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 June 17, 2017

Photoshop color settings

As strange as it may seem when one is interested in color management, Photoshop is not activating it by default. In some ways this is understandable, but it means that we must absolutely set the color preferences.

A good set of parameters in Photoshop is useless without the calibration of your color workflow, but the opposite is also true ! Proper color management is only possible after setting the right colors in Photoshop, a good understanding of workspaces or colors and finally a good use of conversion tools or assigning ICC profiles. This is what we will see in this 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 workspaces 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 screen - 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 - Photoshop color settings - I will explain how I configured the color menu 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 !

Click on : "More options" to see additional color management menus appearing.

Quick check : screen profile in Photoshop !

Let's immediately verify that Photoshop is using the correct ICC profile for the monitor that we have calibrated to display the right colors. To do this, you must have a look at the list called "RGB" in the "Working Spaces".


Check monitor profile


Click on the menu "Working Spaces / RGB..." and find the line: "Monitor RGB-Quato... icc". There must be the lastest screen profile created. If this is the case, Photoshop uses this ICC profile to display the "right" colors on your screen.

Be careful ! This does not mean that Photoshop uses the profile as RGB working space for the screen BUT that Photoshop uses the profile of your screen to correctly display the colors.

1 - RGB and CMYK working spaces

The most important ! A workspace is a color space that should be independent of a device to be neutral in all circumstances. A neutral RGB signal should show a neutral Lab color and vice versa on a calibrated monitor in such a color space. It defines the set of colors that will be displayed, but more, worked in Photoshop, regardless of the device. It is always inside the absolute space - Lab space - and, by definition, is necessarily smaller than him. As I explained on the first page of this guide - General concepts - a color space (another facet of an ICC profile) defines an area in which the colors are visible for this given space and most importantly, where the RGB values ​​of an image are translated into Lab color in the absence of a profile therein.


Comparison between profiles


The colors outside of this area cannot be reproduced or be visible through this space, as for this color reproduction device (digital camera, scanner, printer ...). It must be large enough but also larger than your scanner, printer or digital camera. If you want to print a printable color but that one does not belong to your workspace, it will simply be never printed, so lost. You restrained your printer ...

RGB - The largest of them - after the L*a*b* space - is Prophoto RGB space but the biggest often used is Adobe RGB 98 and the most common is the famous sRGB. The Prophoto RGB space therefore seems quite appropriate since it includes almost all of the devices that we daily use in digital photography, but is risky to use if you do not properly control the colors because paradoxically it is too big ! It is also the workspace of LightRoom. Finally, note that the equivalent Adobe RGB 98 space is the ECI-RGB, that better fit Europe because European offset printers do not work with the same inks than the US.

Your working color space


My advice to choose
your working space

  • Choose sRGB as workspace 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 workspace by default of LightRoom ... Except that you need to have taken photos with highly saturated colors to see it, which is far from routine ! 95-98% 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 !

CMYK - 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 preferences...

After choosing the right workspace, 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 2/4 : Color information in Photoshop







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