[title size=”2″]What You See Isn’t What You Get…Unless You Measure[/title]

It’s a common misconception that what you see on your computer monitor is what will print. Anyone who’s tested this theory knows it’s false. But it doesn’t have to be. You can actually measure the color of your monitor and your printer and manage both. That’s the basic theory behind color management–allowing different devices to work together by describing the color of each to the other.

[title size=”2″]Color-Measuring Devices[/title]

Measuring color precisely requires specialized instruments. To measure a monitor, you need a colorimeter. This device only measures transmitted light and has no light source of its own. These are generally used to calibrate and profile monitors.

To measure color on a piece of paper, you need a spectrophotometer. This device is more accurate than the colorimeter and has its own light source. You can calibrate and measure monitors with it or you can take readings from printed material.

[title size=”2″]A Short Color-History Lesson[/title]

Colorimeters and spectrophotometers measure spectral color data, which is then displayed as something we call the CIELAB color space (SEE-LAB). CIELAB is a device-independent color space. That is, it exists as pure color, unrelated to any monitor, camera, printer, or other device. The first device-independent color space, CIE 1931 XYZ, was created in 1931 by the International Commission on Illumination, to establish scientific values for color. CIELAB 1976 is derived from this master color space and is the basis of all color management tools.

So, when we say, “book cover should be fire engine red,” what we really mean is L=42, a=61, b=57. By reading the values of your monitor, the software tells your computer and Photoshop, or InDesign, what the monitor looks like and then the software calculates how to display the colors properly on your screen. This way, when you adjust the color swatch in InDesign to make the cover “fire engine red,” you’ll get the color you expect.

[title size=”2″]Color Management Steps You Can Take[/title]

Those are the basic tools of color management. There are various forms of each tool but their basic function is the same. Adobe Creative Cloud (or Creative Suite) is the glue that holds this together, along with Apple’s ColorSync software. Windows has color management software built into the system, as well. By telling these programs the profile for each of your devices, you can get accurate color on your monitor, printer, and scanner. It takes a bit of work but, in the end, it’s worth it.

If you do only one thing to improve your color management, we’d recommend that you profile your monitor. All you need is a colorimeter. The XRite i1 and Datacolor Spyder are two of the most popular brands, but there are more on the web. If you’re in the market for a new monitor, NEC, LaCie, and Eizo offer monitors with colorimeters and software. By performing this one step, you’ll be a lot closer to properly managing color on your projects.

At iocolor, we use spectrophotometers for all of our measurement tasks. We use them to calibrate our monitors, create proofs and ICC profiles, and to quality control our proofs. For us, the spectrophotometer is just as important as the computer. Without it we couldn’t do what we do, since we measure just about everything. It’s one of our little obsessions.

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