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True Colours?

June 9, 2015

Working with photographers and printers I get involved in a lot of discussions about colour.

The first thing I will ask anyone is if they are working with a calibrated and profiled monitor. Many, even some professional photographers, are not. Do you work with raw files, I ask? ‘Oh yes!’ comes the reply. Well, if you work with raw files and do not have a calibrated and profiled screen, you are frankly wasting your time. Every correction you make is based on what you see on your screen. If the screen is wrong, the resulting file will have the wrong colours.

The best way of explaining this is to ask if they have visited a television showroom. If you have, you will know that every screen in the showroom will display different colours – see the photo. It’s Featured imagethe same with monitors – they are all different. Depending on the type of monitor, you will have different controls and settings, but once it is calibrated and profiled you will see a close rendering of the correct colours. If someone else also has a calibrated and profiled monitor they will see almost exactly the same colours. EIZO and NEC are probably the two most commonly used professional monitors. If you cannot afford a top end monitor like these, profiling will still bring you much much closer to the correct colours. Profiling is done to an international standard set by the CIE.

I have on my desk a MacBook Pro (generally considered to produce great colours) and a large monitor. The large monitor is fully profiled and is the one I use for all colour critical work. If I drag an image in Photoshop from the large screen to the MacBook, the colours shift significantly. If I run a slideshow on the MacBook it looks great but the colours are not technically right!

Why does all this matter? Well, it really matters when you start printing. Here we have other factors coming in like the type of printer, the inks and the paper used. But if we also profile these combinations, we can produce prints in two different locations on the same type of printer using the same paper and inks with almost identical colour. We can also get very close colours on different papers or media, only restricted by the available colour gamut of that paper/ink combination. Without using ICC colour profiles this would simply be impossible. Don’t forget for optimal viewing of prints you should use daylight (5000K).

Of course the next question is, do we all see colour in the same way? The vast majority of us do. The colour blind will not and those with synesthesia may not. I remember holding a pink card against a grey filing cabinet and someone with colour blindness saying they were identical, just one was lighter. For colour blindness there is the Ishihara test. For those whose job involves working with colour, you should try the X-Rite Colour Test and hope to achieve a perfect score or close.

http://www.xrite.com/online-color-test-challenge

Recently we had the famous blue and black dress problem. Different people viewing the same image on the same screen saw it in different ways. Some as blue and black and some as gold and white. The image went viral around the world with hundreds of theories. Psychologists who study colour had many views. Our own industry cFeatured imageolour management specialists also had a range of explanations. The image was badly exposed when taken and in unusual lighting which did not help. The original shop dress is blue and black. Personally I see it as blue and black. For me the black areas are somewhat brownish but my perception of the image puts this down to the lighting and my brain reviews the information to conclude that it is black. If we open the file in Photoshop and measure the colours, be it in RGB, CMYK or Lab, the measurements will show the colours to be in the dark and blue parts of the spectrum.

Finally, colour is also important if we are posting images on the web or using them in MS Office programs or similar. Our responsibility is to get the colours as close as possible to the ‘correct’ colour when we post an image or use it in a software. Sadly we cannot control where or how the image is viewed or how it might be printed, but at least we have given the world the chance to view an image in the way that we intend.


Featured imageCharles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.