Wednesday 26 December 2007

Color matters in design – Part III

This is the third part of my series of posts on Color matters in Design. In my previous posts I wrote about colors in general, how through a different color scheme I changed the look and feel of my blog and how colors affect our behavior. Today Ill be sharing some info about color management and color modes on computer.

Color spaces of various devices

Color matching woes

I remember the first time when I used a professional graphic application. It was two years back when I enrolled for a course in multimedia. My Faculty introduced to the whole class the ultimate image editing software called Photoshop. She taught us how to create a new document, how to choose a size, set the resolution and color mode. But never did she touch the topic of color management. It was not until after a year had passed that I came to face the result of improperly color managed document. Precisely speaking it was when our group took our project work to printing and found the results to be a very different than expected! The colors were so dull and lifeless.

The need for Color Managed Documents

Color management is the process of reproducing colors in a similar way irrespective of the devices used to create, display and print them. In simple words let me illustrate a situation. you take a picture from your digital camera, transfer it to your system and create something with it on using a specific application; you take it to a friend of yours and see that on his/her system and find that the colors in the document are not the same one you had on yours; you rectify and bring out some changes in the document and take it to you service bureau to print them; and when you finally get the output you find it to be even more different! Why so? Why didnt the colors of your document match? It is because for three reasons:

  1. The color profile of the camera (an input device) is different from your monitor.
  2. The default color profile of your monitor and your friends were not the same.
  3. Before creating the document you didnt ask your service bureau what color profile they are using and so you didnt choose the proper color profile in your graphic application.

The color profiles

Color management starts with choosing a standard color profile for your system and the applications you are running. The color matching problems result because various devices and softwares have their different color spaces.

Now lets see what a color space is. Devices see colors much differently than a human eye. In fact human eyes are perceptive to much-much broader range of colors than electronic devices. A color space thus defines the range of colors within a color mode. One should consider seriously the out of gamut warnings in the color palette to avoid mismatched colors while working on documents for print.Choosing in gamut colors

Color mode is nothing but a bunch of values and their inter relationships used to represent a color. There are two major color modes, RGB -- which is suitable for all on-screen displays and CMYK -- basically associated with four color process printing. So a color mode determines the range of color (or the color space in technical terms) that a device can produce. Quite technical eh! No need to scratch you head, there is a solution to all this color matching fuss.

The ICC color profile

To overcome this situation and to produce device-independent consistent color output a Color Management System (CMS) is used. What it does? A CMS lets you specify and translate colors using a standard color profile. There are many color profiles out there. But the first one that comes to mind is the ICC color profile.

ICC is an Industry consortium founded in 1993. It stands for International Color Consortium. ICC was formed by a group of industry vendors namely Adobe Systems Incorporated, Agfa-Gevaert N.V., Apple Computer, Inc., Eastman Kodak Company, FOGRA-Institute (Honorary), Microsoft Corporation, Silicon Graphics Inc., Sun Microsystems, Inc. and Taligent, Inc.

saving a photoshop document with ICC color option

Very big names indeed! The ICC has developed and is promoting a standard color profile specification known as the ICC color profile. It is an open, vendor-neutral and cross-platform profile. While saving your documents be sure to select the ICC color profile in the options dialogue box for a color managed document.

Have you thought about color management before? If yes, Id be glad to know how you did it. Do share your views in the comment box.

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