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The Confusion of Unsynchronized Adobe Color Settings

Adobe lets you select color profiles and related settings in Photoshop and other Creative Suite products. But what you choose in one place can impact how things work elsewhere. In such cases, Adobe tries to alert you about potential issues by warning you that "your Creative Suite applications are not synchronized for consistent color." But this message can often cause more confusion than helpful guidance.

Unsynchronized color settings in Adobe PhotoshopI've discussed the color settings dialog in Adobe Photoshop before. It's here that you can select your working space profile and specify other color management settings such as how to handle profile mismatches when opening files. If you are new to color management, you might want to start with this series of articles to get the basics down. Indeed, so long as you use only Photoshop and not any of the other applications in the Adobe Creative Suite, this will likely be all you need. But if you use one of the Creative Suite options, you have probably been told you are "unsynchronized" at least once, and it's here that things get confusing.

If you run Photoshop and currently have, let's say, "North American General Purpose 2" selected in your color settings, you can change your working space to Adobe RGB, and Photoshop will allow you to go on working without saving everything as a new named preset. Your color preset in the drop-down list will show as "Custom." This is true as well in other Suite applications such as InDesign that have color management settings. Since you can change color settings in each program independently, it is possible for them to differ, and this is what the "unsynchronized" warning is alerting you to.

Adobe applications appear to recognize an unsynchronized condition due to the presence of differing user profile color preset names across all the Creative Suite applications it can find, or by the fact that any installed Suite application is set to "Custom."

Unsynchronized color settings in Adobe BridgeColor presets for each of the Adobe Creative Suite applications don't exist for your user profile until the first time you run each program. So when you first run Photoshop, you get user presets for Photoshop. If you have InDesign installed but haven't yet run it you won't yet have presets for InDesign. Because of this, things get really interesting if you have multiple Creative Suite applications installed but have yet to actually use anything but Photoshop.

Adobe Bridge has no color settings of its own. Bridge doesn't need color settings since it doesn't let you create files. It honors the profiles saved in the files you work with in Bridge, but since you can't make new files or even modify existing ones, you don't really need Bridge color settings. But Bridge is the place where you resolve "unsynchronized" warnings by selecting a named color management settings preset for the Creative Suite as a whole. You'll find this ability under the Creative Suite Color Settings menu option. Picking a named color setting here will apply it to all products in the Suite. When you do, the "unsynchronized" message will go away.

But you may not actually want things synchronized across Suite applications if you don't always use them on projects in an integrated fashion. For example, as a photographer who strives to maximize image quality I use ProPhoto RGB as my Photoshop working space. But for those occasions when I do use InDesign I use Adobe RGB since this matches better with what most service providers are expecting. So keep in mind that the "unsynchronized" warning is just a warning, and one you don't always need to heed. Don't get confused if you don't need things synchronized.

But the opportunities for confusion this "unsynchronized" business can cause don't end here.

You don't have to purchase a Creative Suite option to get Adobe Bridge since it comes bundled with the standalone version of Photoshop as well as other Adobe products. If you don't have a Suite, Bridge still comes with a Creative Suite Color Settings menu option. But when you try to open it you'll get an error telling you that it requires a "qualifying product" to have been "launched at least once to enable this feature." Of course this message will greet you too if you install a Suite but run Bridge before first launching another program in the Suite. It stands to reason that if you haven't yet run any of the Creative Suite applications you can't be unsynchronized but apparently you can't be considered synchronized yet either. Go figure.

If you are a Suite user of both Photoshop and InDesign, you would expect that changes to your color settings in Photoshop would reflect an "Unsynchronized" status since your InDesign color settings would now differ from Photoshop. But oddly, if you haven't yet run InDesign, Photoshop still thinks it's the only Creative Suite product present and behaves as such and you can never appear unsynchronized. Adobe Bridge though knows that you have a Suite and sometimes recognizes that things are technically out of sync, depending on exactly what you change in your Photoshop color settings. Unsynchronized confusion reigns supremeIf you change any of the individual settings, Bridge knows that you are no longer synchronized since your preset now shows as "Custom." But if you select a named color management settings file from the drop-down list, Bridge behaves as if things are still synchronized since every Suite product you have user settings for shows the same non-Custom preset.

Those of you who use Lightroom but not any of the Creative Suite applications don't have to worry about any of this since Lightroom internally used ProPhoto and doesn't have to synchronize with anything else. But if you use Photoshop with or without any of the other Creative Suite programs the potential for confusion exists. The bottom line on this is that the "unsynchronized" warning comes up as a frequent question. It's nice that Adobe tries to warn you, but the behavior of this particular warning is somewhat quirky and potentially misleading. And even when it is telling you the truth, you may not actually care if you intentionally use different settings in different Suite applications.

Date posted: February 12, 2012


Copyright © 2012 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Related articles:
Color Management: Feeling Lost?
Color Management: Photoshop Color Settings
Photoshop Color Management Warnings and What They Do

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