What Is Color Management? An Introduction

What is color management? It’s a process of color calibration that occurs between multiple devices. For example, the colors in an iconic movie image should look the same regardless if it’s printed on a movie poster, playing on a plasma television, or streamed online on a computer tablet- all thanks to managing color.

Numbers representing the balance of red, green, and blue in each color are inputted into various devices, but here’s where it gets tricky- each device outputs a different color based on the same numbers. As a result, what the viewer sees is an alteration in a color, ranging from subtle to dramatic.

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We’ll make sure your color are perfect, whether on a sign or a trade show display.

For example, a royal blue sweater in a family portrait can look a teeny bit brighter, or it might even shift to a navy blue, depending on the extremity of the difference between the two devices’ interpretations of the color number.

Even with all the color management tools that can be used by professionals, it’s almost impossible to perfectly duplicate the color taken in from devices such as a digital camera. But, a skilled understanding of managing color can at least minimize the distortions as the image makes its way from device-to-device, or device-to-paper.

Who Uses Color Management?

Who should care about managing color? The short answer: Anybody who uses a smart phone, a television and a printer and expects the quality of images to remain consistent throughout multiple mediums. The process of color coordination and color calibration mostly takes place behind the scenes with professionals, and is rarely noticed by the masses unless it’s done incorrectly. However, with more and more individuals printing digital pictures directly to their home or office printers, color management awareness is beginning to break into the mainstream.

Color Management for Printing

Print On Demand technologies have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, though their development of printer color management tools has lagged behind. Setting up a color profile for your various devices is a good start to establishing proper printer color management practice; however, it’s important to note that perfection is not guaranteed.

The upside: The freedom to print from multiple devices from the convenience of the user’s living room couch.

The downside: Print On Demand devices do not have the capability to calibrate the fine details of offset printing, including color hues. This predicament is referred to as a “gamut mismatch,” or a “giant pain in the butt.”

According to the International Color Consortium (ICC), there are three main color management tools to consider when printing an image from a digital device: color profile (also referred to as color space), standardized reference colors, and the mode of translation. The standardized reference colors stand independently from any specific digital device or printer. The color translations are the calculations made by color-aware software, which transport a color from one device to another.

Color Coordination and Calibration

In order for a computer to decode a color properly, the colors in the image must be linked to a color profile. A profile is embedded into the image file and gives the computer the data points needed to interpret the mixes of red, green, and blue in the image. The profile can easily be assigned to the image in a checkbox option on the “Save” window in Photoshop. Without the profile to provide direction, different devices will produce different colors.

However, it’s not enough to simply provide a profile. After all, different devices can have different interpretations of the same number. A list of standardized reference colors is needed to provide context for the profiles, and to achieve uniformity across a variety of platforms. Color-aware software can manage this translation between devices to from a digital device to a printer.

For even more accuracy, a user can create profiles for their computer monitors, cameras, and printers as well.

Color Management for Brands

Large companies with a strong brand identity are hyper aware to the need of color management processes to protect their brand identity. The red color in their logos has to be the perfect hue across all printed materials, banners, signs, and an a multitude of devices. When we take on projects here at Coastal Creative Reprographics, we take special notice of the correct brand color coding to protect brand colors. If you commission any project from us, we’ll talk to you about our color management process to make your project perfect.