Colour management

Colour management is about the accurate reproduction of colour.

  • An artist may want to accurately reproduce a colour they see in a natural scene.
  • A designer may need to identify colours in an original photograph and then ensure they appear the same when printed.
  • An advertising company must ensure products look the same across all the platforms where consumers encounter them.
  • A filmmaker may want to use consistent colour grading across every scene within a movie.
Colour management for a photographic workflow
  • In the case of photography, the primary goal of colour management is to control the recording of original colours and determine how particular colours or entire gamuts of colour are reproduced from start to finish of the creative process.
  • When producing a photo, colour management is used to achieve a consistent output across devices such as digital cameras, scanners, monitors, TV screens, computer printers and offset printing presses.
  • Colour management compensates for the fact that different technologies, devices and media have distinct capacities when reproducing gamuts and intensities of colour that can result in unintended shifts in appearance.
  • At the consumer level, all operating systems include some form of colour management by default.
  • Most hardware and software concerned with visual design and the reproduction of images provide colour management options, that may be set by default or require configuration according to purpose.
  • A comprehensive industrial standard for cross-platform colour management is the International Colour Consortium’s (ICC) colour management system.

The principal components of a colour management system include:

Colour management in practice

A typical colour management workflow starts by ensuring that colours seen through a camera viewfinder are captured and digitally recorded. Editing software such as Adobe CC allows extensive choices to be made about the appearance of images. When the workflow demands it, the calibration of monitors ensures information is accurately reproduced when viewed on screen. A successful outcome is one where all the decisions made during the editing process are accurately rendered in the resulting image.

A. Image capture   B. Image editing   C. Monitoring images   D. Image output


A. Image capture
  • Digital cameras provide settings to allow colour profiles to be selected that affect how colours are recorded, these deal with:
    • White balance
    • Photo style setting includes control over sharpness, depth of field, contrast, saturation and tone (including monochrome) etc.
  • Digital file formats enable control over the quantity and types of information stored about an image:
    • Raw file formats store all the recorded information without compression.
    • JPEG, TIFF and PNG use algorithms to produce a balance between file size and image quality.
B. Image editing
  • Software suites such as Adobe CC allow for almost limitless choices when editing visual material.
  • Applications within Adobe CC such as Photoshop and Illustrator allow workspaces to be selected prior to editing.
  • A workspace in Adobe apps is an intermediate colour model-related colour space used during the editing process.
  • A global setting for the colour mode of a workspace in Illustrator can be selected in the Document colour mode dialogue box during the set-up of a new document.
  • Workspaces can also be temporarily switched between CMYK, HSB, RGB, Greyscale and Websafe RGB in the Colour Settings dialogue box without affecting the Document colour mode.
C. Monitoring images
  • Monitor profiles control the translation of data within image files into a monitor’s colour space.
  • On-screen controls may include:
  • Monitor calibration tools ensure accurate colour across the visible spectrum and fine tonal adjustment. Professional monitor calibration packages include:
    • Datacolor SpyderX
    • Calibrite ColorChecker
    • Wacom Colour Manager
    • SpectraCal Colorimeter
D. Image output
  • Colour management systems use output device profiles to prepare and translate the data in edited documents to match the capabilities of an output device and ensure the best possible match.
  • To ensure consistency across applications, Adobe CC provides options to be selected in the Colour Settings dialogue box that ensures all applications are synchronized to use the same device-independent colour space.
    • RGB Colour Settings options include:
      • Adobe RGB (1998)
      • Prophoto RGB
      • sRGB
    • An extensive range of CMYK colour space options are also available.

A. Lab colour space (entire visible spectrum)   B. Documents (working space)   C. Devices 

This diagram illustrates the generic colour gamuts of different types of devices and documents.