Color Management in Adobe Photoshop

This is the first part of a comprehensive detailed series of posts guiding you through the image editing process step by step from profiling your display and managing your color space and settings, to profiling your printer and preparing your work for print, to saving and distributing your work on the web.

The primary purpose of profiled color management is to achieve a good match of an image color between all devices involved in an image editing workflow, such as the camera display, the computer screen, and the printer.

Part One: Color Spaces

In Photoshop, the color management process begins with reading the profiled RGB color space of an image, and converting that to the current Photoshop RGB working space if it was using a different one. While editing a photo, the RGB workspace used in Photoshop is immediately converted to that of your monitor display so you’d be able to view the colors correctly. And similarly, when you print out your images, the RGB workspace is converted to that of the printer, or an RGB to CMYK color conversion of a known printer profile takes place.

Thus, being aware of your color space is a very important aspect, especially if you intend for your work to be distributed through digital or print media. If you’re spending all your time and energy making sure your images look good, might as well invest a little time and go the extra mile to ensure they look good to others as well.

An image that looks like the above in Photoshop, would look similar to the image below in printout if sent straight to the printer without any kind of color management

Choosing an RGB work space

In order to make up your mind on which RGB color space you should use, I’m going to give you a brief description explaining the difference between various color spaces. Rule of thumb though, it is better to stick to your decided workspace throughout your work.

So let’s take a look at the different, most popular RGB color spaces:


sRGB reflects the characteristics of the average PC monitor. This standard space is endorsed by many hardware and software manufacturers, and is becoming the default color space for many scanners, low-end printers, and software applications. Ideal space for web work, but not recommended for prepress print out work because of its limited color gamut which causes color clipping when converted to CMYK.

Adobe RGB (1998)

Adobe RGB (1998) was developed by Adobe Systems. It is a fairly large gamut (range of RGB colors) that covers most of the CMYK color space, but by using RGB colors on devices such as computer monitors. It is a popular color space to go with for printing and reproduction since it offers a suitable RGB to CMYK conversion.

ProPhoto RGB

ProPhoto RGB space has the advantage of preserving the full gamut of raw images when converting to RGB, and providing better tonal separation than most other RGB color spaces. This color space is particularly suited for output devices such as digital dye sub and inkjet photo printers, and for applications such as HiFi color. ProPhoto RGB is also called “ROMM RGB”.

Apple RGB

Apple RGB Reflects the characteristics of the average MAC OS monitor, and is used by a variety of desktop publishing applications, including Adobe Photoshop 4.0 and earlier since it was the same as the monitor’s color space. Use this space for files you plan to display on MAC OS monitors or for working with desktop legacy application files.

In general, a good thing to keep in mind is that large color gamut or space lead to posterization, which is the conversion of a continuous gradation of tones to several regions of fewer tones, with abrupt changes from one tone to another. Whereas small color gamut lead to clipping, which is blown-out highlights or dark areas in an image.

In Adobe Photoshop you can change your working RGB color space from the Edit menu >> Color Settings >> Working Spaces >> RGB as illustrated below:


Different digital devices have different output characteristics, and unless you tune your work to match those of your destination media you’re most likely to end up with an endless number of versions of your same piece of work most, if not all, of which look nothing like you intended it to be.

To insure homogeneity of your work, you should initially decide on a color space that best suits your needs depending on publishing and distribution means of your work, and go with that.

The next step — and probably the most important one — in the color management chain would be calibrating and profiling your input and output devices.

We’ll guide you through that in the next post in this series. Please stay tuned…