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RGB colour mixingColour management articles and a brief explanation of Colour Management

Seeing the right colours

Keith is often asked to give a quick explanation of colour management.

This article gives a short overview of why it matters, and has links to the many detailed articles and equipment/software reviews on the site.

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Index of all our Colour Management articles and reviews collection


What is Colour Management?

This explanation was written after numerous conversations with people, discussing why they should look at colour management to improve their printing, whether for photos, or products in a catalogue.

The basics of colour management

Any particular colour in your computer is usually represented by three numbers, that represent proportions of red, green and blue light. When mixed, these will correspond to a particular colour we see.

This is based on the way our colour vision works and these three numbers together gives what is known as a RGB value for each possible colour.

But what are these colours...

Is there a 'pure' green? Does this actually mean anything?

What does the 'red' number in an RGB value represent?

Is it the red of a UK Telephone box?

How about the red of a London bus?

red london bus in Leicester JJD 563D RML2563

Which red is red, and is it really red?

Well, there are international standards which define ways of measuring colours and can give absolute values and meaning to the numbers in a RGB value.

These numbers are completely independent of any device (screen or printer) that may be used to display the colours represented.

However, consider your computer monitor - does its version of red match up with a standard?

No, and what's more, if you have a second monitor, its red probably won't match the first one.

The red (or any other colour) produced by your monitor is said to be 'device dependant'. One 'R' value may produce one colour red on one monitor and a different version on another.

What about your printer? Here it's even more difficult, since you are trying to reproduce red from coloured inks, none of which is (usually) red.

camera colourlaser printer colourinkjet printer colour

So many reds to choose from...

How do I even know that my camera has captured the 'correct' colour red?

Colour management is all about trying to relate all these device dependant colours to standards in a consistent and useful way.

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It's about trying to make sure that the picture I took of the red bus looks correct on my screen, your screen, my printer and your printer -- and they all match (as best as they can) to the bus I saw in the street at the time.

Typically, things called 'icc profiles' provide the translation between what an actual physical device can do, and the standards. Fortunately you don't have to worry too much about about how they do their work, since most of what they do is taken care of by your computer's operating system.

Colour management helps you get colour right more often...

It can get a bit more complicated though :-)

If you're looking for calibrators or profiling kit then we have reviews of most of the currently available kit listed below, along with more detailed articles about colour management.

For most people, the first step is to get their monitor calibrated - as easy task with modern measuring devices and software.

Many of the reviews also include explanations of why you would use the products, not just tests of how well they work.

Colour management information on this site

General Colour Management

Equipment and software reviews

X-Rite (ex GretagMacbeth)

June 2012 - X-Rite are shipping updated i1Pro 2 with i1Profiler 1.3
Reviews: i1Pro 2 Basic - i1Pro 2 Photo

April 2010 X-Rite ship V1.0 of i1 Profiler - Full i1 Profiler reviews and information

May 2010 X-Rite annouce new profiling software for Q4 2010 - i1 Match and ProfileMaker Pro will be superseded by i1Profiler later in 2010. We have some notes and press info in the X-rite information section of the Northlight blog. For purchases after April 1st 2010 here will be free upgrades, along with other offers when the software is available.

Sept. 2008 X-Rite and the i1 range

From Sept. the range is simplified to two options. The functionality is the same as we have reviewed, but exactly what you get varies. As a result of this rationalisation, the i1Photo, i1Photo SG, i1Proof and i1XT have all been discontinued, and the i1 range now consists of:

With the i1XTreme you can calibrate and profile:

*Requires Digital ColorChecker SG Chart - available separately.

Datacolor (aka ColorVision)



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New on the site

Articles/Reviews/Blog Index page

display calibration and profiling

From Keith's i1Pro 2 review

colorchecker passport

From Keith's Colorchecker Passport review

i1 iO measuring table for profiling

i1 iO automated profiling device

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