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Color settings in Photoshop


How to chose your working spaces in Photoshop?

Published on April 11, 2011   |    Updated on October 31, 2019


This is a question that comes up frequently and the answer to which is full of surprises ! Every photographer knows today that there are several more or less large color spaces. But how do you choose the right working space in Photoshop ? First of all, is it that important ? Is the small sRGB so small that it is not suitable in some cases ? Do we still need to use the very large ProPhoto ? Why don't you choose the one from your scanner ?!

We will see that a number of confusions and preconceived ideas still exist about the Photoshop working space (including RGB). Let's start by killing off a widely held belief...



First of all : what is the real purpose of the Photoshop working space ?

The first belief gives the Photoshop working space much more importance than it has. Hence this first question :

Color settings in Photoshop
  For effective color management, it is essential to use Photoshop's color preference menu ! Here, Photoshop CC 2019 menu.


When does this working space (RGB or CMYK) apply ?

The Photoshop working space is only used for one thing :  

To open an image without an ICC profile.

Without an ICC profile, Photoshop cannot open an image because it does not know which L*a*b* color to assign to each RGB value in the file. So he doesn't know how to display it. It will therefore "force" the assignment of a profile by choosing the one of the default working space. It is up to you to modify this allocation by seeing what you do next. I explain this on the page dedicated to the color management in Photoshop.


Two important remarks !

N°1 -
Always keep in mind that this famous working space is the one that will be automatically assigned to an image that does not have a profile and more precisely, in the particular case where you would not have fully enabled color management in Photoshop. Recognize that you therefore need a lot of conditions for this working space to be assigned to an image automatically so without any control on your part.

N°2 - If you want to choose the "Do not assign a profile (No color management)" menu when the image opens without an ICC profile, it will open well without a profile. Take a good look at the bottom left. Curious about all this after what I just said!!!!! Not so much if you have in mind that the image will be displayed with... the working space profile !  


What happens if an image already contains a profile but it is not the same as the one in the working space ?


"If the image contains a profile and no particular action on your part, Photoshop will use the profile or color space of the image and not the one of the working space which is then useless".  


Very important !!! So don't confuse the Photoshop working space, which is only there in case an image doesn't have a profile, and it's also important that you don't have activated all the Photoshop color management and the color space of an image : it's always the latter that is preferred.

"Photoshop's working space is actually the working space of the image if it has one." 

The one in the color preference working space may therefore never be useful to you.



How to choose the Photoshop working space ?

Why do we say that this RGB working space should not be an ICC profile of a device such as, for example, your monitor ? In fact, you should not exchange the profile of your image for another one and, of course, even less if it is a device profile. But even if you choose a device working space - your screen for example - it does not mean that it will be assigned to your image unless you choose it voluntarily. Without action on your part, it is impossible... since it already has one.

In fact, you shouldn't replace the color space of an image with a device profile, otherwise it would affect its display a lot, but I want to say, you shouldn't choose another color space (so neutral) that would also affect it.

We saw on the page dedicated to color spaces and then on the page dedicated to ICC profiles that the former were calculated by human hand and were therefore neutral while the latter contained the defects of a peripheral device. What does that mean ? What are the consequences of this change? Here is an image of why it is therefore not necessary, a priori, to use the second one as a color space for your images or for the default Photoshop working space. We will see later that it is not that simple.

Example in image... 

We will try to display a neutral medium grey in a color space (therefore neutral) and in a space dependent on a device or otherwise called an ICC profile (therefore with defects). Example :

1 - I choose to create a new document with Adobe RGB as the first color space or any other independent color space (sRGB, ProPhoto, DonRGB, etc.). Then I fill it with white. Inside, I select a rectangle that I will fill with a neutral grey. To do this, I select the foreground color by double-clicking on it and I choose an RGB gray: 128, 128, 128. On the display, I can see on my calibrated screen (essential condition) a selection rectangle of neutral grey color.

  There is a correspondence between what you see on a calibrated screen and the RGB values of the "Info" palette. Here a grey is well displayed and the 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 working color space, so depending on a device, such as my scanner ICC profile or my printer ICC profile. I repeat the same operation and now I see that my neutral grey is indeed anything but neutral on the display and yet the RGB values are very identical 128/128/128 and should translate into grey.

  There is no longer any correspondence between what you see on a calibrated screen and the RGB values in the "Info" palette. Here a green grey is displayed and the RGB values are however very neutral.


... And why can you choose an ICC device profile as a Photoshop working space ?!

Now, let's say you choose a profile (screen, scanner, etc.) as a working space. Now you know that an ICC profile has a major defect : it contains all the color information of a device, including its famous defects. So, if I assign my Photoshop working space, which is for example the working space of my monitor, to an image that I downloaded from the Internet without a profile (which is often the case) and which should, in all probability, be in sRGB, the colors displayed will be bad and therefore display the defects on my monitor. So without knowing the facts, it is not desirable to choose a profile as a working space in Photoshop.

Scanner Epson V800That being said, and only on the condition that we know what we are doing, I will show you a case where it might be relevant to choose an ICC profile as a working space, such as your scanner's.
When a file is the result of a scan, it does not contain an ICC profile. When you open it in Photoshop, you will have to do the classic sequence "assigning its profile/conversion to a neutral space". Well, it would be in your best interest to choose your scanner's working space as your working space as well, each time you specifically open an image that comes from Camera Raw or your camera, so with an embedded color space, you will just have to keep the embedded profile and if you open a file that comes from your scanner (so no profile), you will assign it the working space rather than going to the drop-down menu and choose from the long list the profile of your scanner. Huge time saving in perspective with each opening ! Conversion to a neutral space can then be done very quickly using keyboard shortcuts.




But then which working space to choose in Photoshop ?

My advice!  As I just showed you with this example of a scanner, it is interesting, to save time when opening a photo, to choose as a space in Photoshop, the color space or profile that is most often missing from photos you open without a profile or, if you only open your images from your box, the one you have chosen on your box or in your demo software.

Note!  I assume in the following that you have fully enabled Photoshop color management - Learn more 

You only take pictures with a digital camera...

Leica QYou now know that your photos necessarily have a color space, either because you shoot in Jpeg and it is the camera that does it for you with the choice between two possibilities : sRGB or Adobe RGB, or because you work in RAW format and it is then your demo software that automatically encapsulates it (depending on your choice and you then have more possibilities than on your body) - Learn more 

My advice! You then have every interest in choosing as a working space the one of your images, especially if you always photograph with the same output space, because then Photoshop opens the image directly, without wondering anything. No menu will open since they will be identical. Very fast and convenient.

You are a graphic designer, iconographers or you download images from time to time on the Internet...

Thus, you regularly open images that do not have embedded ICC profiles as is often the case. Indeed, either many software programs do not know how to encapsulate a profile in an image when saving or the image was saved without a profile in Photoshop. It will therefore be necessary, each time, to reassign the profile or more likely the sRGB space to these images (There is little risk that it is the Adobe RGB and even so, you would have all the time to change it just after opening).

My advice! You should then choose the sRGB as a working space in Photoshop to save time when opening. All you have to do is choose "Choose the RGB working space: sRGB" in the window that will open to ask you what to do :

Menu espace de travail dans les préférences couleurs de Photoshop
  To help you choose it anyway, I imagined this scenario : color management is enabled in my Photoshop and I'm trying to open an image that I downloaded from the Internet, so as often, without an ICC profile. The famous "Missing Profile" menu opens and asks me which ICC Profile I want to assign to this image of unknown origin so that it is displayed, "cost that cost", even if its display is not correct. In order to save time, I choose as always in these cases the sRGB color space, very common on the Internet. Well, to save even more time, I chose sRGB as my working space and can therefore select "working space profile" because I don't have a menu to pull down to get the sRGB space. Lazy as I am ! I explain all this in detail on a page dedicated to the RGB working space of Photoshop and our images.  
Missing profile menu in Photoshop

2 - You have a scanner...

Scanner Hasselblad (Flextight)Scanners often do not know how to automatically assign their profile to files. It is therefore necessary to systematically assign the ICC profile of the scanner that you will preferably have made yourself, to the opening of these scans in Photoshop. You have and you have understood it, it is in your interest to choose this time the profile of your scanner as a working space. Indeed, you can see in the illustration above that the third button "Assign a profile" gives access to a drop-down list. However, your profile will be drowned in this long list and you will waste time, at each opening, to search for it...

Note that the only but real interest of this third button is that it is coupled with the very convenient function "and convert the document into the RGB working space" which must then be a neutral color space like ProPhoto or sRGB. So you can "slowly" assign the right profile to your scans and then quickly convert them into a neutral color space.

My advice! That said, I find it faster so, to choose as a working space the scanner profile, quickly open my image and convert it into a neutral space like the ProPhoto thanks to a keyboard shortcut since each Photoshop menu is configurable with a keyboard shortcut.

Another case : panoramic photos... and I will stop there !

Autopano Giga/Pro, unlike PTGui for example, does not know how to encapsulate the ICC profile of each image in the final assembled panorama. It is therefore necessary to systematically reallocate the right color space to our panoramas.

My advice!  If you develop your RAWs always in the same color space or if you shoot in Jpeg always with the same choice of color space at the output of the box, you should choose it as a working space in Photoshop to, always, save time when opening your panoramas.

It's up to you to add your ideal situation !

In the third part of this tutorial on Photoshop and color management, I will see how to be informed about the ICC profiles of my images during their retouching process, from opening to saving, and during the different steps of transforming an image and its colors.


To be remembered !

The famous Photoshop working space is only used in one case and two conditions must be met :
Your image must not have an embedded profile or color space AND you must not have fully enabled color management. Only then does the image automatically open by assigning this Photoshop RGB working space.

 So how do you choose it ? If, for example, you only open your photos from your cameras, (they still have a color space) then choose the same one and then the image will open without any color management menu asking you anything. Very practical !

 If you now occasionally open images without a profile, it is in your interest to choose a space or profile as your Photoshop working space that you will often use in these circumstances. An example: you regularly open images that come from the Internet so that often do not have a built-in profile, so you should choose the sRGB because it is the profile that is traditionally assigned to these images.

Through these 5 pages I will share with you all my advice to manage the colors of your photos in Photoshop...

- Color preferences in Photoshop
- Choosing your working space in Photoshop

  - What is the purpose of the RGB working space ?
- How to choose this working space ?
- Which colour space for which use ?
- To be remembered...
- Color informations in Photoshop
- Color management in Photoshop
- Printing with Photoshop


- My monitor purchasing guide 2020
- My 2020 buying guide of colormieters


Calibrate your monitor with the best
colorimeter: X-Rite i1Display Pro !

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