Color management guide by Arnaud Frich

Manage colors with Photoshop and Lightroom
Manage colors with Photoshop
    Color management with Lightroom
    Printing with Lightroom
  Fleche Choosing your workspace in Photoshop
    sRGB, Adobe RGB or ProPhoto?
    Color management on the web? - Updated
    Color management on your camera - Soon...
    Color management in Camera Raw


Generalites about colors Screen calibration Printer calibration Manage the colors with Photoshop Go further and know more

Updated on June 17, 2017

How to choose your workspace in Photoshop?

Here is a question that is often asked and the answer is often full of surprises! Any photograher knows nowadays that there are several color spaces, more or less broad. But how to choose the right one as workspace in Photoshop? Is small sRGB really that small and can't be enough in certain cases? Do you always need to use the very broad ProPhoto? What if you chose to use your scanner's color space?!


Key points if you're a beginner...

Here are the key points to remember about color spaces in Photoshop or for an image. The rest of this page is aimed at those who want to learn more.

Watch this video to start well... (In french)

How to choose your color space between sRGB and Adobe RGB (beginners): 17'28

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I'd first like to clear up a few misunderstandings or wrong beliefs. 

Every image must have a color space to be opened in Photoshop, or it wouldn't know with what L*a*b* color to display it hence how to display its "true" colors.

If a photo didn't contain a profile, Photoshop would arbitrarily assign it one - the one of the workspace - for the image to be displayed no matter what, even if it isn't the "right" colors. It will still be the moment then to engage into a search for the right profile while seeing, supreme asset, what you're doing on your screen!

If your image contains a profile and even if it isn't the same as your workspace, it will always be prioritary. If your images still have a profile or rather a space (assigned into the camera if you're shooting in JPEG or in Lightroom or Camera Raw if you're shooting in RAW), it is simply useless. It's your photos' that will be and that must be. Select "Prefer the incorporated profile" at the opening of a photo and leave sRGB as Photoshop workspace, quite simply!

With or without color management activatedMy recommendation: with that said, to save time at the opening of your images, you'd better choose as RGB space the one you choose most of the time for your images, so that Photoshop opens the photo directly without asking you anything. Convenient!

Next key points: Choosing your workspace: sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhotoRGB? suivre

We'll see that a certain number of confusions and prejudices die hard about Photoshop workspace (especially RGB). Let's start by putting an end to a widely spread belief...



To start with: what is Photoshop workspace - really - used for?


The first belief gives Photoshop workspace a lot more importance than it really has. Hence this first question:

When does this workspace apply?

Photoshop workspace is only used for one thing: open no matter what an image without an ICC profile. Without an ICC profile, Photoshop can't open an image since it doesn't know what L*a*b* colors to assign to each RGB value in the file. It does't know how to display it. It will thus "force" the attribution of a profile by choosing the one of the default workspace. Up to you to change this attribution by seeing concretely what you do then. I explain it in the page dedicated to color management in Photoshop.


Two very important notes!

Always keep in mind that this famous workspace is the one that will be assigned automatically to an image with no profile, and more accurately, in the particular case when you wouldn't have activated completely color management in Photoshop. You have to admit thatyou need a lot of conditions for this workspace to be assigned automatically without you controlling it!

If you ever feel like choosing the menu "Don't assign a profile (no color management)" when the image opens without an ICC profile, it will indeed be opened without a profile! Look carefully at the bottom left. This is all very curious after everything I just said! Not really in fact if you keep in mind that the image will open with... the workspace's profile!

What will happen if an image already has a profile but it isn't the same as the workspace's?

Without any particular action on your part, Photoshop will use the profile or the color space of the image and not of the workspace.

Super important!!! You mustn't confuse Photoshop's workspace which is just here in case an image wouldn't have an incorporated profile, and to the condition that you haven't activated all color management options in Photoshop and the color space of an image: this last one is always favored.

"Photoshop's workspace is in fact the image's if it has one."

You could thus very well never use the workspace's profile in color preferences!



How to choose Photoshop's color workspace?

Why is it often said that this RGB workspace mustn't be a device's ICC profile like, for instance, your screen's? In fact, you mustn't change your image's profile for another and, of course, even less if it's a device's profile. But even if you chose a device's workspace - your monitor for instance - that doesn't mean it will be assigned to your image unless you purposedly choose it. Without any action on your part, it is impossible... since it already has one!

In fact, you mustn't replace the color space of an image with a device's profile because it would greatly impact its display but I'd like to say, you don't want to choose another color space either (hence neutral) that would also affect it.

We saw in the page dedicated to color spaces then in the page dedicated to ICC profiles that color spaces were calculated by a man's mind and were thus neutral while ICC profiles contained the defects of a device. What does that mean? What consequences does it have? Here's why you mustn't, a priori, use as a color space for your images or as default workspace in Photoshop an ICC profile, shown in pictures. We'll see later that it's not that simple...  

Example in images...  

We'll try to display an average neutral grey in a color space (hence neutral) and in a space depending on a device, else said an ICC profile (thus with defects). Example:

1 - I choose to createe a new document with Adobe RGB 98 as color space in a first time, or any other independant color space hence neutral (sRGB, ProPhoto, DonRGB, etc.). Then, I fill it with white. Inside, I select a rectangle that I'll fill with neutral grey. To do so, I select the foreground color by double-clicking on it and I choose an RGB grey: 109, 109, 109. At the display, I see on my calibrated screen (essential condition) a neutral grey selection rectangle.


Neutral workspace: Adobe 1998

There's a match between what you see on screen and the RGB values of the "Info" palette. Here there is indeed a grey displayed and RGB values are neutral.


2 - I now choose to create a new document filled with white, but this time with an ICC profile as a color space, hence depending on a device, like my scanner's or printer's ICC profile. I repeat the same operation and now, I note that indeed my neutral grey is anything but neutral on display, yet RGB values are identical: 109, 109, 109 and should be interpreted as grey!


Non neutral color space: scanner's ICC profile

There's no match anymore between what you see on a calibrated screen and RGB values in the "Info" palette. Here a greenish grey is displayed while its RGB values indicate something completely different.

... And why can you choose a device's ICC profile as Photoshop workspace?!

Now, let's admit that you're choosing a profile (of a screen, a scanner, etc.) as your workspace. You now know that an ICC profile has a major drawback: it contains all the color information of a device, among which its famous defects. So if I assign my Photoshop workspace which is for instance my monitor's to an image I downloaded on the web without a profile (it is often the case) and that should, most probably, be in sRGB, the colors displayed will be wrong and display my screen's defects. Hence without knowing exactly what you're doing, it is not a good idea to choose a profile as Photoshop workspace.

With that in mind, and only if you know what you're doing, I'll show a case where it could be accurate to choose an ICC profile as color space, your scanner's, for instance.
When a file is the result of a scan, it doesn't contain an ICC profile. When you'll open it in Photoshop, you'll thus have to submit it to the classic round "profile assignment/conversion towards a neutral space". Well you'd better choose as a workspace your scanner's profile, this way, every time you'll open specifically an image from Camera Raw or from your camera, hence with an incorporated color space, you'll just have to keep the incorporated profile and if you open a file from your scanner (hence without profile), you'll assign it the workspace's rather than go look into the unfolding menu and choose from the long list your scanner's profile. Really saves quite an amount of time at each opening! The conversion to a neutral space can then be performed very quickly thanks to shortcuts.




Then what color space to choose in Photoshop?

My recommendation! As I just showed you with this scanner example, it is interesting to save time at the opening of a photo to choose as Photoshop workspace the colorspace or the profile that lacks most of the time to the photos you open without a profile or, if you only open photos from your camera body, the one you've chosen on your body or in your demosaicing software.

Note! I take for granted in what's coming next that you've fully activated color management in Photoshop. Learn more

You only shoot with a digital camera...

You now know that your photos necessarily have a color workspace, either because you're shooting in JPEG and your camera is doing it for you with a choice between two possibilities: sRGB and Adobe RGB, either because you're working in RAW format and it is then your demosaicing software that encapsulates it automatically (depending on your choise and you then have more possibilities than on your camera). Learn more

My recommendation! You'd then better choose as a workspace your images', especially if you're always shooting with the same output space, because then Photoshop opens the image directly, without asking you anything. No menu will open since they're identical. Very quick and convenient.

You're a graphic designer, an iconographer or you sometimes download images from the web...

Then you regularly open images without incorporated ICC profiles like it is often the case. Ideed, either numerous pieces of software can't encapsulate a profile in an image when saving, either the image has been saved without a profile in Photoshop. You'll thus have, each time, to reassign the profile or more probably the RGB space to these images (there are few chances that it is Adobe RGB and even if it were the case, you can still change it just after opening it).

My recommendation! You'd better choose sRGB as workspace in Photoshop to save time at the opening. You'll then only have to choose "Choose RGB color space: sRGB" in the window opening to ask you what to do:



You own a scanner...

Scanners oftren don't know how to automatically assign their profile to the files. You thus need to assign systematically the scanner's profile to that you'll preferably have made yourself, at the opening of its scans in Photoshop. You'd better choose your scanner's profile as workspace this time, as you'd probably understood. Indeed, you can see in the illustration above that the third button "Assign a profile" gives access to an unfolding list. And your profile will be hidden somewhere in this long list and you'll waste time looking for it at each opening...

Note that the only, but real, interest of this third button is to be paired with the very convenient functionality "and convert the document in the RGB workspace" that mus then be a neutral color space like ProPhoto or sRGB. You can thus "slowly" assign the right profile to your scans then quickly convert them in neutral color spaces.

My recommendation! With that said, I find quicker to choose as workspace the scanner's profile, quickly open my image and convert it in a neutral space like ProPhoto thanks to a shortcut since every menu in Photoshop can be parametered with a shortcut.

Other case, panoramas... and then I'll be done!

Autopano Giga/Pro, unlike PTGui for instance, can't encapsulate the ICC profile of each image in the final stitched panorama. You thus have to reassign the right color space to your panoramas systematically.

My recommendation! If you always develop your RAW files in then same color space or you shoot in Jpeg always with the same choice of color space out of the camera body, you'd better choose it as workspace in Photoshop, to save time at the opening of your panoramas.

I'll let you add your ideal situation!




How to choose between different color spaces sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto?

I'll explain it in details in another page dedicated to this choice:

What color space for my images: sRGB, Adobe RGB...? suivre


To be remembered!

The famous Photoshop workspace is only used in one case and with tw conditions:
Your image mustn't have a profile or color space incorporated AND you mustn't have activated completely color management. Then only, the image opens automatically by assigning this RGB workspace in Photoshop.

In these circumstances, how to choose it? If, for instance, you only open photos from your camera (they always have a color space then) then choose the same and the image will open without any color management menu asking you anything. Very convenient!

Now if you sometimes open images without a profile, you'd better choose as Photoshop workspace a workspace you'll often use in this case. Example: you regularly open images from the Internet hence that often don't have an incorporated profile, then you'd better choose sRGB because it's a profile that is commonly assigned to these images.


What color space for my images: sRGB, Adobe RGB... ? suivre







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