Color Management

Color Management is a relatively new term for a very old process- making images print on paper (or more recently, display on screen) the way you want them to.

In the past, we relied on people skilled craftsmen to adjust colors based on decades of experience in matching hues, contrast, saturation and everything else involved with a beautiful reproduction.

As technology developed, first to scan and then to manipulate images using computers, it eventually changed who was responsible for how images were treated. The skilled craftsman was no longer in the loop. What this person did was pushed into the realm of the designer. This meant that not only did the designer take on a lot of extra responsibility for the quality of the color, but the knowledge of the craftsman was lost forever as they retired of found jobs in other industries. This became a huge problem. All scanners and digital cameras capture images in RGB while all devices that print work in CMYK. That meant designers had to create CMYK color separations from their RGB files. That sounds easy enough, right?

Ever noticed that the wall of TV’s in the Home Electronics section of a department store, never seems to look the same? One is warmer than it’s neighbor, another is brighter, one seems to have a greenish tinge, while another is kind of purple… Each of these TV’s has it’s own colorspace. The same signal goes in, but the device renders it differently. In order for the display to look the same, the device must be calibrated. What does that mean? The signal must be altered to make the image look the same as the other sets. We adjust the contrast, color, sharpness, and any other controls we can find to make the picture match what we think it should look like.

Guess what…every device that prints an image (or displays one for that matter) has a colorspace and they are all different, too! Every device prints a different flavor of CMYK. The CMYK used to print a magazine is different than the one used to print a newspaper or a postcard or cardboard box or a billboard or a Giclée…

In the past, the craftsman, who had spent years working with presses of different types, carried around the different idiosyncrasies of different types of presses in his head. He made mental profiles of the presses he worked with adjusted the film (we used film back then) to reflect the needs to the specific press house. But now that those craftsmen and their knowledge were gone, how would designers and photographers gain that knowledge?

What we needed was Artificial Experience!

This is where the International Color Consortium came in. The ICC developed a system of standards based on the work of Commission Internationale de l´Eclairage (International Commission on Illumination) which allowed every device to be characterized in a system that didn’t depend on devices to describe the color. We could then say, “This color green that I see on my RGB monitor (R55,G146,B55) has a formula of 75% Cyan, 10% Magenta, 100% Yellow, and 5% Black on this particular press.” We no longer needed decades of experience and knowledge, just a basic understanding of the printing process and which profiles to use to get the best results.

Easy, right? Well, let’s just say much easier. Color is a very complex subject. Some colors that can be viewed on a monitor can’t be printed. Some colors that can be printed can’t be viewed on a typical (even high quality) monitor. Some digital cameras (like our BetterLight) can record colors that can neither be displayed nor printed!

So what happens to those colors?
When taken all together, the colors a device can reproduce is called it’s color gamut. Well, colors that lay outside what the device can represent need to be squeezed into the output device’s color gamut. This is done using an algorithm called a rendering intent. There are a number of standardized rendering intents but the 2 most commonly used are…

  • Relative Colorimetric: This setting fits non-conforming colors into their closest possible match while retaining the printable colors unchanged. This provides the most accurate color rendering, but can occasionally result in harsh transitions between colors in smooth vignettes. Use this setting when color precision os important.

  • Perceptual: This setting is more contextual. It attempts to adjust the resulting transitions to best fit the look of the colors’ usage. For example in a blue sky their may be some printable and some non-printable colors in a smooth vignette. Perceptual will make a smooth blue sky, without regard to how absolutely accurate it is. It will be similar but none of the original sky colors may be exactly right. Use this to help minimize banding or to give a more integrated look.

OK, so how does this effect the average artist?

Anyone who photographs or reproduces your work should be thoroughly familiar with the intricacies of Color Management. More than most consumers, the artist potentially has far more varied uses for their images. Fine Art Giclée Prints, of course, but also postcards from the local digital printer, business cards from some mail order place, a gallery catalog printed in Taiwan, a newspaper article, a magazine ad, flyers, not to mention email promos, Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest!

Ideally the people who handle your work will have lot of experience in making your images look their best in all these venues, and more. If it’s a really good place, they will be planning for them in advance and ready to assist you in getting the best results possible as new opportunities present themselves.

If we are photographing and printing your work, you don’t have to worry about color management at all. We handle all the color issues. We use professional color management throughout our operation. We’ll help you find the right printer for you postcards and business cards, we’ll check with press houses and newspapers to find the proper setups for their presses and then create a CMYK file that really meets their needs and will make the your work the best it can be! We optimize your digital files for your website, email campaign, or Social Media use. And, of course, we’ll print a Giclée that will make the original jealous!

You couldn’t be in better hands.