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Mike Rollins is a highly respected expert in the digital imaging community. As a consultant, he trains users on advanced PhotoShop techniques, image editing, color management, and workflow. His web site contains some very informative tutorials. We are pleased and priveledged to have received permission to mirror his excellent article on Color Workspaces. This article and the images in it are the exclusive copyright of Michael Rollins, and no part of this article may be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.


Which Working Space Should I Use?

Your choice of working space will determine the colors that are available as you edit, and ultimately output, your image. A working space's range of colors is its gamut. Your goal is to match your working space gamut to the gamut of your output device.

You can let Photoshop make the working space decision for you by selecting one of the predefined color management settings from the Settings drop down shown in Figure 2. For many users, these predefined sets will work just fine.

Figure 2: Settings drop-down with predefined settings showing.

Don't be fooled by the "Color Management Off" selection under Settings. This particular set of predefined color management settings sets the RGB workspace to your default monitor profile, generally not a good choice for most users. More about these predefined settings below.

Alternately, you can make your own combination of Color Settings by selecting Custom from the Settings drop down and saving your selections with the Save... button. These custom settings files can be shared by multiple users and by other Adobe programs like Illustrator and InDesign.

Most of the predefined settings will select either Adobe RGB(1998) or sRGB IEC61966-21 for your RGB working space. Macintosh users have a predefined setting choice, ColorSync Workflow, that accesses the preferences made in the ColorSync dialog and the Monitors Control Panel, and keeps you from having to repeat your selections in the Color Settings dialog.

The standard RGB choices for a PC are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: RGB Working Spaces drop-down selection list.

Most users will end up in either Adobe RGB or sRGB. In general terms, Adobe RGB has a larger gamut than sRGB, and allows you to work in more saturated color (not more colors) than sRGB. Adobe RGB more closely matches the color gamut of photo quality color printers. It is a good choice for those users working in RGB with output going to print, either as RGB files for photo quality inkjet printers, or, after conversion, as CMYK files for offset printers. sRGB, with its smaller color gamut, is intended to match the characteristics of the average PC monitor. It is a good choice for images going to the web and for images going to color printers with limited color capabilities.

Other Adobe supplied working spaces include Apple RGB, which reflects the characteristics of the average Macintosh monitor, and ColorMatch RGB, which matches the color space of the Radius Pressview monitor. ColorMatch RGB has a smaller gamut than Adobe RGB, but has been long used as a standard for prepress work in the publishing industry.

All of these Adobe supplied working spaces map the characteristics of various output devices with limited gamut ranges, either printers or monitors. Embedding one of these profiles in an image with a wide gamut, say a raw scan from a scanner capable of capturing a wide gamut from color film, will force the wider gamut into the smaller gamut space by clipping or converting pixel data. This implies that you should save copies of any wide gamut images before allowing Photoshop to embed a working space and losing the wider gamut information from the file.

Incidentally, one important characteristic of all these RGB working spaces is their ability to form a neutral gray with equal values of red, green, and blue. This becomes an important feature when color correcting images.

You also have the option of either importing other RGB working spaces or creating your own custom working spaces. Import RGB spaces by selecting Load RGB... under the RGB drop down menu in the Color Settings dialog and then selecting an icc/icm file. Create a new RGB workspace by selecting Custom RGB... and entering the requested data in the Custom RGB dialog.

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Copyright 2002 Michael W. Rollins



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