Color management for dummies

Sorry for the title, I didn't mean to insult anyone, just wanted to get your attention. Now that I have it, let's talk about color profiles and color management.

Color wheel.

Without going too deep into color theory or technical specifications, lets just me just say that color profiles are a tool meant to help content creators make sure their audience sees everything the same way they do. This blog will focus on digital cameras and digital images, but the same principles may apply to analog media and other things.

When a digital camera records an image, it embeds the image file with a color profile information based on the camera's color space settings. When this image is then reproduced, that color profile is also read. If possible, the source colors are matched with the color capabilities of the reproduction media with the help of the color profile information. This is called color management. Color management makes it possible to view the colors the way they were recorded no matter what medium you are watching them on.

Different color profiles have different uses. Your camera might record 14-bit image with wide color space so that all the possible color information is saved. When you then edit the image and convert it into compressed JPEG image with 8 bits per color channel, some information is lost. Wide gamut profile is no longer needed, smaller profile is enough. If image is meant for printing, the display profile must be converted to a print profile. If the management is done correctly, the image will look the same everywhere.

While editing your images, you should save all the information available as long as possible and do the conversion as the very last step. In practical terms, use color profiles with wide color spaces while handling raw files (or other files that support more than 8 bit colors) and export the files into JPEG images using more narrow color space profiles make sure the colors are displayed correctly everywhere.

Same in even more practical terms: Check your image editing software's color settings before starting to work with the images. Use Prophoto RGB profile while editing raw files across Lightroom and Photoshop. When you are done, export (use export function instead of save function) files into JPEG images and choose either embedded sRGB or Adobe RGB color profile. sRGB is widely supported color profile and should make sure your image is seen as you meant it everywhere. Adobe RGB's purpose is to match print profiles with CMYK spaces closely for more faithful color reproduction in printing.

Photo credits: Albachiaraa.

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May 29, 2017



May 28, 2017


@AnnaHristova, the color space information is not available to the buyers before they actually download the image, unless the contributor writes it in the image info or the buyer checks the color space of the thumbnail image. In general sRGB is best for most as it is most widely supported, those looking for print images can usually handle the color management themselves.

May 28, 2017


Thank you for the useful article. But I have the following question: does anyone have idea what color profile is better for the site to capture? What kind of pictures buyers are looking for more: Adobe RGB or sRGB ones.Thanks

May 12, 2017


Thanks for the article and the advice.

April 27, 2017


Great article and a great title.

March 03, 2017


useful blog.. thanks for sharing

March 01, 2017


Thank You! Useful!

March 01, 2017


Ha! I was hooked by the title :) Thanks for sharing this useful info.

February 28, 2017


Nice one sir

February 28, 2017


If you want to make sure the display colors are faithfully reproduced in printing, you need to make sure the printer and software color settings are correct. In Photoshop you can choose whether you let Photoshop do the color management or if you want to let your printer do it. Also you can do a proof (either a soft or a hard proof) in Photoshop. Match the proof settings with your setup and see how it looks.

February 28, 2017


Hi Albachiaraa,
I wonder if you have any advice on making your home printed images resemble the on-screen ones. Mine invariably turn out dark with greens looking brown and reds looking pink. quite frustrating. After the first print i usually have to crank up the saturation or duplicate the layer with a screen blend mode.

February 27, 2017


interesting article :)

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