Color management, easily explained, is control over RGB values in different environments.
Counter the common perception, an RGB value of R:210 G:0 B:0 as an example, is not a specific color, but an RGB percentage of the color space you’ve chosen to work in.Color management usually starts with a calibrated monitor, the irony of this is that by then, you are often halfway through the production process.Color management is more than just to control color, it is to exploit the potential of your equipment.
Ok, so what does it mean that any given RGB value isn’t a specific color?
Well, if you have a look at the below picture you see four red squares. Depending on your monitor you should be able to see that these red squares are of slightly different reds, but they all have the same RGB values, R:210 G:0 B:0. If you don’t see too much of a difference try looking at your monitor from different angles.
So, the colors you see on you monitor depends on to factors; the color space you’re editing your images in and the color space of your monitor.
The color space of which you edit you images in you get to set yourself, the color space of your monitor however, is fixed. Most monitors such as an iMac, Laptops and cheap monitors can only display the sRGB color space or slightly more, and this is exactly why it’s important to invest in a high quality monitor such as an Eizo CG series or a NEC Reference which can display almost the full Adobe RGB color space.
When calibrating your monitor, what are you actually doing?
Your monitor is not accurate. It receives RGB values from you computer and displays them. If you are sending an RGB value of, lets say R:210 G:0 B:0 you know its red but how red it is depends on the working color space and how accurate your monitor is. So, if your sending an RGB value of R:210 G:0 B:0 but your monitor is showing this as R:200 G:0 B:0 you’re seeing your images with other colors than what actually exists.
When calibrating your monitor using a hardware calibrator such as the X-Rite ones mentioned in the into of this article, you’re actually measuring your monitors ability to display colors accurately, by displaying patches of colors that the calibrator records and then compares to the actual RGB values sent to the monitor. Based on this info the calibrators software creates an ICC profile which in the future will compensate for the monitors inability to show correct colors. Extremely easy explained, if your monitor shows the Red value of 210 as 200, then the ICC profile will “send” the red as 220, which then will equal to 210.
What are you calibrating for?
Before you start the calibration process ask yourself; Where do I want to display my images?? Depending on whether you want your images to shine on the web or on a printed media, there are guidelines to take into account. Before we go on, please let me say; there is no way you can make sure your images will look exactly the same on your own monitor and all monitors out there. To many factors plays a part, factors you can’t control. All you can do is make sure your monitors are accurate compared to the files your computer displays.
The settings Im about to give you, are noting more than a recommendation from where you can start from.
If you have a calibrated monitor, you should always take advantages of the dedicated software for that specific monitor. Ie. ColorNavigator for Eizo.
Luminance = 80 – 120 cd/m^2 (This setting defines the lightness of your monitor, and I would recommend you start with setting it to 120cd/m2)
Whitepoint = D65/6500 kelvin. (This is the color tint of white)
Gamma = 2.2 (This defines how dark grades over to light)
These settings will give you a good starting point for your first print. If your work is only displayed on the web then maybe you should consider upping your luminance to 140, or even 160cd/m2. Personally I keep it at 120.
Some calibrator softwares such as the i1Profiler from X-Rite gives you the ability to also specify the contrast ratio of your monitor. Even though most modern monitors can display a contrast ratio of as high as 800:1 and even higher, this is no good if your calibrating your monitor for print work. A good printer such as the Canon Pixma Pro-1 or the Canon IPF8400 in combination with a high quality glossy paper can only produce a print with a contrast of as high as maybe 350:1. Based on this my recommendation is that you set your contrast to somewhere around 300:1 when calibrating for print work.
Even though you cant make sure all your prints look perfect in any given light source, or on all the millions of millions of monitors out there, you can make sure that what you see on your monitor is what actually exists in your computer file/image. If you do not already own a calibrator I would suggest you get one. Monitor calibration should be done at least every 200 hours of use/monitor up time. All X-Rite softwares will let you set a reminder for when its time for a recalibration.
Which calibrator is right for you??
If you don’t care about options and rules and technical stuff, then you should get the ColorMunki Smile. This nice little unit will do it all for you, no questions asked.
If you want options, being able to control luminance, whitepoint and contrast then you should get the i1Display Pro. This little piece of hardware is probably the best value for money available when it comes to monitor calibration. It also calibrates your projector if you own one and uses the i1Profiles, the same software as the i1Publish Pro 2; the most advanced solution X-Rite offers. You should get this if in addition to calibrating your monitor you would also like to be able to create custom paper profiles for print. This badboy (it’s really nice actially) calibrates all there is to calibrate. A more advanced review on this hardware to come at a later time.
Enjoy your accurate colors and feel free to ask me questions if you should have any.
Disclaimer: ISO 3664; Someone is bound to ask me why I do not recommend to calibrate to the iso 3664 standard. This is for printshops and advanced commercial printing. And does not fit that of the way any amateur and 99.9% of professional photographers display their images.