Color Management The Rosetta Stone Of Color Models

Unfortunately, there is no definitive formula for translating a color from one model (or color space) into a duplicate color existing in another model. That's one of the reasons color management (creating color that looks the same in the camera, on your screen, and in print) can be tricky.

As we mentioned earlier, current digital cameras and printers do a fairly good job of communicating color and other definitive aspects of a photo to each other. In addition, the operating systems in modern PCs and Macs have far superior color controls than earlier versions. Poor color tends to enter into the mix when a photo's colors, brightness, and contrast are edited on a monitor that isn't speaking the same color language as your printer. Using proper color management will help bridge that lack of communication.

Here are three methods you can use to help you fine-tune your system:

■ Create reference prints—Pick typical photos (such as a portrait, a landscape, and a party scene), save them in a special location on your computer, and print them out. Then, when you edit a photo on your computer, compare its colors to the appropriate reference image (which you keep open on the screen while viewing the relevant print). This is a cumbersome process, but one that has the advantage of giving you real examples of how a color edit will affect prints that come off your particular printer.

■ Use color management software for your monitor—The idea behind color management programs is that every monitor adds its own inaccurate shifts to the display of color, brightness, and contrast. You need to remove these "impurities" and bring the monitor display into a neutral condition that will allow more accurate colors to be shown. A typical monitor color management program will display colors and varying levels of gray and ask you to discern subtle differences between them. Using your answers, it will then generate a monitor profile, that is, a description of how the monitor displays color and brightness. When you save that profile into the correct location in your operating system (which some programs do automatically), the monitor display will then be adjusted to remove color shifts and other false or misleading color information that would otherwise be introduced into the display. The problem with this system is that you have to have a good eye for seeing subtle differences between colors and brightness levels. Many monitors come with their own color management software, as do some photo-editing programs (such as Photoshop), so you might not need to spend a single cent to correct your monitor display.

■ Use a calibration device with color management software—(See Figure 20-5 .) Rather than depending upon the unreliable human eye to discern subtle differences, this method attaches a device (a colorimeter or densitometer) directly to the monitor and plugs it into the USB port of your computer. As your monitor displays colors and grays, the device reads them and feeds back that information into the computer. Then, the software calculates an accurate monitor profile, which is used to adjust the monitor's colors and brightness so they more closely approximate the colors of your printer. In the past, the only such devices were complex professional units that would cost many hundreds, even thousands of dollars. But recently, a new class of easy to use consumer calibrators have become available at very reasonable prices. If color is critical to you, check out consumer model calibrators from companies such as Monaco Systems and Pantone.

When you calibrate your monitor (create and save its profile in your operating system), the colors, brightness, and contrast you see as you edit will be much more accurate. You still might see differences between what's displayed and what is printed, but they won't be as dramatic. A professional color management system also creates profiles for the input devices (scanners and digital cameras) as well as the printer. However, for the typical user, calibrating your monitor will at least bring the colors in your photos closer to reality and reliability.

Figure 20-5: We use a Monaco Optix to calibrate all our monitors to be sure that the colors we see on our computer screens are accurate and much closer to those we'll get from our printers. (Photo taken with a Koday EasyShare CX7430 Zoom.)
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