Getting Color Under Control – Stage 3: the Display

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The last stage of color management involves showing off those beautifully captured and processed images. As mentioned in the introductory lesson, there are two options at this stage: screen display or printing. Color management for the two is different, because there are significant differences in the two media types. This final lesson will explore those differences and how to manage them.

Screen Display

While the ultimate goal for most photos is generally some form of printed format, there are those markets that call for displaying your images electronically, on the screens of viewers. The most notable of these are probably as illustrations for online articles and as entries for online competitions. Stock photos must also be optimized for this type of display, since that's how potential buyers will see and select images. Once an image is downloaded by a buyer, the responsibility of managing color for their use is generally the buyer's.

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Images for screen display are most often delivered in a compressed format. The most common formats called for are JPEG and PNG. Of these two, JPEG is the most “lossy”, which creates smaller files, but can also cause color shifts at higher compression ratios. This makes it important to be careful of over-compressing your photos when exporting them. PNG files aren't as widely supported at this time, but may reproduce colors more accurately when they can be used.

Fortunately, if you've properly calibrated your monitor as described in the previous lesson, what you see when you preview your final photos is an accurate representation of how it will display. You have no control, of course, over how accurate other people's monitors will display them. If your colors are true when you preview the final proof, you've completed this stage of color management for screen display.

Printing

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If your images are going to be printed, you again have two options: sending the digital files to a professional printing service or printing them yourself. We'll begin with the latter of these two options.

Reproducing the colors and tones you see on a monitor as closely as possible on your printer isn't a straightforward process for several reasons:

  • Colors will appear more vivid on a monitor because of the increased luminosity from the display's backlighting.
  • Printers aren't capable of producing the dynamic range of a monitor, due to a limited palette. The range of colors a printer can produce is known as the gamut.
  • Printers tend to create more contrast than a monitor.
  • Different printers produce colors differently.
  • Differences in ink types and paper impact color reproduction.

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The solution to these problems begins with calibrating your printer, i.e. analyzing your printer's output and creating a profile for the printer, ink and paper type. That profile can then be used in “soft proofing” your photos before printing.

We'll cover the proofing stages in the next lesson. For now, we're concerned with the process of profiling your printer(s). Datacolor's SpyderPRINT is our recommended tool for printer calibration. The video below will demonstrate the process.

Creating the printer profile completes the color management process. Keep in mind that changing ink or paper type will require creating and storing a new profile. You can then select the correct profile before printing.

Assuming you've followed the steps in these three lessons, you can now rest assured that the colors in your images are as true-to-life as possible from start to finish. In the next lesson, we'll explore how soft proofing can help you visually predict the output from your printer/ink/paper combinations.



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