If you have ever taken a photograph or had one printed, you have dealt with color profiles … perhaps without even knowing it.
What may seem like an innocuous option in a drop-down menu might mean the difference between an accurate, high quality representation of your image and a lackluster, disappointing imitation. So, just what are color profiles and why are they important?
Every digital camera and printer has its own idea of what a specific color looks like. In order for the devices to communicate with each other properly — and reproduce the image without color distortion — they need to find common ground. That's where ICC profiles come into play.
What is an ICC profile?
An ICC profile is a set of data that characterizes a color input or output device (or a color space) according to standards promulgated by the International Color Consortium (ICC).
The International Color Consortium was formed in 1993 by eight vendors in order to create an open, vendor-neutral color management system, which would function transparently across all operating systems and software packages.
ICC profiles provide a common understanding between multiple editing programs such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One and others.
These profiles act as languages of color and compression, interpreting the image as close as possible across devices; from the camera to the monitor, the monitor to the printer, the printer to the paper. If these settings are not aligned across the different platforms, information gets lost in translation.
An Intro to Color Profiles & Color Spaces
In order to have a clear understanding of ICC profiles, you have to be familiar with color profiles and spaces.
Color profiles include CMYK, RGB, LAB, etc with more specific versions depending on the output. Each one represents a color gamut, which basically represents the range of colors that are supported. A printer has it’s own specific gamut of colors it can print, as does a camera when it captures an image.
Additionally, a particular paper has it’s own color gamut ... as does a specific monitor. Ultimately, different types of printers, cameras, papers, and monitors all have their different color gamuts.
For now, let’s focus on the camera.
On it’s own, a camera’s color information doesn’t really mean anything. Before the data it collects can be useful, we need to know the specific colors that the information corresponds to. That's why we map the colors in the image into a color space.
A color space is basically a standard that defines a specific set of colors. When we map the colors in our image into a color space, then the color values that our cameras captured have specific meanings. Now you may not know this, but most cameras have been mapping their colors into a color space all along.
Most SLR cameras offer a choice of two color spaces — Adobe RGB 1998 and sRGB — which are the most common color spaces (gamuts) for images used for display (digital format, web, monitors, projectors, etc).
The shortcomings of sRGB
Currently, sRGB color space is the default color space on most cameras (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) and photo editing systems, such as Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, etc. Unfortunately, sRGB tends to lose a lot of colors out of spectrum.
If you shoot in a format such as JPEG, image information, including color, is compressed and lost. Instead, we suggest shooting your images with the RAW setting, because no information is compressed, allowing you to produce higher quality images.
Below is an example of the difference between sRGB profile and Adobe RGB profile. Note how many more colors, especially green, are made available with Adobe RGB.
How to Use an ICC Profile
In order to produce the highest quality image, it’s important to play attention to your ICC profiles. Each printer, computer, camera, and paper all will have their own unique ICC profile and will allow you to be able to pick and choose which you like best for your work.
So now that we know how important ICC profiles are when it comes to taking, editing, and printing your images, how do you use them? Here's a step-by-step example using the ICC profiles we have available for D.I.Y. printing at Dickerman Prints!
First, download your preferred profile:
HOW TO INSTALL AN ICC PROFILE ON MAC
- Locate and unzip the file you just downloaded
- Open a separate Finder window
- From the main menu, select "Go -> Go to Folder"
- Type in the following: ~/library/colorsync/profiles
- Drag the profile from your downloads folder into the colorsync folder that you just opened
- That's it!
HOW TO INSTALL AN ICC PROFILE ON WINDOWS PC
- Locate and unzip the file you just downloaded
- Right click on the unzipped ICC file and select "Install Profile"
- That's it!
Setting up an ICC Profile in Photoshop
1. Make sure you have restarted Photoshop after installing your ICC profile.
2. From the main menu, select "View -> Proof Setup -> Custom"
3. Under "device to simulate," select the option for either:
Polie_FujiRA4_Matte or Polie_FujiRA4_Glossy
4. Once selected, the rest of the window should look like the image to the right.
5. Click save, name your profile and click OK to close the window.
6. To confirm that it has been installed, you can once again use the menu and navigate to "View -> Proof Setup." On the bottom, you will see a new option with whatever name you specified in Step 5.
HOW TO USE AN ICC PROFILE IN PHOTOSHOP
To use your new profile, simple press command + Y (Mac) or control + Y (PC)
To confirm that it's working, look at the filename of your active document. At the end, you should see the name you specified earlier.
HOW DO I OPTIMIZE MY IMAGE USING THE ICC PROFILE?
After activating the ICC profile, you may notice a shift in colors. What you are seeing is a more realistic representation of what your image may look like when printed. You should use these colors as a guide when prepping your images for printing.
Also, please keep in mind, our ICC profiles are meant to be used with a properly calibrated monitor. If you want to ensure that "what you see is what you get," please feel free to bring your files into our lab and use our complimentary and calibrated workstations! Organic espresso and tea included!