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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.

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Enjoyed this article?

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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