Colour Management Overview

The purpose of Colour management is to ensure predictable colour across image capture, retouching and distribution (screen, print, repro etc).

Colour management is a process that depends on a series of individual steps being done correctly across all devices and processes. Colour management only works as it should when each of these steps are done correctly.

An important keystone to colour management is a good quality screen calibration device, buying one and using it correctly will be a good start on the road to learning colour management.

Colour management is not fixed to any one standard, for instance the common photography monitor target of 6500K will not show a good colour preview for repro as the whitepoint is incorrect for the yellowish/redish paper stock used, this needs a setting of nearer 5000K.

Understanding the subtlety of colour management is a journey.

All items on the colour management page here on Copyrightimage are part of the chain, room lighting, materials, software settings and devices all play their part…

Screen Calibrator

I could economise on most of the equipment I use and not lose too much but the one thing I would never compromise on is a good quality colorimeter to calibrate and profile my monitors.
The Xrite i1 Display Pro is my preferred device for doing this. If you only buy one thing in the colour management sphere – buy a good quality monitor calibrator like this.

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Room Lighting

Working in controlled lighting conditions is an important component in colour management. I work in a room that has blackout blinds at the windows. With the blinds up its a beautiful room especially with the sun shining in and highlighting the dust.

When I’m working the blinds are down I get rid of all the variable light that may distract me or adjust my light sensitivity and I can read the colour and tone on the monitor with great consistency, whether it is night or day.

Blackout blinds don’t need to be black – and they are readily available from local blind suppliers.

I have 2 GRAFILITE lights in the room, they are placed behind my Monitor and light up the white painted wall at the rear. This colour correct lighting provides a soft wash of light that is lower in brightness than my monitor so allows my eyes to correctly adjust to the white point of the monitor.

There is no direct light other than the monitor so this soft wash of light is very restful on the eyes.

If you cannot justify a light booth for judging prints then its good to know that these lights are also suitable for viewing prints.

ColourConfidence (UK)

Monitor Calibration Settings

Having a good colourimeter or photospectrometer to calibrate and profile your screen is essential to good colour management.

The specific standards and settings used will vary depending on the nature of the job and whether the images are destined for screen, exhibition print or repro.

At Copyrightimage I have calibrated and profiled my screen to multiple targets using Eizo ColorNavigator software. This allows me to quickly switch the monitor profile to match the nature of the job in hand and allows me a better colour and tone preview of the image as it will be used.

Click to see my different monitor profile targets:

Software configuration

Colour management is a process that has may parts. An important part is software configuration.

At Copyrightimage I set my colour management based on the individual job and its requirements, eg if for book or magazine use the location and specific CMYK process used.

Your settings will differ from mine depending on the specifications of the job.

My most common European Photoshop settings are defined below (click to enlarge):


Printer Profiling

In order to make accurate printer profiles for soft and hard proofing as well as getting the most from my printers I use the xRite i1 Publish Pro 2 system based around a high quality Photospectrometer.

ColourConfidence (UK)
Amazon (US)    Amazon (UK)

Print / Proof viewing booth

Next to my monitor I have a colour correct print viewing booth that allows me view any prints or proofs.

This particular booth has variable intensity lighting which allows me to match the brightness of the monitor by turning the silver knob on the top side.

By having consistent colour and brightness between my monitor and the booth it makes it easier to check that the image on the screen matches the print image and makes correcting proofs easier.

Print viewing booths are essential for viewing CMYK proofs – especially contract proofs as it is assumed that they will be viewed in this standardised way.

They can be expensive to buy (particularly variable brightness ones) so they are an optional buy if budget is tight, if this is the case then a separate Ottlight will be cheaper and can double as a behind the monitor light.

ColourConfidence (UK)

Recommended books

Here are my recommended reads if you would like to understand the ideas and practical workings behind the concepts of colour management.

Real World Color Management by Bruce Fraser, Fred Bunting, Chris Murphy
A good thick resource of a book, in desperate need of updating but with some interesting and still relevant information.
Amazon (US)    Amazon (UK)

CMYK 2.0: A Cooperative Workflow for Photographers, Designers, and Printers by Rick McCleary.
A recommended read. Rick makes sure that he flags the important points again (and again) but there is nothing wrong with repetition if the underlying message is right – and it is here.
Amazon (US)    Amazon (UK)

Practical Colour Management by Rob Griffith
A good solid read on the subject and available as a very inexpensive download. There is no reason to not get it right now:
Colour Space