Color Management 101

Color Management is a very important topic for designers and photographers. Multiple aspects are necessary to consider for reproducing your digital photographs in true colors—ICC profiles, monitor calibration tools, color consistency and accuracy.

Every week or so for the past 10 years, I read posts by members in the Digital Darkroom Forum wondering questions like these:

  • Why are my colors not like what I see on my monitor?
  • Why do my prints look muddy and dark?
  • Why do my colors not look the same when I post them on my website?

Here’s a quick color management 101 primer to make help make those problems disappear:


Always export your images in SRGB if you intend to do the following:

  1. Print them in an external lab.
  2. Make a powerpoint or other kind of presentation with a projector or on your TV.
  3. Upload them to a web page or email.

No exceptions!

Monitor Calibration

Always use a hardware device to calibrate your monitor:

  1. There is no such thing as a good color managed out-of-the-box monitor, even if you pay $3000 for it.
  2. There’s is no software-only solution that really works.
  3. There’s is no amazing-superb-out-of-this-world-best-monitor below $500. Forget about it. If you have that amount of money, anything will do fine, nothing more. Viewing angle, color rendition, color fidelity, etc., are all things you won’t have like on a higher-end monitor, one that costs around $550-600 (as of the date of this article). So if you ask “What is the best monitor I can buy for serious photo editing that’s not more than $500?” It doesn’t exist.

Monitor Recommendations

These monitors I suggest because I have worked with them and therefore can recommend base on my experience as a pro retoucher (not just because I read it on a web site). The list is accurate as of today. Next year these recommendations could change.

  • Dell u2410 (24-inch) $550 (get the Spider3 Pro or the Eye1 Display2 with it, from $250 to $300 additional)
  • NEC P221 (22-inch) $550, with the color calibration kit (spectraview + eye1d2) $750 BEST CHOICE (quality/price/size)
  • NEC 2490wuxi2 (24-inch) $1000, with the color calibration kit (spectraview + eye1d2) $1250
  • NEC 2690wuxi2 (26-inch) $1250, with the color calibration kit (spectraview + eye1d2) $1550

ICC Profiles

Always use the correct ICC profile for your paper type, printer, ink combo.

Example: You have an Epson 3880. Use Epson ink and print on Epson luster paper. The profile choice in Photoshop or another color managed application should be Pro38_PLPP (3800 Premium Luster Photo Paper).

View this older forum thread for advice on how to print correctly, or at least point you in the right direction:, or this one for a more actual how-to:

Recommended Reading

If a newer version of these books exist, get the newer one of course. Color management and sharpening, for example, still have the same concept, so even those older books offer good advice.

Online Learning offers online learning courses and extensive tutorials that cover more than you could handle on color management, Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Word, etc… Definitely worth checking out.

Steps to Follow

Build from the ground up. You have to understand the very basics of color management first, since it will help you get better images and have a better understanding about color and the importance about calibration and profile.

Then learn how to develop your RAW images with Photoshop or Lightroom. Follow that by learning how to work the basics in Photoshop (level, curve, mask, adjustment layer. Learn how to use a digital asset management (DAM) software or cataloging system (Lightroom, Aperture, Photo Mechanic) to keep everything organized. That same DAM software (Lightroom, Aperture) could also be used as the main piece of your workflow to develop your RAW and create almost anything you need for global adjustments (for now you still need Photoshop or Photoshop Elements for local adjustments).

Then get a book on how to produce B&W images after the concepts of calibration, raw development and basic Photoshop and/or Lightroom make total sense.

More articles on Color Management


Patrick Lavoie has a degree in photography from Cégep du Vieux-Montréal. Over the past several years, Patrick has put his knowledge of photography to work as Art Director and designer for the BOHA design agency in Montreal. His diverse background has led him towards a specialization in photo retouching, digital darkroom and fine art printing.

Original text ©2010 Patrick Lavoie.

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    • Thanks for reading this.. hope it help you get better color ; )


      feel free to add material that you think might help other user of course!



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    • While I admire anyone who can be "hands-on" for the entire process of image capture, digital editing, and printing, I enjoy the image capture part of the process but do not have the time, interest, or skills to learn the digital editing and printing.  Thus I prefer to concentrate on that which I like, and outsource that which I don't like.  This is what I did in the days of the wet darkroom, and it works well for me in the days of the digital darkroom.  It does require finding a technician who knows their craft to the point of being an artist, and working with them in tandem to produce the desired effect. Kudos to those of you who have mastered the digital darkroom.  I will stay behind the lens and leave the output to the professionals. 

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    • It should go without saying, but connect your monitor using a digital monitor cable such as DVI or DisplayPort, not using an analogue VGA cable.

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