Color Management

Colors are relative. Not only personal preferences are manifold, software and output devices such as monitors or printers render colors in their own hardware-specific way as long as their interpretation of colors is not standardized via Color Management.



Color Management  &  Internet Browsers

The images here on Phocus.org are in so called sRGB colors, which is the web standard 'color space' or 'set of colors and its interpretation'. But even with images that use this web color standard, without Color Management certain colors never quite look right in internet browsers compared to what they look like in image editing programs.

With Color Management activated in internet browsers, they recognize the color space (e.g. sRGB) of an image and render the colors closer to what they are supposed to look like.

Some examples:


Firefox:
Mozilla Firefox (in 2017) supports color management. This works well for standard purposes. For special environments (wide gamut monitors, ICC4), however, the color management settings of Firefox need some tweaking (Google helps). Not comfortable but, unlike other browsers, at least possible.


Internet Explorer:
Sadly, Internet Explorer does not come with true color management (2017). It just 'expects' sRGB. This works most of the time though as most pictures published via the internet actually use sRGB colors. The problem is, however, that this strategy is an innovation killer. Because most internet pictures use the old and limited sRGB color stabdard, Microsoft (and many others) just ignores other possibilities, which, in turn, is why ancient sRGB has become entrenched as the least-common-denominator of computer colors
.

Safari:
Mac OS X applications built using Aqua (e.g. Mail, Preview, Safari, or iPhoto) all recognize embedded profiles by default (and use the default display profile). Not all browsers for Mac do so however.




To check your browser's Color Management status, see:
www.color.org/version4html.xalter


Note: All this does not mean that you'll then see 'accurate' colors or the same colors others see on their systems. Apart from using color management in operating systems and applications, seeing (more or less) accurate colors or the same colors others see on their systems is also a question of the monitors' capabilities and whether or not they are calibrated and profiled (see below).



Color Management, Monitors and Calibration

The pictures on Phocus.org have been edited on a computer system that makes use of color management and calibrated and profiled devices, i.e. that provides defined colors (as far as possible for my budget). If you feel that these pictures look strange (or, in more technical terms, that the colors/contrast/gradation/gamut/... do so) it might either be due to our diverging personal preferences, or because you don’t use color management or your monitor is not (cannot be) adjusted/calibrated/profiled appropriately.
In case you feel so and you want to improve things, it might be worth to carry on reading.


In order to make sure that we both see more or less the same on our monitors - at least in terms of brightness and contrast - you should adjust your monitorís brightness and contrast in a way that you can distinguish the following 17 gray-scale steps (17 squares) from black to white:


Every monitor renders a certain numeric color value in its own way. This applies to different monitor technologies (see below) as well as to different samples of the same model and even to the same monitor under different ambient temperatures or after different periods of time that it is running (in terms of both running hours or age).

Unfortunately, it is rather impossible to manually fine-tune the colors/gradation/etc of a monitor with reliable result. In order to achieve not only vivid but also accurate and therefore comparable color/gradation/contrast/etc it is inevitable to calibrate/profile a monitor. Accurate calibration/profiling can only be achieved by means of monitor calibration/profiling devices and software. These devices/software generate monitor specific 'filter information' (color profiles). With such color profiles at hand the system can render (more) accurate and comparable colors.

In order to obtain (more) accurate colors, it is also inevitable to use a monitor that is of high(er) quality. Monitors that are most suitable for photo editing/watching have either so called IPS or VA LCD-panels.

Opinions divide as to whether IPS or VA is more suited for photo editing. Itís probably most frequently been stated that IPS is the way to go. Quite a few monitors of EIZO (a high-end manufacturer) have PVA panels, however. IPS panels have the largest color gamut, high color accuracy, and the largest viewing angles. VA panels, on the other hand, have higher contrast ratios and 'deeper' black levels. The differences are very small with modern models though. Higher contrast is not necessarily good for photo editing as it means reduced colors and tones. Fine-art photographers therefore often prefer IPS. Where 'stronger colors' or deeper black are preferred S-PVA may be the better choice. Interestingly, many (most?) tablet computers feature high quality IPS-panels because their reproduction of colors needs to be independent from viewing angles as they are not sitting motionless on a desk.

OLED panels have even higher contrast and black levels than VA. On first glance, they are nice to look at. But these panels (still) feature a visibly reduced color gamut, which makes them less suited for photo editing.

T
N panels are certainly least suited for photo editing/watching because they provide the smallest color gamut along with the worst color/contrast/intensity shift with changing viewing angle.

LAPTOPS: Allmost all laptops are equipped with TN panels! Only few highend laptop models feature relatively good TN panels or even IPS panels, and only two manufacturer provide laptops with so called wide gamut panels (only HP DreamColor and Dell PremierColor laptops, both featuring panels from LG).

There is no technology that is best in any discipline. What is 'best' depends on what you are going to use your monitor for, and what your personal preferences (and budget) are. Just be aware that virtually all consumer monitors are adjusted in a way that they look good on first glance and sell well in large bright halls of multimedia shops (full of staff who have not the faintest idea of Color Management). The same goes for advertising: They focus on panel speed (for gamer) or emphasize maximum brightness (but not on minimum brightness, which is a much more important determinant for reliable print-previews) or color intensity (instead of accuracy) or numbers of colors that can be displayed in theory. Most so called multimedia monitors, i.e., the most bright, gaudy and glary-like-mirrors ones are particularly useless for photo editing!

Finally, if you want also printed colors to be predictable and reproducible, your (photo) printer needs color profiles too. This saves a lot of time and money that is otherwise wasted in a try-and-error approach. But, again, this is hardly achievable through manual settings (or with cheap printers). Be aware that printed pictures even from profiled printers will never look exactly the same they look like on monitors. The physics of reproducing colors and tones differs fundamentally between monitors and printers (self-luminous vs. reflective). But that's another cup of tea.


Well then?
You may wonder how on earth one can satisfy everybodyís demands and capabilities in terms of accurate picture presentation? You just canít! And that's only partly because most people donít use Color Management. Color is always relative, on the personal as well as on the technical level.