Colour Management

In order to have controlled and predictable translations from one colour space to another, as is required when we print an image captured on a digital camera using a CMYK printer, we need to use a process known as colour management.

The International Colour Consortium (ICC) is the body responsible for developing and promoting vendor-neutral colour management solutions. They are responsible for the definition of the colour profiles used to control colour display on calibrated devices.


The most important thing for any digital photographer to do is calibrate your monitor. This ensures that your monitor will display colours as accurately as possible. For all the methods described below, you will need a monitor that allows you to adjust the brightness and contrast, and either colour balance or colour temperature.

Computer monitor contrast calibration. Free online monitor calibration.Calibration can be done by eye, using standard images displayed on the screen. These images allow you to judge and adjust the white point, black point and mid-tone gamma for your monitor. For example, in the image shown here, you should be able to see a white half on the left and a grey half on the right. If you cannot distinguish these two portions, your monitor needs to be adjusted. A useful online source, including instructions is the Display Calibration site.

There is also software that can be used to help with the process. For example, Adobe produce a utility called Adobe Gamma which can help with the process. Another free software tool is calibrize. These software tools guide you step by step through the process.

Finally, there are hardware devices called colorimeters which can make detailed and accurate measurements of the colours produced by your monitor and then automatically create a device profile. One of the more popular set of devices is made by a company called datacolor. They have a range of solutions for end-to-end colour management.

Calibrating by eye is the least accurate method. Using software helps improve things slightly. However, the best way is definitely to use a hardware colorimeter and follow through the step-by-step process.

Colour CalibrationOnce you have calibrated your monitor, you can check it for accuracy. The colour chart on the right is an example of a GretagMacbeth™ chart that can be used to check your monitor against a standard printed version for accuracy. Of course, you must be sure that the printed chart you are using is accurate. For that reason, you should only use professionally printed charts.

Device Profiles

The act of calibrating your monitor will create a device profile for your monitor. This is a file that describes how your monitor produces colours. This is then used by the operating system to automatically adjust how colours are displayed.

Device profiles can also be used by software such as Photoshop to ensure the accuracy of the colours it displays. For example, most professional photo labs will provide you with a device profile for their print service. Installing this profile on your system allows you to check how an image would appear if it was produce on the lab's print system.


You can find additional information about colour management at the following pages:

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