Introduction to Colour Management - Part 1

What is Colour Management? Colour Management is a complex science but this article aims to introduce key concepts without getting too technical. A Colour Management Primer if you will.

In a nutshell - Colour Management is the science of maintaining accurate colour from the point of capturing or creating a digital image through to output such as printing or publishing. 

We need Colour Management because almost all digital capture and output devices behave differently. They all vary in terms of the range of colours they can record or produce and they all vary in their individual response to a single colour input. Below is a representation of how a certain 'real world' colour might be recorded by a digital scanner and how in turn that colour might be rendered by a digital printer.

Without Colour Management,
colours change as images move
from device to device!

Colour Management allows us to bring the colours of various devices into line so that they accurately reproduce the ‘real world’ colour (albeit limited by the capabilities of some devices).

In the early days of digital reproduction Colour Management was the reserve of large business and the problem of colour matching was simplified by having 1 input device (film scanner) which was tuned (as far as possible) to the output of 1 printer. It was a very time consuming workflow to set up, not very accurate and required frequent tweaking.

Today the digital landscape is vastly different, with an array of possible input and output devices both at professional and consumer level. Even within your own family I would guess there are multiple digital cameras, flatbed scanners, monitors and printers. It would be unworkable to tune every input device to every output device as things would get messy very quickly (see animation below).

Instead Colour Management acts like a central interpreter between input and output devices. Essentially managing colour on the way into a device and on the way out.

Colour Managed input

Colour Management performs the task of translating the input signals of a device such as a scanner into the accurate 'real world' colours that those signals represent.

Colour Managed Output

Colour Management causes the output signals going to a device such a printer to be precisely adjusted. The adjustment is what makes the printer accurately render the ‘real world’ colours captured in an image.

How colour management fulfills it's role as interpreter between devices is quite complex and I don't want to get too technical in this article. The key concept to understand is that Colour Management allows you to pass an image from any number of input devices to any number of output devices while preserving the accuracy of colour rendition. Without Colour Management this simply does not happen.

The animation below shows the messy problem of trying to match colour between multiple devices and the neat solution that Colour Management provides.

© Phil Tanner
Owner of Finer Image