I am a cross-platform kind of guy. I have my wonderful black MacBook as well a Dell desktop running Windows Vista Professional. When I teach a class on color-management or other aspects of photography, I always like to know which platform each photographer is using.
In most cases, the photographer’s operating system of choice has to do with experiential history—whichever platform the photographer first started using is what they have continued to use. Sometimes I hear about photographers who have switched from OS X to Windows and vice versa.
One reason I use both operating systems is because I frequently get questions about how Windows integrates color-management differently than Mac OS X. Different versions of Windows handle color management differently, So let’s focus first on Windows Vista.
Storing Profiles in Windows Vista: In Vista, the ICC profiles for your displays, scanners, cameras, and printer/media combinations are stored in the Windows/System32/Spool/Drivers/Color directory. If you haven’t done so yet, you might want to make a shortcut on your desktop to the contents of the directory.
One of my favorite color-management features of Windows is that if you acquire a profile from an outside source (either by downloading one from a website or having one sent to you via e-mail), you can easily copy the profile into the proper directory.
Simply right-click on the profile and select Install Profile. This simple process will copy the profile into the Windows/System32/Spool/Drivers/Color directory where it will be available for ICC-aware applications such as Photoshop and Lightroom. Mac OS X does not have this feature. If you are wondering where profiles reside in OS X they are located in you Library/ColorSync/Profiles directory for either the root or user level.
Display Calibration: When you calibrate and profile your display for color-accurate editing, you should know that one of the trickier things about Windows is that the video card driver must support a software rewrite of the default gamma tables in the video card LUT (Look Up Table).
X-Rite has a tool to test this. Click here to check it out.
If your video card does not support modifiable video LUT's then you may have to upgrade or downgrade your video card driver, or even possibly purchase a new video card. This is common on many older laptop PCs.
Mac OS X works on a totally different premise and ColorSync can use a table in the display profile to load the calibration data to the video card.
Windows Color Systems: One of the biggest changes in Microsoft color management was the introduction of WCS or Windows Color System for Vista. This was introduced during the development of Vista. This initiative was a collaboration with Canon, and uses Kyuanos technology developed by Canon. WCS is very powerful and has a host of totally new features designed to evolve color in the OS.
We’ll talk about some of these improvements in more detail in a separate post, but some of the benefits of the Windows Color System include a completely revamped color infrastructure and translation engine called CITE, an enhanced color-processing pipeline that supports greater bit depths and multiple color channels, and support for scRGB (a wide gamut RGB space developed by Microsoft and HP). Most notably, Windows Color System provides an improved user experience through a centralized color control panel.
Where Vista Still Lags Behind Mac OS X: The biggest issue with color management in Windows Vista is the lack of integration of the display profile into every application.
One of the beauties of Mac OS X is that every application uses the display profile to render color. This means that if an image has an embedded profile, OS X will convert the color data and give you the correct appearance on your screen. Your images will look the same whether you are viewing them in Photoshop, Preview, Safari, and Mail.
This is not true for Windows Vista. In Vista, applications need to be ICC aware to accurately display color images that have been created and saved in color spaces other than sRGB.
This means that images that you have edited and stored in the Adobe RGB or ProPhoto color spaces will look different in Internet Explorer, Outlook, or Microsoft Picture Viewer than when you edited them in Photoshop or Lightroom.
For more information on photography and color at Microsoft visit www.microsoft.com/prophoto and www.microsoft.com/whdc/device/display/color/WCS.mspx
Marc Aguilera is a part-time professional photographer and Photography and Digital Workflow instructor for University of California San Diego Extension. He is also an Apple Certified Professional in Color Management and Apple Certified Pro Trainer. He is a color expert for X-Rite's Color Services division and speaks on behalf of the creative community at AIGA's HOW Conference and at the PIA/GATF Color Conference each year. He has a BA degree in Visual Arts from Univeristy of California-San Diego. You can reach him through his blog at http://www.colorcritical.com.
By Marc Aguilera
Understanding color management in web browsers is important if you want to directly sell more of your photos and artwork online. You need to know what is and isn't currently possible when it comes to ensuring that your images will consistently look as you intended when you display them in your online gallery.
First of all, know this: All devices produce color differently (we color freaks call it `device dependent color'). Even two of the same devices from the same manufacturer sitting next to each other will look slightly different. This can be hell—especially if you're trying to manage the color of your photographs on the web.
Second, applications can treat color differently. Have you ever wondered why images look a certain way in Photoshop and another way in your email program or the web? It's the same file and on the same computer but it looks different in various applications.
Mac OS X applications built using Aqua (i.e Mail, Preview, Safari, and iPhoto) all use the default display profile and recognize embedded profiles. This means images look the same in the applications
Microsoft applications such Picture Viewer and Outlook don't recognize embedded profiles, so when comparing images in Photoshop and Picture Viewer you will see a difference.
Adobe applications all have a common color architecture and if you synchronize working spaces the color will all look the same—but only in Adobe applications.
Internet Explorer 7 has can recognize embedded profiles in images, but the user has to enable it in preferences.
The current release of Firefox doesn't include support for embedded profiles in images but will do so in future versions.
So no matter what, if you plan to implement a color-managed workflow, your images will look similar in ICC-aware applications but different in everything else.
Secondly, if your display is not calibrated and profiled you will have even more trouble. Color measuring your display is crucial if you want a consistent appearance. (If you don't calibrate your display, you'll simply be experimenting with color rather than managing it.)
Here's how we manage color in at our creative-services agency, encompus:
- All of the displays in our studio (5 Macs and 2 Windows) are all calibrated with a spectrophotometer to the same settings - D65 (6500° Kelvin), Gamma 2.2, and 130 cd/m2 Luminance. When we share files and view the displays under similar lighting conditions, these displays all appear similar. Then, the question then becomes one of application implementation.
- We run Mac OS 10.4 for design work and Windows XP for web production work.
- We all share the same color settings file (.CSF) in our Adobe Applications. sRGB is the working space for our web work and Adobe RGB is working space for our print work.
- When a designer prepares an image for the web, we "save for web" via Adobe ImageReady. We embed the ICC profile when we really need to match colors and don't embed the profile when it's not as crucial.
- We brief our clients on real-world expectations based on the fact that their customers will be viewing our design work on different browsers and on uncalibrated displays.
- When we embed sRGB, it is really only useful for Safari since Safari has color management enabled by default and can recognize an image with an embedded profile. It does not help us with Firefox, unless you're running Firefox 3 Alpha 7 which has an option to use embedded profiles.
The concepts of the ICC (International Color Consortium) are still relatively young. ICC standards were written to be open in terms of implementation, meaning that OS, Applications, and Devices could use ICC profiles differently or not at all.
This concept makes it a nightmare for everyone because although the profile is a standard file type, the uses of a profile all differ depending on application and operating system. At least Apple has taken a huge step forward with Colorsync and Aqua, and Windows Vista has a new color management system called WCS (Windows Color System).
Still, I would prefer that all photographers, designers, and prepress professionals all follow the imperfect ICC color standards than try to invent new ones at this stage.
It really comes down to setting expectations within your devices and with the client. If you're considering selling photos or prints online, you may want to adopt a policy similar to that of the online
art gallery that gives customers seven days to return any artwork they bought that doesn't look like they had expected it to.
Let’s recap :
- Calibrate your display to a standard (i.e. D65, G 2.2, Luminance 120 cd/m2). Recalibrate at least once a quarter.
- Use sRGB as a working space for your web images. Make sure all your applications do the same (although this can be challenge for some applications).
- When you save your images for the web, embed sRGB profiles. For now, they may not look right in Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox, but there will come a time (sooner, rather than later) when all the major browsers will have color management turned on as the default, like Safari.
If you want to learn more about this subject, read Real World Color Management published by Peachpit Press. Better yet, take the X-Rite-sponsored Color Control Freak 08 seminar that I will be teaching at 24 cities throughout the US this spring. We will discuss many of these issues and more. Check out X-rite’s website or contact me directly at encompus.
I’m always surprised when a pro photographer gives me a blank look when I ask about their color management practices. This usually comes up when they’ve sent an image or group of images to me to print for an exhibition or limited edition and the colors are obviously off in tone.
The conversation often goes something like this:
Me: “The color balance on these images is off. When was the last time you calibrated your display?”
Client: “What’s that?”
Me: “Have you ever run a utility to make your monitor more accurate?”
Client: “No, I just adjust the monitor until it matches the print”
And there is the problem – they’ve done a calibration of sorts, but it’s exactly the wrong kind. The only time colors will ever match is on their printer and monitor combination. When viewing other images, or when sending images out, it’s a crap shoot on what things will look like.
Color management used to be considered black magic by many of us. The software methods were unreliable and the hardware was expensive and hard to use. That’s all changed, and for the better (except for the software method which is still unreliable).
With hardware devices starting at $60 or so, there is no reason your monitor shouldn’t be displaying accurate color. Yes, you can spend more for an advanced calibration that provides more control over the process. But unless you plan to create printer profiles, you’ll only be investing less than $250.
If you’re a working pro, that investment is quickly repaid in reduced editing and correcting time at the computer. If you’re an amateur, you’re still going to reap the benefits of color correctness, and save time and money when you print.
As a sign of just how mainstream color management is becoming, the HP Designjet Z2100 and Z3100 printers now include built-in color calibration and profiling hardware to ensure accurate color reproduction. The time and cost savings of this feature is tremendous, and the improved accuracy of prints is obvious. For even more control, and adding the ability to calibrate your monitor, the HP Advanced Profiling Solution also includes hardware to calibrate your display.
Regardless of your skill level, if you enjoy printing, editing or even just viewing images, a calibrated display should be considered mandatory. Why not try it and see?
I am essentially lazy. I want to take great pictures at the start, then immediately go to print or the web with very little post production. That’s why I’m a digital purist and use color management to simplify my digital experience.
When I shot film, I looked for great light and always made sure I captured exposure that would produce a good negative or transparency. I was hard on myself if I had to rely on post processing to fix my mistakes. Even in the darkroom I liked to use the same few contrast filters for black and white printing. I was a film purist then and am a digital purist now.
As such, I have a mantra that really helps in dealing with digital imaging and printing: “Be Calibrated.”
Calibration is simply: To change the state of a device to conform to a known specification. It’s similar to a car tune up in which a mechanic checks how an engine is currently running, then makes the necessary changes to make the engine operate as it was designed to.
In the digital photographic workflow, I calibrate at every step. I calibrate my monitors with the Gretag Macbeth i1 to conform to a known luminance, gamma, and color temperature. When I shoot with my Nikon D200, I make sure I have calibrated to a known white point. I do this by setting a custom white point with a Gretag Macbeth White Balance Card.
Most importantly, when I print to my HP Designjet 130 and 90 I make sure that I use the “Automatic Closed Loop Color Calibration” feature on the printers. To see if there has been a drift in performance (which is a signal to re-calibrate), I send a copy of the test file shown here and compare it with a previous version. If the appearance of the colors has changed, I re-calibrate.
In every city in which I teach the Color without Limits seminar, one of the questions I hear most often is, “How often do I need to calibrate?” My answer is simple: “I re-calibrate only if I see a drift.”
A certain amount of drift occurs in all printers (and other digital color devices), no matter who makes them. Densities (and sometimes even hues) can change over time or when a new ink cartridge or printhead is installed.
It’s important to check for drift every time you set out to do a print run. Whenever I print, the first thing I do is print my test file. If it looks good, I am good to go. If it looks different than my last test print, I restart the calibration process.
Consistency is essential to managing color. Being calibrated means I can rest assured I will remain consistent.
The importance of being calibrated is that if I am calibrated, I have a better chance that my profile will produce satisfactory results.
Like I said, I am lazy. Really I am. I want to take great pictures and then make great prints with as little time in my digital darkroom as possible. So go on, be calibrated and I bet it will change your workflow forever.