last post I find some answers, some good, some not as good.

    First: It seems that IT8 targets are not suitable for profiling color negatives since every film stock has its own color cast. Bit dissapointing but no big deal.

    Second: An important one. VueScan does some color conversion when selecting ‘Output Color Space’ other than ‘Device RGB’. For profiling this is specially important, because I guess it makes no sense to profile on a somewhere-in-the-way altered output basis. You would assume that Vuescan means RAW when it says RAW, but it turns out that only “Device RGB’ its the real deal from the CCD. This is a big thing for me since I already scanned lots of color negatives setting ‘Adobe RGB’ as the output color space… I would have preferred to use ProPhoto given the chance later when soft-editing.

    So: I think that Ian’s method it’s as good as it gets, but we need to scan the targets (and everything from that point) in ‘Device RGB’ to get a realistic profile and get good color correction when applying it later on to other scans obtained in the same fashion.

    Greetings.

  4. Santiago says:

    Here I am again this time to bite the bullet… I was wrong!

    My scanner was taking ages for the lamp to warm up every time I sat in front of the computer to test this, so I was getting messed up readings as I was trying different ‘Output Color Space’ options. It was the lamp shifting colors along the way, but once it was fully warmed up, the scans were all looking the same no matter what color space I selected.

    I got in contact with Ed Hamrick (VueScan author) on the issue and he indeed asseverated that color in RAW files is never altered by this option.

    Sorry for the false alarm… I’ll remember to fully warm up the lamp next time as a 1st step in my workflow!!

  5. Peter Young says:

    Hi Ian

    First off – congratulations on your excellent article, which helped me understand much better how to use Vuescan. I have now downloaded RoughProfiler2 (for Windows) and successfully created new scanner profiles for my Epson 4990 from the 35mm slide targets (Provia, Ektachrome, etc) I bought from Wolf Faust (www.coloraid.de). The only thing I’m unsure of is: do I need to do anything with the diag.tiff and .ti3 files which are also created? When I open the target RAW-TIFF in Photoshop and apply the new profile it all looks fine. However, because RoughProfiler2 generates ICM profiles (and not ICC) it is important in the Photoshop Colour Settings to set the Conversion Options – Engine to Microsoft ICM. So far so good. But that’s as far as it went for me.

    Let me explain why I’m doing this. I’m a mountain landscape painter and make 4×5 inch slide copies of my work, from which I make digital prints in various sizes. Accurate colour reproduction is therefore important to me. To assist in this I always include a Kodak Q13 grey scale and a colour patch strip of the colours I used in the photo of the painting. These provide an internal calibration standard which allows me in Photoshop to correct the tonality and remove any colour cast. But it’s a time-consuming business and I have the impression that the colours lose saturation, so I’ve been trying to find a reliable way to get better results.

    So, all excited with my new ICM profiles, I started scanning my 4×5 inch slides, only to be seriously disappointed with the results, which were much to dark and contrasty with colours way out of balance. Whatever I did with exposure locking and adjusting, re-profiling and different colour spaces, nothing helped. Then I noticed that the exposure values kept changing with the crop area and it occurred to me that maybe my 4×5 slides are simply not compatible with profiles generated from the 35mm targets. Then I read in the Photo.net forum (http://photo.net/digital-darkroom-forum/00d6Fn), that indeed cropping changes the auto-exposure levels. I suppose I’d noticed that before but not realised its significance. Not only that, but it was stated that the way to really freeze the colour settings you want, is to set the Exposure Lock ON, the Lock Film Base ON and the Lock Image Colour ON. The latter two are parameters that only appear in the control panel when the Exposure Lock has first been set; something which I had never done before and therefore was totally unaware of.

    All this made me rethink whether it really is necessary to generate new ICM profiles, save only the RAW files from Vuescan and add the profiles in Photoshop. Maybe, using the scanner profiles generated by Vuescan itself and a suitable “Crop & Lock” workflow, I could indeed get good results with TIFF files directly. After some trial and error, I found the answer is YES, YOU CAN! My Q13 greyscale and colour patches proved crucial to establishing the technique, but are probably not necessary for general use.

    Here’s what I do:
    1. Make a set of scanner profiles using Vuescan and the various 35mm film targets.
    2. Set the normal scan parameters (resolution etc.), including the scanner profile, TIFF output, etc.
    3. Place the 4×5 slide on the scanner bed / set Exposure Lock OFF / run Preview. Then:
    4. Crop to include only the “colour calibration area” of the image (in my case the patches, but otherwise whatever you want to judge the colour on, maybe even the whole image). In judging the Colour Balance I found that Auto Levels worked best, although White Balance was close. When satisfied:
    5. Set Exposure Lock ON / run Preview again. Then:
    6. Set Lock Film Base Colour ON
    7. Set Lock Image Colour ON (this option only appears after step 6)
    8. Recrop to include the whole image
    9. Set the folder and filename for the resultng TIFF file
    10. Run Scan

    The results are better than anything I’ve got before, although some post-processing of tonality and colour saturation in Photoshop is still necessary. So I’m now a happy Vuescan user and hope this helps anyone else who had problems like I did.

    ………………………………………………………………………..
    Peter Young, CH-4144 Arlesheim | Tel: +41 61 701 4263
    Mountain Landscape Paintings | Prints, Cards & Calendars
    e-mail: peter@young.ch | web: http://www.peteryoung.ch
    …………………………………………………………………………

  6. Peter Young says:

    One more step … between 5 and 6:
    Crop to a pure white patch (blank film) / run Preview again. Then:

    Thanks to Ed Hamrick for pointing out that locking the film base colour requires the crop area to contain only pure white, ie. the blank film base.

    Now the results are even better with less adjustment necessary in Photoshop for the colour saturation.

    PY

  7. Alex says:

    I would like to echo what others have said; this article has uncovered a lot of points that were unclear and confusing to me up until now with respect to scanner profiling, and scanning with Vuescan in general.
    One thing this article does not answer however, and which was my initial motivation for profiling my Epson V850 scanner, is how to create a “baseline” or default ICC profile to get neutral scans of old photographs, documents etc., in short anything for which no dedicated IT8 target exists. Through my many feeble and frustrating attempts, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way of doing that (please correct me if I am wrong).

    I initially profiled my scanner in Vuescan with the transparent IT8 target that came with it (MONT45.2015.01). While I had the intention of profiling the scanner with the reflective IT8 target that was also included (MONR2015.03.01), those attempts failed as I couldn’t get any of the ICC profilers that were available to me to accept the corresponding MRF reference file (it turns out that an MRF file is a zipped TXT reference file, d’oh).
    After months of exclusively scanning negative film, I discovered when scanning photographs that my scans had a distinct blue tint (i.e. the scanner’s lid appeared roughly like Hex #EAEDF4, a light greyish blue). Now that I am profiling using roughProfiler (as explained in this article), the rather strong blue tint is gone, but my scans still have a washed-out metallic blue appearance.

    The punchline is this: today, when I went through the many different ICC profiles I created over the last months in Photoshop, to see again the results they produce, I found that there are Epson-supplied ICC profiles in the Profiles folder that appear to have been installed when I first set up the scanner: ‘EPSON Perfection V800/V850 – film’ (PERV800F.ICC), and ‘EPSON Perfection V800/V850 – reflective’ (PERV800R.ICC). While the ‘film’ profile still has a slight blue cast, the ‘reflective’ profile comes very close to the physical photos I have tried it with so far.

    What is really beyond me in all of this (coming back to the beginning of my comment): how are IT8 targets created on (and for) specific film/paper supposed to produce neutral scans across the board? The blueish cast I am seeing when profiling using those targets is probably part of the very characteristic of that film/paper (the paper target is labelled as Kodak Endura; the film target is on Kodak Ektachrome according to the reference file). Or am I missing something here?

  8. Alex says:

    After some more playing around I can say that I get consistently good results (even with colour photographs) with yet another profile that seems to have been added during the scanner installation: ‘EPSON Standard RGB – Gamma 1.8’ (I’ve uploaded a copy here: http://dropcanvas.com/0vcxp). I would say that colours are 95% there (comparing my scans with how the physical photos look to my naked eyes), and the slight difference could well be in my laptop’s display (calibrated, but it is only a laptop display after all).

    However that Epson profile seems to be based on sRGB (if that makes sense), at least it looks that way in MacOS’s ColorSync Utility. So it would appear that by applying the profile to scans in Photoshop, I am clipping colours to the sRGB colour space. Surely there has got to be a better way?

  9. Claudio says:

    Sorry, I scan the IT8 Target Velvia 50 Wolf Faust with VueScan. I followed step by step instructions and I got a file “name-raw + .tif” and “Name.tif” file.
    I used Rought Profiler according to the instructions; I put the file “Name-raw + .tif” and the file “* .txt” Wolf Faust. I got the ICM file “Name.icm”; I also got a file “name-raw + .ti3 than not know what is.
    I followed the instructions to install the ICM profile in windows.
    Then I opened Photoshop; I opened the file “Name-B + .tif”; I assigned the profile “Name.icm”. I got a file with the colors completely altered.
    I repeated the operation several times, but the result is the same.
    Where am I wrong?
    Thank you

  10. Claudio says:

    Excuse me, I have a problem with the scanner profile.
    I followed the instructions to scan the IT8 Target Velvia 50 (V160501) Wolf Faust with VueScan and I got a “Name-raw files + .tif” and “Name.tif” file.
    I used Rought Profiler (for windows) according to the instructions. I entered the “Name-raw files + .tif” and the Wolf Faust “V160501.txt” file. I got the ICM profile “Name.icm”; I also got a file “name-raw + .ti3 than not know what good (?).
    And I entered the ICM profile in windows.
    Then in Photoshop CS6: I opened the “Name-B + .tif” file; I assigned the profile “Name.icm”. I got a file with the colors completely altered.
    I repeated the operation several times, but the result is the same.
    Where am I wrong?
    Thank you

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