Printing my images at home is one of my favourite photographic activities, and I think it has now become the real goal of every photographic journey I do. Especially in the evening when the city is already asleep, with vinyl playing in the background and a good glass of wine, printing is one of the most relaxing and fulfilling moments of the day as I can reconnect with the beautiful places I have travelled to over time.
If you are reading these lines, you probably either already think like me, or perhaps you are taking your first steps into this magical world. Either way, I am sure you are well aware that being truly satisfied with what comes out of the printer is sometimes a tortuous path.
That is why today I want to talk to you about DINAX Mirage. This printing software promises to make printing simple and intuitive and thus turn frustration into that priceless fulfilment. Will it succeed? We will soon find out.
For how DINAX Mirage works under the bonnet, this is one of those articles that could become endlessly nerdy. As always, I will try to simplify and make it intuitive, leaving the in-depth technical details to you if you are interested. Of course, you can always write to me about it, and I will be happy to help you go down the rabbit hole.
From computer to printer: printer drivers and RIPs
As I have tried to explain in many articles and webinars, our monitor creates the colours we see through the so-called RGB colour model. However, suppose you open the cartridge compartment of your printer. In that case, you will realise that there are no green, red or blue cartridges at all because the (home) printing world uses the CMYK model, which generates colours by mixing different ‘bases’.
You understand that getting the printer to print exactly what we see on the screen is not trivial. Between the two, someone must take on the task of converting and transferring the colour information. Simplifying as much as possible, you can have this information transferred from the screen to the printer in two ways: through the printer manufacturer’s drivers or a printer RIP.
Drivers are the simplest and most obvious solution at home, as we rely on the idea that if the printer manufacturer provides them, they will surely be accurate enough for the printer itself. This is undoubtedly true, but, unfortunately, they remain a closed box, a sort of iceberg of which we can only see and exploit the emerging part. So their use to simulate on-screen the expected print result is approximate, especially when using third-party programmes such as Photoshop or Lightroom. Things improve by using printer plug-ins provided by the printer manufacturer (such as Canon’s Professional Print & Layout or Epson’s Print Layout). Still, these leave minimal margins on managing the entire printing process.
For this reason, and with a purpose expressly dedicated to the professional world of large-format printing where the manufacturer’s drivers are a too big limitation, the so-called RIPs (Raster Image Processors) are born: specific software capable of talking to the printer bypassing the manufacturer’s drivers. Designed for an exclusively CMYK print flow, today’s print RIPs have evolved to adapt to the RGB print flow suitable for us photographers. Print RIPs, therefore, have the advantage (when they work well, which is not taken for granted) of adding additional functions to the on-screen visualisation and printing features, allowing a truly qualitative analysis of the expected results. On the downside, not all RIPs are suitable (to read: have been developed) for our home printers, and unlike free drivers, they are paid-for products, and often not particularly cheap due to the extensive development required to make an accurate one. Having said this (long) introduction, today we will talk about one of them: DINAX Mirage.
Why DINAX Mirage?
DINAX is a German company that has specialised in printing solutions since 1993. In 30 years of business, they have focused on professional printing solutions for inkjet printers. Unlike other software houses that have developed their solutions independently and often only modifying the graphical user interfaces for the manufacturer’s drivers (i.e. not RIPs), DINAX created Mirage by aiming at the heart of the problem: to achieve perfect prints, as simply as possible, by overcoming the constraints of print drivers.
At the time of writing, Mirage is now at version 4.6, and DINAX developed it cooperating directly with Canon and Epson. We are therefore talking about advanced software that does not try to guess how the printer works, but which has been developed with the indispensable know-how provided by Espon and Canon themselves.
This alone makes you want to try it out.
The different versions of DINAX Mirage
The first good news is that DINAX Mirage has a trial version running without limits and is compatible with all supported printers for 14 days, which is more than adequate time to decide whether Mirage is suitable for you.
Then, if we want to buy it, we will have to decide which licence to purchase from the many available. If the choice of a licence for Canon or Epson is simple, different types of licences and different plug-ins are available depending on the printer you own and your everyday workflow.
To give you an idea, DINAX Mirage is now compatible with dozens and dozens of Canon and Epson printers, and several plug-ins are available to interface it with third-party applications such as Photoshop and Lightroom. The modularity is an absolute advantage as the licence price will be based on your needs. As I imagine that, like me, you will only have one printer at home, you will only need the basic licence (in my case, with a Canon PRO-300, the Small Studio Edition), which is the cheapest.
Installation is straightforward, and you will be guided through the whole process. I suggest you do it with the printer plugged in and switched on, so Mirage automatically recognises your printer the first time you start it.
You can run Mirage either as a stand-alone application or through the plug-in for your editing application. As I prepare my images for printing in Photoshop, there is nothing easier than launching Mirage from there. If you use an application for which the plug-in is unavailable, I suggest you export your image to a 16-bit TIFF and then open it through Miarge’s stand-alone application.
Using DINAX Mirage for the first time
Once started, DINAX Mirage has a very intuitive interface.
We can identify three main areas.
At the top, we find a horizontal area of printer settings. Here we can select our printer and the paper we will print on. DINAX Mirage will try to locate the printer automatically, but if not, we can add it manually from the drop-down menu. The selection of paper is essential as it is indispensable for a correct prediction of the printout. Although the software has pre-loaded profiles, on the DINAX website (as well as on the websites of the major paper manufacturers), it is possible to download up-to-date packages of ICC profiles to load into DINAX Mirage and have them available for selection.
Obviously, to obtain an absolutely perfect result, it is advisable, as always, to create your ICC profile and load it into Mirage (but already with the standard profiles, I can tell you that the results are astonishing), an operation that can be done with absolute simplicity by following the software’s manual.
Also, in this horizontal area at the top, we find other options, such as the selection of the print resolution, the application mode of the Chroma Optimizer (for Canon printers) and access to the DINAX Mirage settings, where we can customise from the language to more advanced settings on colour management and profiles.
On the left, we find a vertical column where there are three sections (“Basic”, “Extra”, and “Photo”) where we can apply various actions based on the print we want to obtain, and the soft proofing displayed.
Here, in fact, we find various settings ranging from the feeding of the paper to the printer to the management of the placement of the image on the paper to the possibility of applying aesthetic changes to the photo based on the screen preview.
Apart from the excellent selection of tools in the Photo section for fine-tuning the post-production, the Colour section’s presence in the Basic panel of the Print Color Mode section is very interesting. From here, we can easily create colour patch prints for custom ICC profile creation when required (using the Profile Creation mode) and quickly manage the rendering intent depending on the image we want to print and the paper used in all other cases.
The main area to the right is where the image is displayed as it will be printed. And this is where the magic of DINAX Mirage happens, as what we visualise is precisely what will be printed. Needless to say, for this to be true, it is essential that your monitor is correctly calibrated and profiled (but luckily, you have plenty of guides on my blog on this subject!).
In this area, we have three possible views.
The first, ‘Page Preview‘, allows us to focus on the visual result. As you can see below, we can select some interesting soft-proofing modes.
The first is “Simulate Paper White”: this allows us to go and evaluate the whiteness of the paper. Warning: like in any soft proofing software, you will see your image losing considerable contrast or taking on some colour cast. Don’t be fooled, though: the only evaluation to be made here is how bright the image seems to you! (remember that a monitor emits light and has a high contrast compared to a paper with a lower contrast and reflects light..and here we try to simulate just that). To evaluate any colour shift introduced by the paper, simply uncheck this option.
Another display option is the “Gamut Warning”, which allows us to see via a grey overlay on the image (customizable in the colour of your choice) which colours are out of gamut for the selected paper on the printer in use (note: how many, not by how much). This is essential to make the correct selection of rendering intent.
“Show Information” allows us to display any resolution or cropping warnings, so if we don’t see anything once the box is ticked, everything is ok.
Finally, “Split View” allows us to divide the image into two areas and display them with different settings. Simply by activating it and without changing anything, it allows us to see on the left the original image, and on the right the image with all the selections applied on DINAX Mirage. In this way, we can see the differences between the image as we have conceived it on the screen and the image expected result in print to be able to apply our final corrections. This function is absolutely great because it simplifies the workflow infinitely! We can also compare two different paper profiles to see which one best suits the specific image, and this is done by simply selecting the ICC profiles from the drop-down menus above the image. In one word: AMAZING.
The “Print preview” section allows us to visually see how the image is positioned on the sheet of paper. The view is vertical as it gives us the print orientation, which is very useful if we print on rolls or several images on the same sheet. Fantastic is the ability to drag the image where we want it, and if we only have one image to be printed and we want to have it centred, again by dragging the image, DINAX Mirage will let us know when it is perfectly centred.
As DINAX Mirage is compatible with a multitude of printers, in this area you will be able to find other specific modes related to the printer in use.
The last section called “Pixel-Exact Preview” allows us to take an accurate view at the print resolution of what we are going to print. This displays a pixel-accurate preview of the image to be printed, including all image and colour management settings.
At this point, when we have selected all the desired settings and made corrections to the image based on the displayed soft proofing, we are ready to send our image to print by simply pressing “Print” at the bottom right.
Print results with DINAX Mirage
Anyone who has tried home printing knows perfectly well that it takes a lot of ‘experimenting’ to get good results, so it has been for me. The prints I have produced to date are definitely a milestone for me in terms of quality, but this requires each print a (lot of) work and a lot of experience to try and predict what the printer will do.
There is no other way to put it: DINAX Mirage has honestly left me open-mouthed, as the soft-proofing accurately displays on screen what I then see in print.
I have tried printing the same images with DINAX Mirage and with Canon Professional Print & Layout: the results with DINAX Mirage are immediately a 1:1 correspondence with what I see on the screen, without the need for additional hard-proof printing and correction.
Even on the cotton papers that I love so much, you can easily (finally) get deep blacks, and anyone who prints on these papers knows the difficulty of this.
Colours are always intense, and the whole gamut of the paper is exploited.
Video demonstration of making a print
It is clear that with words and static images, it is difficult to show you how good DINAX Mirage is, which is why I have prepared a video for you to show you how easy it is to use it and to put you in condition to try it out for yourself straight away.
I believe that DINAX Mirage is the printing software that I have been looking for several years and that for some reason I am only finding now.
While the printer drivers that come with our printer are certainly a good way to approach this wonderful world, I don’t think the next step is to use third-party applications that in the end always rely on the manufacturer’s drivers, instead switching to a print RIP like DINAX Mirage.
Developed over many years, today DINAX Mirage really allows us to achieve in print what we see on the screen.
DINAX Mirage is not the miraculous product that allows us to forget all the good rules and notions of Colour Management ranging from the correct calibration and profiling of the monitor to the proper selection of colour profiles up to the final preparation of the image (for which I remind you that if you are interested you can book individual lessons HERE), but it allows us to have an accurate soft-proofing, which will allow us to avoid endless printing hard-proofs with paper and ink consumption.
Of course, it is not free software, but if you love to print, you will certainly recoup the investment in paper and ink saved, as well as in time. Furthermore, DINAX Mirage is, as I said, available for a free 14-day trial period that will allow you to sample its potential without limitations (you can download it from HERE), and then you can purchase the licence for just the printer you are interested in.
In short DINAX Mirage is promoted with flying colours and will definitely be my printing companion for a long time!