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How should I go about Colour Management

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How should I approach Colour Management

Better photos: Introduction to the practices of Colour Management

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We often get calls from people looking at getting into colour management and wondering how to start and what it really costs.

Keith discusses some different aspects of colour management that may be of interest…

“The prints look just like the pictures on the screen…” — a slightly surprised photographer after Keith had shown him how to calibrate his monitor for him the first time.

eye one display 2

Where do I start?

There are several misconceptions about colour management.

These include it being expensive and it being difficult to understand.

Hopefully, by the time you’ve had a look through this article you will have a better idea of why you should look at colour management as an essential part of producing better pictures.

There is really only one place to start – your monitor. If it doesn’t actually display accurate colour, it’s difficult to get prints right and even more so getting anyone else to produce them accurately.

At it’s simplest you should adjust your monitor by eye to get good brightness and contrast.

There are various software tools that can help you in this (see the Viewing Tips for more)

Good as these tools are, they all rely on your own eyesight, which might not be as accurate as you think.

There is a wide variety of hardware now available that will automate the process. You install the software, plug in the calibrator (USB) and follow the instructions.

Spyder colour managementThe Spyder4Elite calibrator from Datacolor. The device rests against your screen whilst colours are measured

There is much more about this in the reviews of the — Spyder4Express — Eye One Display Pro — Pantone Huey Pro — ColorMunki Display— ColorMunki  (we’ve still got all our reviews of older kit as well, and there will be newer models, as we test them)

There is one area that is often overlooked by people after they have calibrated their monitor — to do it again later. Monitors drift in colour as they age and regular checks are worthwhile (some organisations where colour accuracy is vital, do it every day).

So, does calibrating your monitor give you better prints? It certainly helps, but there are lots of other factors to consider.

I’ve written a short article – Why don’t my prints match my screen? – that covers the issues.

It is also important that the software you are using supports colour management. If you are not sure, open the same image in several different applications at the same time and see if you can see a difference. Applications like Photoshop will manage colour correctly, while the free imaging application you got with your digital camera or scanner may not.

As colour management becomes more widely known, look for reviews and articles in popular Photography and Computer Magazines. -BUT- don’t assume that they always know what they are talking about…

I was once sent a copy of a review of monitor calibration in MacWorld UK, where the reviewer mentioned comparing profiled monitors to a ‘reference’ print — printed on an unprofiled inkjet printer. Talk about missing the point …fortunately the review was only available to subscribers, so a wider audience was spared.

The basics

Color Management book

I often get asked for suggestions about learning more about the nuts and bolts of Colour Management.

My usual suggestion is Bruce Fraser's Real World Colour Management. My own copy is well thumbed. It's my first port of call if I'm asked a question and I feel I don't quite understand an issue well enough to be absolutely sure of an answer.

Check latest price/availability from Amazon

RWCM  2nd Edition RWCM 

See some other books Keith has on the shelf, on our Books Page

We’ve links to some articles and books at the end of this article, but since a lot of people ask for the really quick version of what it is all about, I’ve put a very short description of colour management on a page of its own.

What about printing?

Now the picture on your screen is a bit more reliable, you may find that those colour casts and defects in prints are much improved.

If you are using manufacturers inks and paper, then the printer profiles supplied are often very good.

If printing from an application like Photoshop then the suggested way is to use ‘no colour adjustment’ in the printer driver and use the appropriate printer profile in the Photoshop ‘Print with Preview’ window (site with good tutorials about this).

Several professional photographers we have helped out, have commented that just by calibrating their monitors and using manufacturers profiles, their consistency and quality of work has improved noticeably.

3rd Party printing

If you are going to send your images to a third party for printing, then it helps if you can send consistent data. Using standard colour spaces (such as Adobe98 or sRGB) you can be more sure of what you are sending. If your contact at the lab is not able to answer basic questions about their colour management policy and preferred formats, then maybe consistent results are unlikely? I’ve reviewed a set of test images that you can use if sending pictures off for printing, and we’ve a page with many free test print resources.

Other Papers and Inks

Manufacturers inks and papers may be more expensive, but until third party ink manufacturers offer printer profiles for various printer/paper/ink combinations you are just going to have to experiment. There is also the question of how long your choice of ink/paper is going to last.

Unless replacement inks were actually made by the same company as produces the printer manufacturers inks, then treat any claims that they are ‘the same as originals’ with suitable scepticism.

Of course you can produce your own printer/ink/paper profiles.

When testing a new paper I like to make a good range of test prints

test prints drying

This sounds expensive

Well it can be… The equipment to produce top quality profiles – and the expertise to do it – does not come cheap. If you are just going to be using a few paper types then consider getting custom profiles made. You print a standard pattern, send it off, and a profile gets mailed back to you.

The complexity and expense of this process varies, but it is pretty straightforward. You might wish to experiment with doing profiles yourself (see Keith’s review of the Spyder3Print and review of printer profiling with the Eye One) but be prepared for plenty of experimenting. There are lots of reviews of colour management devices on this site, and we’re always looking to add new ones.

At Northlight we produce most of our prints on a large format Canon iPF8300 printer. The Canon supplied profiles are good, but could be improved upon – especially for Black and White.

Our own printer profiling for the iPF8300 uses the X-Rite i1Profiler package.

If some of these solutions sound too expensive, then consider the real costs of getting it wrong. Factor in the time and resources lost in not getting things right first time.

Where next

Take time to learn the principles behind colour management, it’s well worth it. The better you understand what is going on, the easier it is to spot something that is not right, and fix it.

Remember that the end result is what counts — for me that’s excellent prints and satisfied clients.

One particular article I’ve found that has helped a lot of people is the latest Photoshop CS2 colour management chapter from Martin’s Evenings excellent book /pscs2/download/PSCS2_colmanage.pdf

— useful even if you are not using CS2 (and still useful long after CS2 was superseded).

Keith provides colour management advice and presentations to many companies and business organisations, helping people take their first steps in the subject.

Feel free to contact us for more info. Don’t be intimidated by some of the experts, just ask…

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More colour management and printing related information

For information about printers, paper reviews and profiling (colour management) see the Printing section of the main printers and printing page, or use the search box at the top of any page.
All colour management articles and reviews are indexed on the main Colour Management page - please do let Keith know if you've any questions, either via the comments or just email us?

Some specific articles that may be of interest:  

  • Why don't my prints match my screen? A short article showing why there is more to getting your prints to match your screen, than just calibrating your monitor. It's the vital first step, but you do need to consider some other factors for best results.
  • Why are my prints too dark - some basic suggestions to this common problem.

Articles below by Keith (Google's picks for matching this page)

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