How to start using Colour management

Using colour management is really very straight forward. Most modern operating systems, like Windows 8 and Mac OS X, fully support colour management, much of it should be working behind the scenes without any intervention from the user already. Most printers install some profiles when the printer is first added to the system. However to gain the full potential of using a colour managed system you will need to take control of what its doing and understand how it handles images on your system.

Step 1

Enable colour management in your software.

The first step is check that your imaging software properly supports colour management, most of the major programs do, if so you will need to ensure it's enabled. This usually involves finding the colour management controls and checking an option box.
At this stage some programs like Photoshop offer options for how files should be handled within the workflow. It is important make sure these options are set correctly and that you understand what they do. Please go to this page to read specific details of how individual packages should be set up or use the option box at the bottom of this page to see just the settings your own software needs.
At this stage it may be necessary to make one important decision about your colour managed workflow; what default colourspace to use.
By default most operating systems and software now assume a sRGB colourspace for image files. This is a standard developed a while ago to cope with most computer systems display's limited gamut, so it has become the standard for web display and most cheaper digital cameras deliver files in this standard. More serious imaging equipment (scanners, cameras & printers) are now capable of recording and outputting a wider range of colours than the sRGB colourspace encompasses. As a result many users now choose to work by default in a wider gamut colourspace for printed output. The most commonly used colourspace is Adobe RGB (1998), there are others which may be more useful in some specific cases, but it's beyond the scope of this article to cover those eventualities. Adobe RGB will cope with most situations, it is widely supported and many scanners and digital cameras can now deliver their files in this standard.

Step 2

Set up your monitor.

You will need to set up your monitor as well as possible. Please see our special page about this here.

Step 3

Find out what is already on your system.

The third step is to gather together any appropriate profiles for your system. Some may have been supplied with your hardware, but you may have to download profiles from manufacturers support sites and, of course, order your custom profiles from us.

Then you can get on with editing your images. Our recommendation is that you edit your images in their native colourspace, e.g. sRGB or Adobe RGB and save them in that format.

Step 4

Use the correct profile for your printer.

When you have finished editing your images you can "soft proof" them in many imaging packages to see how they will finally print out. A "soft proof" is a simulation of how the final print will appear when printed with a particular printer profile. Because printers can't print the same range of colours that a monitor can display, you may at this stage notice the image change. This is the closest you will see to how your final print will appear.

Finally, when you make the final print you will need to set your printing software to apply the correct printer profile and ensure that the printer driver uses it correctly. See our page on different image editing packages to learn how this is done or use the option box at the bottom of this page to see just the settings your own software needs.
Then ensure that the printer driver is also set to use its profile correctly. You should then end up with a print that very closely matches your soft proofed monitor image.

Choose the software and printer you use to see exactly how to set up colour management on your own system.

What software do you use to print your images?

What brand of printer are you using ?

To see how to set up your chosen system