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So Where Does Your Monitor Profile Go?

I've spent the past two weeks discussing how color management policies work in Photoshop and what those darned warning messages are all about. A frequent question that comes up in conjunction with Photoshop's color settings is what to do with your monitor profile. The bottom line is that it doesn't go directly in Photoshop at all. To find out just where it does go, read on.

Of course I'm presuming before we get started that you have profiled your monitor. Before we can discuss where your monitor profile goes you have to actually have one. Some monitors come with default ICC profiles based on their type and particular design parameters, but these are generally relatively useless for photographic work. They are not nearly accurate enough to properly judge color since the image you see on the screen depends not only on your monitor but also on your video adapter and display driver as well as how you have the controls on your monitor adjusted. Monitor color will also tend to drift somewhat over time as your monitor ages, particularly in the case of CRT displays.

And don't make the mistake of thinking you can use sRGB or Adobe RGB as your monitor profile either. That's not what they're for.

There's just no getting around it. If you are at all serious about the digital darkroom, you need a current, custom made display profile — one made just for your monitor, as you have it set up.

A lot has changed over the past few years in the monitor calibrator market. Where once there were many companies, the market has collapsed into two major players: X-Rite which has absorbed both Monaco and Gretag-Macbeth, and Color Vision who remains on their own. Due both to their own excellent engineering as well as the technologies they have acquired in the mergers, X-Rite tends to have the highest rated products. Any of the current choices though can do a good job. Prices for complete hardware/software monitor calibration solutions start from under $100 and go up from there. Get one and use it.

Although the specifics vary somewhat from product to product, they all work more or less the same way. After installing the software, you plug in the colorimeter and affix it to the front of your monitor where the program tells you to. You then click next a few times, answer a few questions, and watch as the software produces a series of color swatches that are read by the colorimeter sitting atop it. When it finishes, you give your new profile a name and the program saves it in the correct location. Pretty straightforward, really.

Just where this location is depends on what operating system your computer is running.

 Operating System   Color Profile Folder 
Windows 2000 C:\WINNT\System32\Spool\Drivers\Color
Windows XP and above C:\WINDOWS\System32\Spool\Drivers\Color
Mac OS X /Library/Colorsync/Profiles (System wide)
~/Library/Colorsync/Profiles (User folder)

What's important to note though is that the software knows where the correct folder is so you don't really need to worry about it too much. If you want to see where it is for yourself, you should be able to navigate to it using Windows Explorer or Finder on Mac OS X based on the table presented here. But when you save the profile using your monitor calibration software, it will end up where it needs to so your operating system can put it to use compensating for the idiosyncrasies of your display setup.

Monitor profile as seen in Mac OS X ColorSync
Monitor profile as seen in Mac OS X ColorSync

You can see that the profile is indeed associated with your monitor by looking in your Display Control Panel settings on Windows or ColorSync on OS X. In ColorSync will conveniently find it on the Devices tab but Windows hides it a bit since you don't really need to mess with it manually. In the Display Properties applet in Control Panel, go to the Settings tab and click on the Advanced button in the lower right. This will open a whole new dialog with multiple tabs. Click on the Color Management tab in this new window and you will have reached your destination. You can have more than one profile associated with your monitor in Windows, but it is only the one marked as the default that matters. You can remove the others from this dialog or simply ignore them. They are listed purely as a convenience should you wish to switch back to one of them in the future, something you would be unlikely to do since your new profile should be the most accurate.

So, now that we've covered all of that, you are probably still wondering how you tell Photoshop about your new monitor profile. The truth is, you don't. There's no need to. With the profile now known to your operating system, everything that gets displayed on your monitor gets adjusted to display more accurately based on the profile. It's automatic, and Photoshop doesn't need to do anything special to make it happen. You just create the profile with the calibration software/hardware and the rest takes care of itself.

And what could be simpler than that?

Monitor profile as seen in Mac OS X Finder
Monitor profile as seen in Mac OS X Finder
Monitor profile as seen in Windows Display Properties Control Panel
Monitor profile as seen in Windows Display Properties Control Panel
Monitor profile as seen in Windows Explorer
Monitor profile as seen in Windows Explorer

Date posted: February 18, 2007


Copyright © 2007 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
Permanent link for this article

Previous tip: Photoshop Color Management Warnings and What They Do Return to archives menu Next tip: Really Useful Software Preview Extractor

Related articles:
Color Management: Monitor Profiling
Color Management: The Eyeglasses Analogy
Adobe RGB is not a Monitor Profile
The Monitor Color Temperature Question
Photoshop Color Management Policies in Detail
Photoshop Color Management Warnings and What They Do

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