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:
- Print them in an external lab.
- Make a powerpoint or other kind of presentation with a projector or on your TV.
- Upload them to a web page or email.
Always use a hardware device to calibrate your monitor:
- There is no such thing as a good color managed out-of-the-box monitor, even if you pay $3000 for it.
- There’s is no software-only solution that really works.
- 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.
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
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: http://www.photo.net/digital-darkroom-forum/00OftB, or this one for a more actual how-to: http://people.csail.mit.edu/ericchan/.
- Real World Color Management by Bruce Fraser, Chris Murphy, and Fred Bunting.
- Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS3 by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe.
- Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers: A Professional Image Editor’s Guide to the Creative use of Photoshop for the Macintosh and PC by Martin Evening.
- Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop CS2 by Bruce Fraser.
- The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book: The Complete Guide for Photographers by Martin Evening.
- Black and White in Photoshop CS3 and Photoshop Lightroom: Create stunning monochromatic images in Photoshop CS3, Photoshop Lightroom, and beyond by Leslie Alsheimer.
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.
Lynda.com 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.
Original text ©2010 Patrick Lavoie.