Color Management – An Intro

Color Management – An Intro

  • Design

Maintaining a consistent appearance on the Web is difficult because you never know the end user’s environment. They may be viewing a website on their home computer or on a mobile device. They could be on a Windows platform or running a Mac. Even within these parameters, a multitude of other variables affect how their monitor is calibrated. All of these factors amount to an unremediable loss of control over the final output. Colors can appear lighter or darker, more or less saturated, cooler or warmer, or just plain wrong depending on the user’s environment. This can be quite a problem, especially with a client’s brand-specific colors As Web designers, our responsibility is to ensure that the experiences we craft are as true to the original as possible. To do this, you need to manage and align every step of the design process with how the majority of users will be viewing your work. This requires a complex and equally confusing system of color management. While it doesn’t completely solve the problem of color shifting, it makes it far less severe and ensures the maximum preservation of colors across a majority of devices.


Calibrating the Display

Gaining control of your color output starts by controlling your input (i.e. your monitor). A properly calibrated monitor is crucial: it lays the foundation for a properly managed workflow. Calibrating your monitor can be done with software, but it is better left to a colorimeter. Purchasing a colorimeter is a good idea if you’re concerned about accuracy. A number of companies sell affordable solutions: Monaco Optix, LaCie blue eye, basICColor displaySQUID, etc. Whether you use hardware or software to calibrate your monitor, let your monitor warm up for about half an hour. Also ensure that the lighting in the room is soft and evenly distributed and that no light shines directly on the monitor.

Because our work will be displayed on both Macs and Windows machines, our gamma and white point should be set to the most common settings. Gamma is basically a value that represents the relationship between luminance values of the monitor. The higher the number, the darker the display appears. Windows machines run a gamma of 2.2, while Macs run 1.8 — although, Snow Leopard now defaults to 2.2. A gamma of 2.2 is the most common setting of Web users, and for this reason your monitor should be set to match. The most common white point is D65, and you’re best off following suit.

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