Color management: Implementation part 1:
Setup, working color space, anatomy of a profile
by Norman Koren

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Table of contents

for the Making Fine
Prints series

Getting started | Light & color
Pixels, images, & files | Scanners
Digital cameras | Printers | Papers and inks
Monitor calibration and gamma
Printer calibration | Scanning | Basic image editing
Black & White | Matting and framing
Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras
Color management
Implementation part 1 | Setup
Working color space | Profile anatomy
Implementation part 2
Monitor profiling & calibration | Workflow
Obtaining and building profiles
Evaluating printer color and ICC profiles

or Image editing with
Picture Window Pro
Introduction | Making masks
Contrast masking
Tinting and hand coloring B&W images
Example: Sunset, Providence, Rhode Island
Thanks to Dennis Wilkins and Jonathan Sachs for excellent suggestions and extensive proofreading.
Carlos E. Mora's Spanish translation:  Gestión del color: Implementación (1ª parte).
The series begins with an Introduction to color management and color science. Implementation part 1 (this page) describes how to set up color management and interpret the contents of ICC profiles (files that describe the color response of a device or a color space). It features Picture Window Pro, but also includes information on Photoshop. Implementation part 2 discusses monitor profiling and workflow details. The series continues with Obtaining ICC profiles and building them with MonacoEZcolor and Evaluating printers and ICC profiles.In this Part 1 we introduced color science and color management. In this part we describe how to implement color management in ICC-aware image editors. We emphasize Picture Window Pro, but we also discuss Photoshop.

Click here to learn more about Gamutvision.

Implementing color management

Implementing color management involves more than just turning it on-- getting the image editor (or other application) to recognize ICC profiles and perform gamut mappings. You need to establish a set of procedures, known collectively as a workflow, to deal with a number of issues. These include
establishing a working color space for editing and storing images;
establishing procedures for handling images from input devices, such as scanners or digital cameras;
establishing policies for handling image files that are untagged or have different color spaces;
creating or selecting the monitor profile and selecting the monitor rendering intent;
selecting the printer profile and rendering intent.

The colors in the above table are keyed to the simplified image flow diagram, below, as well as the table of color management settings for Picture Window Pro and the detailed image flow diagram in the Workflow summary in Implementation part 2.

Simplified image from diagram
The gamut mappings, performed by the color engine under the control of ICC profiles, are what distinguishes a color-managed workflow. We describe them in the remainder of this page. The large number of details make color management an awkward subject. We present it in the following sequence.
Color management setup: the recommended settings for getting started.
Working color space: the color space used for editing and storing images.
ICC Profiles: their contents, i.e., their "anatomy."
Monitor profiling and calibration.
Workflow issues including handling input devices, files, and printers.
Summary: the detailed image flow diagram.
Appendix: The GretagMacbeth ColorChecker in sRGB and Adobe RGB.

By the time you finish this tutorial you'll be intimately acquainted with "the devil in the details," and how it can bite you if you're not careful.

Color management setup

Picture Window Pro, supports color management with Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, or later. To enable it, Click File, Color Management... This brings up the dialog box shown on the right. Then set Color Management: to Enabled. The dialog box settings are applied immediately and remain in effect as long as the box is open; you can leave it open as long as you want. When you close the box, you will be asked, Save modified settings? Click Yes to retain the new settings. Click No to revert to the previous settings. You can also load save settings.

Merely enabling color management has only one effect. Embedded profiles in image files are recognized. Files without embedded profiles are assumed to be sRGB, and no gamut mappings are performed. To unleash the power of color management, you need to make appropriate dialog box settings, summarized in the table below. Settings that require particular attention are highlighted in red and discussed afterwards.

To determine if an image has an embedded ICC profile, right-click on it and select Display Info.


..Color Management Settings for Picture Window Pro
.. Settings that require special attention are highlighted in red; recommendations are in violet.
Box Settings Recommendations and comments
Color Management: Disabled or Enabled Enabled turns on color management.
Color Engine: Windows Default (ICM 2.0) or lcms (Little CMS) Windows Default. Lcms probably works equally well.
Working Color Space: Choice of profiles*or None

(The actual working color space of an image can be determined by right-clicking on the image, clicking on Display Info and observing the Color Profile setting.)

Used differently from Photoshop. See note below.

Specifies the working the color space to convert images when they are opened, if you so choose. (See On Profile Mismatch.)  Has no immediate effect on image appearance. A key user decision. sRGB is the simplest and most compatible with monitors and the Internet, but a Medium-gamut color space such as Adobe RGB (1998) (identical to SMPTE-240M) is recommended when the primary output is high quality prints. Wide gamut spaces present some problems. The  ICC profile of the working color space will be embedded in the image when it is saved. See Working color space, below.
Assumed File Profile: Choice of profiles* or None The assumed color space of an image file that has no embedded profile. sRGB (Windows/Internet default) is usually the best choice. The default, None, implies sRGB.
On Profile Mismatch: Ask/Convert/Don't Convert Ask is the best choice to start out with. The dialog box will ask for the rendering intent. (Don't Ask/Don’t Tell  was omitted.)
Assumed Scanner Profile: Choice of scanner profiles* or None I recommend NONE if the profile can be selected in the scanner driver. Otherwise select the appropriate profile here. It should not be selected in both; the profile would be applied twice. If you set the scanner profile here, the imported file will contain original scanner data with the scanner profile embedded. You may be asked if you want to convert it into your working color space. Selecting the profile in the scanner driver software reduces the chance of error; the results are identical.
Monitor Profile: Choice of profiles* or None You should use the profile created by your monitor profiling program. It's a good idea to check it with ICC Profile Inspector to be sure the TRC (tone response curve) tags agree with the value of gamma set during calibration (usually 2.2). If your monitor profile has a different gamma, use sRGB IEC61966-2.1, which is an essentially neutral profile with gamma = 2.2 and R, G, and B primaries close to typical CRT monitors. If None is set, images are sent to the monitor without gamut mapping. This can result in significant errors for working spaces other than sRGB. See Monitor profiling.
Monitor Rendering Intent: One of the four rendering intents Maintain Full Gamut (Perceptual) is the best choice in most cases.
Proofing Profile: Choice of printer profiles*
or None
None, most of the time. Used mainly by the printing industry to preview low gamut CMYK printing press output on the monitor. To preview a printer/ink/paper combination, select the appropriate profile. May not work well with high quality inkjet printers. Compare it with your printed output to see if it works for you.
Proofing Rendering Intent One of the four rendering intents Preserve Identical Colors and White Point (Relative colorimetric) or Maintain Full Gamut (Perceptual). Try both; the difference can be significant with large gamut working color spaces. Inactive when Proofing Profile is set to None.
Monitor Calibration (Removed from current versions of PW Pro. It set the LUT, overriding other calibration settings.) Disabled
*The profile names are the descriptions in the profile desc tag, not the file name.

Photoshop color management is more error-prone than Picture Window Pro. Because Photoshop tries to be all things to all people-- in the graphics and printing industries as well as in photography, it has a number of obscure settings that must be set correctly for the monitor image to display correctly.

Photoshop 6, 7, CS
Click Edit, Color Settings. The box on the right appears. CMYK and Spot settings don't apply to most photographic workflows. Placing the cursor over any of the boxes brings up a description (shown for Adobe RGB (1998)). I recommend starting out with the settings on the right, which you can save and load.
Settings: Can be set to Color Management Off, Custom, or one of several presets, most of which are intended for publishing. Custom turns on color management and allows you to make selections.
Turns Color Management on or off.
Working Spaces
The safest choices are Adobe RGB (1998) and sRGB IEC61966-2.1.
Gray Use the settings shown on the right.
Color Management Policies, Check boxes Correspond to On Profile Mismatch and Assumed Profile in Picture Window Pro, above.
Advanced Mode When checked, the Conversion Options and Advanced Controls sections shown in the box on the right appear. There are also more options for Working Spaces. Use the settings on the right unless you have good reason to change them. Microsoft ICM is also available as an Engine; it probably makes little difference. The two intents of interest to photographers are Perceptual (usually preferred) and Relative Colorimetric.
Differences in image appearance between Photoshop and other programscan be caused by a number of factors; this can be a major source of frustration. Get one setting wrong and Photoshop's color management will bite you; your prints won't match your monitor image.
The embedded ICC profile affects the appearance of images in ICC-aware programs. To view it in Photoshop, the Status Bar at the bottom of the window should be displayed. If it isn't, click on Window and check Status Bar. Click on the triangle  in the Status bar and select Document Profile. In Picture Window Pro, right-click on the image and select Display Info. In color-managed workflows it's always good practice to embed ICC profiles in image files.
Working Color Space settings are handled differently in Photoshop and Picture Window Pro. In Photoshop, images with no embedded profile are assumed to have the color space specified by Working Spaces: RGB. Changing it immediately changes the appearance of the image. In Picture Window Pro, images with no embedded profile may be converted to the Working Color Space when they are opened, depending on the Assumed File Profile and On Profile Mismatch settings. Images opened with no embedded profile are assumed to have the Windows-default sRGB profile. Changing Working Color Space or Assumed File Profile has no immediate effect on image appearance.
Monitor profile.  Photoshop uses the Windows Default monitor profile to gamut-map the image from the working color space to the monitor. To see or change the Default monitor profile, open the Control Panel and click on Display, Settings, Advanced, Color Management. In Picture Window Pro the monitor profile is selected by the user. No gamut mapping takes place if "None" is selected. To obtain the same display as Photoshop, the Windows Default monitor profile should be selected.
Soft proofing should be turned off unless you are previewing a specific printer. (Soft proofing works best for 4-color offset printing, where the color gamut is smaller than most CRT monitors. It may not work as well for high quality inkjet printers.) In Photoshop, click on View and make sure Proof Colors is unchecked. In Picture Window Pro, Proofing Profile should be set to "None."
Miscellaneous Photoshop Color Settings.  Desaturate Monitor Colors By should be unchecked. Engine should have little effect on image appearance. Choices are Adobe (ACE) and Microsoft ICM. If your image doesn't have an embedded ICC profile, be sure Working Spaces RGB is consistent with the image's color space.

Working color space

The choice of a working color space has a significant effect on the gamut of the final print, especially with high quality 6+ ink inkjet printers. With Gamutvision, a powerful utility written by the author of this tutorial, you can clearly see how the working color space affects the final print gamut.

Click here to learn more about Gamutvision.

Without color management the Windows default sRGB color space is assumed. sRGB has a limited color gamut, approximating that of the average computer monitor. When you print on a high quality inkjet printer, which has a larger gamut, you adjust the printer driver settings to take advantage of the device gamut. You might, for example, boost the Saturation setting, as I've described in Printer calibration.

A color space can be associated with an image when it is opened or at any time during an editing session. But it's a good idea to make the association as early as possible in the editing process— during scanning or RAW conversion, if possible. Settings and techniques for performing the association are summarized in the table below.

Attaching color spaces to images On open During the editing session
Picture Window Pro Determined by three Color Management Settings: Working Color Space, Assumed File Profile, On Profile Mismatch. The user may be asked what action to take. Click on Transformation, Color, Change Color Profile... Pay attention to the Change setting. Use Input Data and Profile setting to convert between color spaces. Use Profile Setting Only to attach a profile without changing the image data. Details in Implementation part 2.
Photoshop Determined by Color Settings for Working Spaces and Color Management Policies. The user may be asked what action to take. Click on Image, Mode, Assign profile... or Convert to Profile...
When an image with an associated color space is saved, the ICC profile of the color space is embedded in the image file-- saved along with it. This doesn't increase the stored image size by much because color space profiles are tiny. In a color managed workflow it's always good pratice to embed ICC profiles in images. Otherwise confusion can result. Photoshop, for example, treats images without embedded profiles differently from Picture Window Pro and other applications.

The gamuts of several color spaces are shown in the chart on the right, which has been adapted from Jonathan Sachs' Color Management tutorial. See pp. 10-14, for details.

Color spaces can be divided into three categories.

Small-gamut spaces have gamuts comparable to CRT monitors. sRGB (gamma = 2.2, white point = 6500K) is the default color space for Windows and the World Wide Web. PAL/SECAM and SMPTE-C are appropriate for video output. sRGB is weak in green and cyan (but not as weak as the perceptually-nonuniform xy chart indicates). If you're working in another color space, you'll need to convert to sRGB for Internet display.

Medium-gamut spaces have gamuts somewhat larger than CRTs; comaprable to high quality (more than 4-color) inkjet printers. Adobe RGB (1998) (same as SMPTE-240M) is the best known. Gamma = 2.2; white point = 6500K. Adobe RGB (1998) is the most widely recommended color space when the primary output is high quality inkjet prints.  Most shops that make LightJet prints prefer Adobe RGB (1998) or similar color spaces.

Wide-gamut spaces have gamuts much larger than CRTs or inkjet printers, often comprising most of the colors the eye can see-- and sometimes "colors" the eye can't see. Wide gamut RGB, Universal RGB, CIE RGB, Chrome 2000 D65, and Kodak ProPhoto RGB are examples. The gamut of Chrome 2000 approximates that of transparency film. When colors in wide gamut spaces are squeezed into monitor or printer color spaces using perceptual rendering intent, clipping and color shifts may take place (predictable with Gamutvision image analysis; unpredictable otherwise). Since half or less of the total gamut can be reproduced on monitors or printers, using a wide-gamut space sacrifices bit depth-- something you can ill afford when which working with 24-bit color, which has a bit depth of 8. The solution is to work with 48-bit color. See Bruce Fraser's article, The High-Bit Advantage. Wide-gamut spaces can be tempting; a number of experts recommend them. I'm not among them. There are alternative views: RIMM/ROMM RGB Color Encodings by Spaulding, Woolfe and Giorgianni makes a strong case for wide-gamut spaces (RIMM/ROMM is the same as ProPhoto). 
RGB color spaces are strongly preferred over CMYK for photographic reproduction. All high quality (more than 4-color) inkjet printers must be driven by RGB data; they aren't really CMYK because of the additional colors. CMYK spaces are device-dependent, limited in gamut, and there is no unique representation of colors in CMYK-- different gray component replacement algorithms are appropriate for different printers and intents. CMYK is best left to the 4-color printing industry. Picture Window Pro doesn't support CMYK.
 Why not use CIEXYZ or CIELAB as a working color space?
They are device-independent, referenced by ICC profiles, and their color gamut includes the entire range of human vision. Two reasons. (1) They are not intuitive. The meaning of each coordinate is more obscure than RGB. (2) The full gamut of human vision encompasses only about 30% of the numerical values in these spaces. (The diagram above only shows x up to 0.8 and y up to 0.9; there's a lot more empty space.) Wide-gamut spaces use about 25%; narrow-gamut spaces such as sRGB are down to 15%. This is equivalent to losing 2 bits of numerical precision. In 24-bit RGB files, which have an 8-bit color depth, only 6 bits would remain-- not enough for good tonal rendition. This isn't a problem for 48-bit color images, which have a 16-bit color depth.

Working color space recommendations. The safest color spaces have gamuts comparable to (or slightly larger than) the preferred output devices. This minimizes color distortion when files are mapped with perceptual rendering intent; it also minimizes the risk of clipping out-of-gamut colors with relative colorimatric intent. sRGB is the default working color space for the Web. Adobe RGB (1998) is widely recommended when the primary output is high quality inkjet printers. There is some unresolved controversy about the use of wide gamut spaces; they might be OK when used with 48-bit color images. If you want to study color spaces, gamut mappings, and rendering intents in depth, I recommend Gamutvision. (As the author of Gamutvision I can't claim to be unbiased.) 

Real-world images and color spaces

In the presentation Metrics for Comparison of Color Encodings (CIE TC8-05) by Kevin Spaulding and Gus Braun of Kodak, available online from, the authors have created a CIE xy diagram representing the full range of colors available from reflective surfaces. They used a wide variety of sources (graphic arts spot colors, etc.) to assemble this diagram (slide 5 in the presentation). It is instructive to compare their results to the two best known color spaces, sRGB and Adobe RGB (1998).

CIE xy diagram of real-world colors
Real-world reflective colors
CIE xy diagram of Adobe RGB (1998) and sRGB
Adobe RGB (dotted), sRGB (solid)

Although the eye can see more highly chromatic colors than these (the outer horseshoe), they are extremely rare in nature. The best examples are the vibrant colors of a prism in the sun and some rare irridescent butterflies— colors that can't be reproduced by standard output devices (monitors or printers). Adobe RGB (1998) encompasses most of the reflective colors; only a few reds and cyans are out of gamut, and not by much. The eye is not extremely sensitive to chroma differences in highly saturated colors. So Adobe RGB is a safe, conservative choice for a working color space. sRGB is clearly weaker in greens and cyans. It's the standard color space of Windows and the internet— by far the most convenient, foolproof choice , but Adobe RGB is preferred when the intended output is high quality inkjet prints.

The reader is cautioned that the CIE 1931 xy chromaticity diagram has several well-known limitations. The space occupied by the greens is exaggerated, and the 2D representation has no information on the lightest or darkest colors.

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The anatomy of a profile
ICC profiles consist of a header and and a set of tags, which contain the bulk of the data.

You can examine the contents of profiles with ICC Profile Inspector, which you can download from the ICC Resource Center by clicking on CONTINUE and following the instructions. When you run it, click Browse... to load the profile. The header information and tag table are displayed. Double-click on a tag to see its contents. A typical tag, gXYZ (green primary color), is illustrated on the right.

There are three classes of profile, indicated in the Device Class field of the header: Input ('scnr'), Display ('mntr'), and Output ('prtr'). Each has a set of required tags and a set of optional tags. Display profiles are used to define color spaces. Many monitor profiles contain the ://">vcgt tag for setting lookup tables when a loader program is run, i.e., for calibrating the monitor.

The meaning of the tags is specified in the formidable (126 page) ICC File Format for Color Profiles (Version 4.0.0), which is rich in content and readable if you skip the bureaucratic parts (strong coffee recommended). In most cases the meaning will be obvious from the ICC Profile Inspector display. The basic tag signatures (4-character abbreviations) are

  • desc is the description of the profile, used in PW Pro selection boxes.
  • rXYZ, gXYZ and bXYZ specify the R, G, and B primaries that determine the gamut of the color space or device.
  • wtpt is the white point. The two standard white points are 6500K (D65): X=0.95045, Y=1.0, Z = 1.08905, and 5000K (D50): X=0.96429, Y=1.0, Z=0.82510. Y is always 1.0 and Z varies the most. Used for absolute colorimetric gamut mapping, which is of little interest to photographers.
  • rTRC, gTRC and bTRC are the R, G and B Tone Reproduction Curves that define device or color space gamma in Input and Monitor profiles. An example (gTRC) is shown on the right. Gamma is often indicated on the upper right.
    If it isn't, it can be calculated from
      gamma = -ln(y5)/0.69315
    where x' = x/xmax ,  y' = y/ymax , and y5 = y' at x'=0.5 (the middle of the x-axis) = 0.22 (in the curve on the right). Typical values: y5 = 0.287 for gamma = 1.8, 0.25 for gamma = 2.0; 0.218 for gamma = 2.2. [ This equation can be easily derived from (y/ymax) = (x/xmax)gamma ].
  • AToBn or BToAn are gamut mapping tables used in printer profiles. A refers to the device; B refers to the profile connection space (PCS); n = 0 for perceptual, 1 for colorimetric or 2 for saturation rendering intent. BToAn tags are used for printing; AToBn are used for proofing (previewing the print). These tables are large. Profiles that contain them can be several hundred kilobytes-- sometimes over a megabyte. TRC tags are omitted in printer profiles. All the printer profiles I've examined have gamt (out-of-gamut) tags, but little information is available about them. The best way to examine the actual performance of printer profiles is with Gamutvision.
All monitor profiles have gamma information in TRC tags, and most of them have Lookup table (LUT) loader information in private tags (vcgt or Mtbx). If you calibrate your monitor to gamma = 2.2, the TRC tags should have curves consistent with gamma = 2.2, but sometimes they are inconsistent. But there are many profiles out there incorrect values of gamma (not 2.2 when they're supposed to be). See below. Don't use them! You're better off with sRGB IEC61966-2.1, which is an essentially neutral profile with gamma = 2.2 and R, G, and B primaries close to typical CRT monitors. It's a good idea to check the TRC tags in monitor profiles.

Manufacturer-private tags make it difficult to figure out what a profile is supposed to do. An example is vcgt (Video card gamma tag, registered to Apple), widely used in monitor profiles (Adobe, Monaco, etc.) to set video card LUT's. It is not to be found in the ICC specification. Another example: Mtbx, in the monitor profiles created by Adobe Gamma and MonacoEZcolor. Try searching Google and you'll find pages on mountain bikes. Here is what the spec says (p. 3): "Private data tags allow CMM developers to add proprietary value to their profiles. By registering just the tag signature and tag type signature, developers are assured of maintaining their proprietary advantages while maintaining compatibility with this specification. However, the overall philosophy of this format is to maintain an open, cross-platform standard, therefore the use of private tags should be kept to an absolute minimum." And that is how things would be in the best of all possible worlds.

Of course a profile's actual performance is more than the sum of its parts. To see how a profile functions with different rendering intents under a variety of conditions, you'll need Gamutvision.


On to Implementation part 2: Monitor profiling, workflow details
Color management and color science: Introduction
Implementation part 1: Setup, working color space, profile anatomy
Obtaining profiles and building them with MonacoEZcolor | Evaluating printer color and ICC profiles

Images and text copyright (C) 2000-2013 by Norman Koren. Norman Koren lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he worked in developing magnetic recording technology for high capacity data storage systems until 2001. Since 2003 most of his time has been devoted to the development of Imatest. He has been involved with photography since 1964.