Colour Management is the grand name for the process which allows colour consistency to occur. In other words, no matter what image; from where ever; seen on what ever – it should always look the same.
It’s a difficult subject to squeeze into just a few lines and it would be nice to provide some detail to allow you to understand just why Colour Management is needed. However, as a starter you’re probably more interested in how you can achieve colour consistency rather than the theory. So in Part 1 I’ll mostly focus on what you should be doing.
Why do we get colour problems?
Colours are represented by numbers. Different devices like our cameras, screens and printers have a different understanding of what number means what colour.
Our cameras, screens and printers each have a different range of colours they can handle. Which is very much less than we can see!
Screens have controls that allow us to adjust brightness, contrast and colour balance or white temperature.
Prints are viewed by reflective light which affects the colours we see. There’s also a wide variety of papers to choose from.
To achieve colour consistency then:-
Screens have to be accurately calibrated and profiled. There is only one reliable way to do this which is to use a device called a Colourimeter. It actually measures the colours coming off of your screen and leads you through the process of making the correct adjustments. Search the Internet for devices like the Huey, Eye-One Display 2 or Spyder. They range from a few 10’s of £/$ to a couple of hundred.
If you’ve heard of the Adobe Gamma Wizard – don’t use it. It’s very inaccurate for today’s screens and only does part of the job. (However, if you're curious then go here to see how to use it.......)
You will need to use a program for viewing or editing your images that performs Colour Management. Not all do. Photoshop Elements does, but programs like Internet Explorer on a PC do not. Programs that are not colour managed may well show you the wrong colours.
Your image will need to have what is known as a Colour Profile embedded or tagged in it. This is part of the image file that contains information about what number means what colour. It’s used by the Colour Management process. No profile – no automatic colour management.
Images coming from modern Digital Cameras always have a Colour Profile. You may see settings in your camera for sRGB or AdobeRGB. If you are just starting out trying to achieve Colour Consistency I would recommend using sRGB.
Your screen needs to have it’s own unique Colour Profile – often called a Monitor Profile. You get this when you use one of the devices in step #1. This is also used by the Colour Management process.
In Photoshop Elements set the Colour Settings (Edit > Colour Settings) to anything but – No Colour Management. (More on this in the next issue)
With the source image Colour Profile and the Monitor Profile the Colour Managed program can translate reasonably accurately the colours from your camera to your screen.
Printers also need a Print Profile. This is so the Colour Managed program can translate the colours from the image to the printer. Unfortunately different printers handle things differently so there is only some general advice to pass on. In other words you may have to resort to reading the manual for your printer
i. Always start printing at home by using the printer manufacturer’s inks and paper. This is because the printer driver is tuned to provide the best results with these. Use the top quality photo paper – not just basic copier paper.
ii. Some printers will do Colour Management for you, so you’ll need to make a decision to either let the Printer do this or Photoshop Elements do it – never both. I would recommend letting Elements do it, so you’ll need to figure out how to turn this function off in the Printer Driver. (Hint – look for something called ICM)
iii. In Photoshop Elements when you come to print you need to select the Printer Profile or Print Space that matches your printer and paper choice. Unfortunately not all printers come with a specific profile, so if you can’t find one you may want to try using sRGB.
iv. Also in Photoshop Elements you’ll need to select a Rendering Intent. Choose either Perceptual or Relative – I recommend the latter but the choice depends on how you like the results.
v. If you’re sending out your prints to a Print Shop you should check with them what they need in the way of a Colour Profile for your image. Typically they’ll need sRGB – don’t forget they may also be able to do some corrections for you and you may not want this to happen. Check all their options.
One final note – because of the technical limitations of the equipment and viewing conditions, it may not always be possible to get an exact match between print and screen. Using Colour Management practises will minimise these differences.
In Part 2, I’ll go into a little more detail about the Colour Profiles or Colour Spaces and their differences; What the settings in Photoshop Elements really mean; Assigning and Converting Colour Spaces