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What is colour?

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Reviews, articles and a brief look at 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.

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

rgb colour triad

rgb colour triad

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?

London bus

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.

sources of colour red

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.

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.

All our colour management related articles

See the main colour management page for more information.

  • Pinnacle Premium Photo Lustre 300 paper review 24 inch roll of lustre photo paperReview of Pinnacle Premium Photo Lustre paper, by Paper Spectrum. A bright lustre photo paper that is our go-to choice for commercial and decorative prints. 300gsm weight and available in a full range of sheet and roll sizes
  • BenQ announce new 32″ 4k HDR monitor benq qhd pv270BenQ announce their new SW320 4k HDR monitor, to be shown in the US at Photo Plus. There is also the Technicolor Colour Certified 27-inch QHD PV270 and the 32-inch PV3200PT 4K UHD
  • Canon iPF8300 review and notes 8300 printerOngoing Canon iPF8300 review and notes about using the imagePROGRAF iPF8300 44 inch large format printer, by Keith Cooper. Notes date back to setting up the printer in November 2010
  • Innova Fabriano Art papers review staithes harbour black and white printPaper review: Two new Innova mould made heavy matte fine art rag based papers from the Fabriano paper mill. IFA-107 and IFA-108. OBA free archival papers
  • Spyder5 Capture Pro reviews Spyder5 capture kitA new Datacolor bundle with ColorCheckr card, SpyderCube, LensCal and Spyder5 Elite in a hard storage case. Article looks at the collection and includes full reviews of all the individual items.
  • Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 printer review pro-2000 attach print to rollDetailed review of the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 24" pigment ink printer. 11 inks and a gloss optimiser coat. Dual roll feed option. Roll and sheet media tested, including a print over 7m long.
  • Mirage print software review (V3.5) Mirage print software interfaceA review of the Mirage print software by Dinax. Tested with the Canon PRO-2000 printer, the software now supports Canon and Epson large format printers. One feature is its freedom from print length limitations, ideal for huge pano prints at photo print resolutions.
  • Kaiser tabletop photo kit review basic product photography'Easyfit' tabletop product photography kit with shooting table and two continuous lights with diffusers. Basic product photo setup and examples of use.
  • Epson Expression Photo XP-960 printer review xp-960 front viewReview of the Epson Expression Photo XP-960 printer. All-in-one printer/scanner/copier that supports double sided printing and photo prints up to A3 size (11"x17"). Dual paper tray
  • Canon PRO-1000 printer review canon pro-1000Detailed review of the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 17" pigment ink printer. 11 inks and a colour optimiser coat. Tested for colour and B&W printing on a range of media types. Paper sixes up to A2, with borderless print options.