Monitors & Color Profiles

The wonderful world of monitors and color profiles. Always a fun topic among photographers and graphic professionals. Let me first say that I have been a photographer since I was 14. I have worked in two major commercial photo labs turned graphics houses most all of my working life, and am currently the manger of a pre-press dept. in Indianapolis. So, I have been around this sort of thing professionally for more years than I care to admit.


Most serious photographers and professionals mainly use two types, Adobe RGB, or sRGB. This can be set in your camera as a default so it’s already embedded in the photo for you. If the intent is only to show work on the web, or any type of electronic viewing, Adobe RGB is probably the best profile to use. It’s extended gamut allows for more colors to come through on todays monitors and devices. If you intend to make a photographic print, then sRGB is the profile you should be using. The reason being is sRGB has a smaller gamut range, and is closer to what a photographic printer can hit in a range of color. Still not perfect, but close. Some colors simply do not reproduce. Ideally you should have a profile embedded into every image, and your monitor is calibrated with a Spyder, Eye One, ColorMunki, or something to the effect. I have seen, own, and personally used these over the years, and I feel that by color managing your images and monitors, you are giving yourself the least amount of problems when it comes time to print an image, or send one off to an editor, or art buyer, etc.

If you are intending to print a Giclee, or fine art paper, or canvas, or banner, or whatever, you would want to convert to CMYK, Coated GRACoL, or at the very least U.S. Web Coated (SWOP). The reason for this is that colors are different in CMYK and a person is less likely to be shocked or disappointed when seeing the converted end result. Blues for example. Look at one in RGB then convert it to CMYK. Then orange. Then red. The difference is shocking to say the least. You will never hit an RGB version perfectly once converted to CMYK. Most printing devices, like the Epson fine arts printers, or HP’s, etc have extended ink colors, orange for example, that allow for fantastic reproductions and truer colors. I point all this out because it’s good to know and good to see this for yourself before sending anything to a printer. All good print and graphics houses will convert any files submitted to the intended output device, whether a client does or not. Good color management is a staple in daily printing life.


Over the years, I have used many, many types, brands styles, etc. I suppose this boils down to each persons eyes and color preferences. My biggest issue was lack of D-Min in most. Highlights tend to drop out around 12%, meaning there are details there in the higher range, but, the monitor was incapable of discerning them at all, so I was never sure if I was penetrating the highlights. The same can be said for D-Max. Some of the cheaper brands just give black blobs in the shadow areas with no real separation. Again, undesirable. The only way I could ever be sure was to check the levels / histogram for peace of mind as these numbers don’t lie to your eyes, regardless of what you see on the monitor. Several years ago, I too had decided to get more serious about monitors for my personal work. After extensive research, I settled on gambling on an Apple Cinema Display monitor. I’m telling you, purple curtains parted, lights burst forth, champagne rained from heaven, and angels began singing. I will probably never use anything other than an Apple monitor again for my personal work. I can see my highlights down to 1%. Shadows are no longer black blobs. Colors are very accurate and it’s easier to see where any color shifts might be occurring and hiding, and no super expensive gadgets are required to calibrate one. It was good right out of the box, but even still I have gone through the motions of calibrating it. I’m sure there are other brands out there that are as good, maybe even better… Ultimately, it’s what each person likes and wants to get from his / her photos, files and overall viewing experience. This is all just my opinion, for what it’s worth, and again, it will differ from person to person and not everyone will agree. Make the best decision for you.   

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