Color Management Explained

Color Management

Color management workflow will determine how well your print output will match the image on your computer’s screen. When it doesn’t, there are plenty of reasons why, but are usually due to improper Color Management. Essentially, one or more of the settings in your color workflow is incorrect.

Monitor Calibration

Often, the majority of color management issues can be traced to the lack of proper monitor calibration, including White-point, Gamma, and/or an incorrect setting of the working Color-Space the files are viewed and corrected within. White-point is actually the neutral color balance of the monitor screen measured in degrees Kelvin, (see Tim’s article about Color Temperature for more information) and can vary widely from device to device.

Setting the White Point

The most reliable calibration will be achieved by using a plug-in device that measures the output of your computer screen. The probe is packaged with software that will take you through a step-by-step procedure to accurately set your monitor to the correct gamma and white-point. The software will also create a monitor profile that will minimize variations in visual output for your specific monitor.

These products are available in a variety of styles, features, and price ranges. If you plan to do any color correction to your digital files, it’s an essential tool to have. You will need to verify and re-calibrate your monitor every few weeks or months, depending on use.

Setting the Gamma

Gamma refers to a specific value of brightness and contrast. One of the key differences between Macs and Windows PCs is the Default Gamma used on each platform. Macs generally use a gamma setting of 1.8, and Window’s use a setting of 2.2 which is the default gamma defined within the sRGB Color-space.

In addition, most monitors are only capable of accurately representing colors in sRGB. You will want to make sure that the default working color space in Photoshop or raw file processor is also set to sRGB. Our Noritsu Pro 32 Digital imaging equipment is set up to print using sRGB so make sure to prepare your images accordingly.

Color Space

If you will be publishing your images in magazines, or other media using offset printing, you will probably want to stay in the Adobe 1998 RGB color space since this generally works better when CMYK conversion will be required for offset printing.

Keep in mind that to accurately view and correct images in this space you will need to upgrade your monitor to a device that is capable of displaying the extended dynamic color range of Adobe 1998.

Output Devices and Color Space

We often use Adobe 1998 when capturing images with our multi-pass scanning and when printing on our CANON PRO 4000 large format inkjet printer to make Studio Giclee’s.

Photo printing on our Noritsu QSS 3202 Printer is produced using the sRGB color space, and although images created in Adobe 1998 can be converted to sRGB, this will only add time to file preparation with no direct quality benefit when printing on silver-based photo paper.

In fact, color space mismatches can produce inferior results, so be sure to submit files in the appropriate color space for the desired output type.

When setting the defaults, we have found that using “Perceptual” as the rendering intent usually produces the most pleasing results.

Environmental Factors

Finally, make sure that your workstation monitor is located in a stable viewing environment where the ambient lighting will always be about the same. Avoid working in an area with brightly colored walls, as they can “skew” your color perception. This is key to reliable color management.

Try to have a neutral gray card or background in your workspace so that you can “refresh” your vision from time to time.

If using a portable device, make certain to ALWAYS use it connected to AC power. This is because battery-powered devices will typically dim the display to conserve power.  Most laptop and tablet devices will also vary the brightness depending on ambient lighting conditions.

Exceptions to the Rule

Whenever possible, you should avoid consumer-grade laptop displays for critical color correction since their budget displays are often too “cold” and tend not to offer reliable color and/or density controls.

The notable exception would be premium-priced “Pro” systems that utilize Retina or O.L.E.D. displays. These displays, when properly calibrated, can be quite accurate as long as they are consistently used with AC power in a stable viewing environment.

Monitor Calibration Tools

We strongly suggest that every photographer utilize a Monitor Calibration Device and recommend one of the Datacolor SpyderPRO or ELITE series expert calibration systems.

These devices will help you calibrate your screen so that it will display images to an industry-standard brightness, contrast, and color balance and by periodically re-checking the monitor setup, you can be confident of getting reliable and consistent results.

Click on the image below to see the Datacolor Spyder X Pro in our Amazon Affiliate Shop.


Datacolor Spyder X

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Watch Ross Jukes demonstrate monitor calibration using a Datacolor Spyder X Elite