Color management guide by Arnaud Frich

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

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Updated on August 01, 2018
UK Version

How to adjust color settings in Photoshop?

As curious as it may seem when you're interested in color management, you can see that Photoshop doesn't activate it completely by default, even in its latest version CC 2018. In a way this is understandable, but it means that you absolutely must set your color preferences if you want to optimize your workflow.

A good Photoshop setting is useless without calibration of the graphic chain, but neither is the reverse! A good color management is only possible after the correct color setting of Photoshop, a good understanding of the workspaces and finally a good use of the tools of conversion or allocation of ICC profiles. This is what we will see in these Photoshop tutorials.
While many photo editing software or catalog management can now manage colors, many also only allow to choose between sRGB or Adobe RGB 98 working spaces by default, but without a real ICC profile management. But who says color management does not necessarily mean the use of a good conversion engine !

Before going further in these Photoshop tutorials, I invite you to read, if it is not already done, the first two parts of this file on color management - general concepts and calibrate your monitor - because some very important concepts and some vocabulary for a good understanding of color management in Photoshop are already explained.
This image editing software is an extremely powerful tool for managing the colors of your image, since the version 6. In its current version, the thirteenth, the conversion engine - CMM - have been improved. The tools available to the photographer for an excellent color management are numerous and that is what I will try to show you now.

In this first part - color settings Photoshop - I will explain how I configured the colors settings of this software and why.
In the second part - color information in Photoshop - I will show all the places Photoshop gives us information about the different workspaces, ICC profile pictures, etc ...
In the third part, I will explain how to manage colors, manipulation of images, their colors and conversions in different color spaces depending on the need (photo to printer, image from scanner, image to the Web ... ) when opening them, when saving and during a work session.
In the fourth and final part, I will explain how to properly print with Photoshop.



Photoshop color settings

The first thing to do is to choose the color settings in the list : go to Edit/Color settings. Here is the menu that appears :

Color settings in Photoshop

For a good color management, you have to go through the menu color settings of Photoshop CC !

1 - To start, let's do a little custom check: which Photoshop monitor ICC profile does it use to display photos correctly?!

If Photoshop sends the RGB information of your photos to the graphics card, they must be converted into new R' V' B' values to take into account the defects of the screen and this thanks to the reading of the ICC profile of this one... if you calibrated it! If not, your computer will use the generic ICC profile of your screen. This is not the ideal, however...


N°1 - There is no specific menu to do this check. So we will use the menu of the Photoshop RGB color space even if it can be confusing and counter-intuitive.

N°2 - Secondly, this check is useful for those who display on a second screen, from a laptop for example (Calibrate a laptop). In fact, laptops don't know how to handle two ICC profiles at the same time, so either your laptop screen will display the colors correctly and the other (secondary) will be in the cabbage because your computer will automatically assign the same ICC profile to it. Obviously, this will not work so well!

N°3 - This implies that it is absolutely necessary to choose which screen will be the main screen on which you will retouch your images because it will not be necessary, then, to move the main window of Photoshop on your secondary screens.

When you calibrate your screen, the created ICC profile will be used by Photoshop to correctly display the colors of your images taking into account the defects of your screen. Indeed, you want to work on a particular color (so La*b*) and Photoshop must know what correction it must make to the RGB values it reads and that it must send to the graphic card so that this color is displayed properly taking into account the defects of your screen. All this is done on the fly without any further intervention on your part. We will therefore immediately check that Photoshop uses this ICC profile, the one we just created.

A - Since, as we have just seen, there is no dedicated menu, you must "curiously" go to the "Working Spaces > RGB" menu in the "Menu > Edit > Colors" window (figure below).

B - Then scroll up this "RGB" menu - even if it doesn't seem "logical" - to the "RGB Monitor RGB" line. It is located just above the group "Adobe RGB 98 / Apple RGB / etc.".


Check monitor profile


Next to this line "Monitor RGB -..." must be the last profile of the screen you created. If you have not calibrated your screen, it will be the one you have imposed on your operating system and at worst the one it imposes the generic profile of your monitor. If this is the case, it means that Photoshop uses your ICC screen profile well, on the fly, to correctly display the "right" colors on your screen.

Be careful ! THIS PROFILE SHOULD NOT BE CLICKED ON THIS CAR PROFILE, THEN PHOTOSHOP WOULD USE THIS PROFILE AS A RGB COLOR SPACE - here is why it is not very logical or practical to use this menu to check - even if, as we will see below, it won't be so bad but that's not what we're trying to do. So IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO CLICK ON ANYTHING HERE OR THEN ON ONE OF THE RGB SPACES BELOW AS FOR EXAMPLE THE sRGB. All of this is detailed below.

1 - RGB and CMYK working spaces


When working in Photoshop, you have the possibility to work in TWO different workspaces:

  • That of Photoshop itself (which is set here),
  • The one of your images.


So, if you develop a RAW file in ProPhoto for example and your RGB working space is the sRGB, you will work your photo in... ProPhoto. And yes!
In fact, the famous Photoshop working space is only useful if you open a photo without a profile AND you have not enabled color management (Disabled). Then Photoshop forces the attribution of the profile of its workspace to the image history that it is displayed with "controlled" colors even if they are not the "good ones". That's a lot of si! I might as well say that you can make a fool of it. You should not confuse the color space of your images with the Photoshop workspace. I explain all this in what follows...

In fact, and as strange as it may seem, workspaces are only useful if you don't enable color management AND if the image you want to open doesn't have an ICC profile. That's a lot of SI! They are the ones who will be assigned by force to images without an ICC profile on the express condition that you have not activated Photoshop's color management. Since an image cannot open without an ICC profile, Photoshop imposes its own image. You know that RGB values in a photo have no color direction without an ICC profile.
The color workspaces must then be neutral like the sRGB, Adobe RGB 1998 or ProPhoto if it was ever the case. Why? Why?

Because the "real" workspace for images in Photoshop is actually the "real" workspace for images. The famous Photoshop workspace is then useless.

Small historical part - To understand why this is the case, it is necessary to go back in time - thirty years ago - when Photoshop 1.0 was released because at that time the APNs did not exist and the files that retouchers retouched came from scans... which cannot assign an ICC profile to their files by definition. Photoshop's color space had better be that of the scanner to increase productivity.

The wiser and, as we will see, the more practical, is therefore to choose sRGB, the color space of many images on the Internet, often without built-in ICC profiles.

A - RGB color space

To help you choose it all the same, I imagined this case: color management is activated in my Photoshop and I'm looking to open an image that I downloaded on the Internet, so as often, without ICC profile. The famous "Missing Profile" menu opens and asks me which ICC Profile I want to assign to this image of unknown provenance so that it will be displayed even if its display is not correct. In order to save time, I choose the sRGB color space, which is very common on the Internet. Well, to save even more time, I chose sRGB as my workspace, so I can select "Workspace Profile" because I don't have to scroll down to get the sRGB space. Lazy as I am! I explain all this in detail on a page dedicated to the RGB workspace of Photoshop and our images.

My advice to choose
your working spaces

  • Choose sRGB as working space if you send your images on Internet (even if you are a professional, many of your clients do not handle the colors and might be surprised by your wide gamut pictures) or print them with PhotoWeb. Frankly, this is not the time to choose a larger space because it already contains a beautiful color palette. You should not exaggerate because sRGB is already wide enough in many circumstances, even if it does not allow you to be famous in the parisian salons !
  • Choose ECI-RGB V2 rather than Adobe RGB 98 (remember that Adobe RGB 98 is an offset printer space for the U.S. inks and ECI-RGB is its equivalent for European inks) if you know what you're doing and you regularly have your documents printed by a professional printer ...
  • Finally choose Prophoto if you know what you are doing and that you print on inkjet printers with glossy paper and use a wide gamut monitor.


The famous sRGB

sRGB color spaceInternational space, the standard RGB - sRGB - is the smallest "inter-monitor" common space. Normally, any screen that now leaves a production line in the world is able to display this color space. This is the smallest common denominator ! This is why it reigns over internet. The images for the Web should be converted to sRGB before being released. If you have a non-professional digital camera that will be the case by default. With these kind of cameras, you will also rarely be proposed other choices.

In the second part of this tutorial - color management with Photoshop - I will explain why this color space is often installed by default instead of Adobe RGB 98 and why it often gives the impression to better work, paradoxically!

Important remark !

Today, there are color spaces larger than Adobe RGB 98, like the Don RGB, Prophoto RGB, EciRGB, but they are to be used with caution because it is never trivial to perform conversions from very large spaces to smaller ones, especially in 8 bits. Ideally, if you want to work with all printable colors, the illustration above shows that you must choose the largest color space available today, Prophoto RGB. It is perhaps not a coincidence that it became the working space by default of LightRoom ... Except that you need to have taken photos with highly saturated colors to see it, which is far from routine ! 90-95% of the colors that we photograph are contained in the sRGB !!!

That's why I try to demystify these color spaces because you should never forget that if you do not shoot highly saturated colors that are to be printed on glossy paper, you will never see the difference between sRGB and Prophoto. Normally saturated colors are already contained in the sRGB space !

B - CMYK color space - The CMYK working space only concerns those who print on offset printers and not for photographers who print with an inkjet printer or who have their pictures printed by an external lab, like Frontier or Durst Lambda. The inkjet printers work with CMYK inks but the processed files must be RGB files, that their own conversion engine will convert. Unless you install a RIP, ink jet printers work "as" an RGB device just like a scanner or a digital camera.
However, there are many possible choices of profiles in their menu, some of which allowing you to control the feeding, the percentage of black etc. ... like a professional printer would do in front of its Offset machine. However, if you want to prepare RGB images in CMYK that will be printed by your professional printer for greeting cards, for example, you will have to choose between "Euroscale Coated V2" if you choose a coated paper - postcard type - and "Euroscale uncoated V2" if you choose an uncoated paper - newspaper type -. If your professional printer does not give you the profile for the set : paper/resolution/ink/printer, you will have no other choice than those two profiles. For your information, in Germany, where color management has become the norm, they have six default profiles, from the finest coated paper to newspaper type !



Other color settings...

After choosing the right working space, it remains to enable color management in Photoshop, which is activated only in part by default !

2 - Color management policies

Color management policies

In all cases, select : "Preserve embedded profiles" that is, by the way, selected by default in recent versions of Photoshop and check the three boxes below for the choice of profiles when opening files or saving . This is the only way to know where you are and to be able to decide at each processing step of the image which profile to adopt. We will see all this in details on the page Photoshop color management Suivre

Be carreful !
Never choose "off", as it will disable color management in Photoshop.

Conversion options or rendering mode (Intent)

Conversion options or rendering mode


As conversion engine, it is essential to choose "Adobe (ACE)" engine, far better than the Microsoft ICM. It is based on a Heidelberg technology and it should be noted that the engine version 7, and next, is different from the version 6, already very powerful. This is the engine that will decide, according to very specific rules, called conversion mode or Intent, - four in total, but only two useful for the photographer - and taking into account the information contained in the ICC profile of the source image, how the RGB values of an image will be processed when they are transfered from one space to another, especially if the destination space is smaller than the original space. As a reminder, this means that the destination space is normally unable to reproduce this color but the engine must strive to maintain the same Lab color - perceived color -. This is a very tricky job if you want to keep the same perceptual aspect to the image once converted, so often printed. It can only be done by the best conversion engine. Finally, note that this engine also makes the difference with other photo editing software, cheaper or free.

The way conversion works and differences between the colorimetric rendering modes were studied on the page dedicated to convert an image. On this page, I will just explain why I choose by default "Relative colorimetric". In my experience, this is indeed the one I use the more often by default, even if the rendering mode "Perceptual" said to be more photographic, would be more logical. When working with images normally saturated, the original file rarely contains, at least not all the time, colors out of printer gamut, even in sRGB. The relative rendering mode or Intent, I repeat, has the advantage of maintaining without changing them, all the colors of the original file that are contained in the destination color gamut. As you can anyway make the choice of perceptual rendering when a conversion is performed, it ultimately did not matter much !

My advice ! After having chosen for a long time the Perceptual mode, I have change my mind and I now choose the default Relative colorimetric mode because it fits most of the time when I want to work quickly. But let's be clear, when I print, I always check BEFORE printing, using Proof setup of Photoshop, detailed on the page print with Photoshop, which rendering mode is the best for each case.

Finally, leave the last two boxes ticked : black point compensation and Use Dither (8-bit/channel images) .

Remember !

Verify that Photoshop use your screen profile to display colors ! This should not be the working space !

Activate Photoshop color management : choose the color management rules : Preserve embedded profiles.

Check the boxes : Ask when opening, ask when pasting and again when opening.

Choose ACE conversion engine. It is Adobe engine.

Choose by default the RELATIVE COLORIMETRIC conversion mode.

Then tick the three other boxes under it.

In the second part of this tutorial about Photoshop and color management, I will show you how to be informed about the ICC profile of your images during editing from opening to the final saving and during the various processing steps of an image and its color - Photoshop color information Suivre


Next page 2/5 : The working spaces in Photoshop




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