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Color Management: Feeling Lost?

Trying to get the colors right on your prints can be an exercise in frustration. If you've explored this to any degree, you've undoubtedly come across the voodoo art known as Color Management. Contrary to what it might seem though, Color Management is not really that hard, it just appears that way at first. Trying to make sense of it all so far may have left you feeling a bit lost, but there is hope.

Most people collect several different versions of what to do, all of which seem to contradict each other to varying degrees. Portions of one person's explanation may make sense, but not all of it. Other parts of someone else's explanation may seem to fit better with what you think seems right.  And so on.

For various reasons, the terminology used in Color Management is overly cryptic and, as with most things in Photoshop, there's more than one way to accomplish the objective. Various versions of how to deal with Color Management may not seem to go together because they in fact may not go together. Since there's more than one way to skin a cat, one person may choose to start at the head, and the other the tail.

Rather than exploring this analogy any further though, let's try a different one. Suppose you are visiting a strange city you have never been to before and don't know your way around (call it Color Management City perhaps). You need to get somewhere but the streets are confusing, so you ask for directions. Someone gives you a route that will get you to your destination. You really only followed the first half of what they were saying but figured once you got midway things would probably make more sense as you began to see landmarks they were talking about. Just to make sure though, you ask someone else for directions as well. Their directions would take you on a different route to your destination than the first version but you fail to realize that at the time. The first part of what they said made no sense but you weren't worried about that since the first guy gave good directions for that part of your journey. You really only paid attention to the last half of this guys directions anyway. With both sets of directions in hand though, you figured you were good to go: you had the first half of the first guy's directions and the second half of the second guy's. But they weren't meant to go together so you never did get to your destination and ended up hopelessly lost and frustrated.

Even something as simple as "go one block south then turn left and go another block" versus "go one block east then turn right and go for another block" will both get you to the same place but you can't pick and choose parts of each set of directions and have it work for you.

The same is true (perhaps more so) with Color Management in Photoshop. As mentioned, there's more than one way to get things done in Photoshop. It is entirely possible to convert to your printer profile no less than three times over (five times over if you really work at it) if you start following bits and pieces of advice that don't go together.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to try to help you make sense of all this Color Management stuff. I can't promise anything of course, but I'm going to do my best. If nothing else, here's another interesting thing about Color Management that I will leave you with until next week: While it inevitably seems confusing at first, everyone sooner or later has an "aha!" moment when things start to makes sense. Reading enough versions, the pieces begin to fall into place and things eventually do start to make sense. Even if you don't entirely "get it" from my explanations, I should at least help you along the road towards your own "aha!" revelation. Just don't start taking bits and pieces to fit together with other explanations until you understand the lay of the land.

Date posted: February 15, 2004


Copyright © 2004 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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