Color management: An overview

Although all color gamuts overlap, they don't match exactly, which is why some colors on your monitor can't be reproduced in print. The colors that can't be reproduced in print are called out-of-gamut colors, because they are outside the spectrum of printable colors. For example, you can create a large percentage of colors in the visible spectrum using programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, but you can reproduce only a subset of those colors on a desktop printer. The printer has a smaller color space or gamut (the range of colors that can be displayed or printed) than the application that created the color.

Visible spectrum containing millions of colors (far left) compared with color gamuts of various devices and documents

To compensate for these differences and to ensure the closest match between on-screen colors and printed colors, applications use a color management system (CMS). Using a color management engine, the CMS translates colors from the color space of one device into a device-independent color space, such as CIE (Commission Internationale d'Eclairage) LAB. From the device-independent color space, the CMS fits that color information to another device's color space by a process called color mapping, or gamut mapping. The CMS makes any adjustments necessary to represent the color consistently among devices.

A CMS uses three components to map colors across devices:

• A device-independent (or reference) color space.

• ICC profiles that define the color characteristics of particular devices and documents.

• A color management engine that translates colors from one device's color space to another according to a rendering intent, or translation method.

A. Scanners and software applications create color documents. Users choose document's working color space. B. ICC source profiles describe document color spaces. C. A color management engine uses ICC source profiles to map document colors to a device-independent color space through supporting applications. D. The color management engine maps document colors from the device-independent color space to output-device color spaces using destination profiles.

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