Basic Tips for Color Management

In early December, a community of conference-goers explored best practices and new advances in color management at the PIA’s 2016 Color Conference held in Phoenix, Arizona. As a native Phoenician, I didn’t have to travel far for the event but quickly learned that the conference had drawn in interested attendees from every corner of the country—and beyond.

John McWade presenting at the 2016 Color Conference

John McWade presenting at the 2016 Color Conference

Opening my vibrant conference schedule for the first time, I was struck by the scope of the event. There was something for everyone. The conference included a color management primer, brilliant keynote lectures, and cutting-edge product demonstrations. There were also dozens of lectures divided into five diverse tracks, including Brand & Design and Print & Production.

Color enthusiast Don Hutcheson, the inventor of the G7 methodology and President of HutchColor, bookended the conference: His foundational primer set the stage for many conference sessions, and his final review session facilitated the end of the event. These sessions made it apparent that Don is an accomplished speaker with a gift for making any topic accessible and engaging to his audience.

I was lucky enough to sit down with Don for an interview of my own. Though color management might intimidate newcomers to the subject, he approaches the topic with the idea that the basic elements are simple enough that everyone can understand them. Using this framework, he distilled some of his own experience with color management into helpful tips for creatives searching for better color.

KP: Not everyone wants to be a wonderful “color geek,” but they still want good color. What should we ask our Printer, or communicate to our Printer, to get the best possible color?

DH: The relationship between a creative and their print service provider is very much like a marriage. Neither can do it all by themselves. If an artist simply says, ‘Here is an unprofiled image edited on an uncalibrated monitor, I know what I want, read my mind,’—they are asking for trouble. They need to at least calibrate the monitor, to at least embed the profile, and to especially talk to the printer…If you want to be successful, you have to have this relationship established…Your printer is your color management resource.

KP: Are there any red flags that you should be aware of, or any way to verify that your printer is managing color properly—even if you aren’t a color expert yourself?

DH: The thing to do is to ask them to provide you with a proof and ask them the color space they are calibrated to print to. Typically, a commercial printer’s response should be that they print to GRACol specifications. If they say, ‘No, we don’t do GRACoL, but we have our own custom color space,’ that’s probably a red flag.

Other red flags today would be if the printer did not accept or want RGB files and/or said they do not want an embedded profile.

KP: Other than talking to our printer, what can people do to improve color and color management in our projects?

DH: There are…four bullet points on this one.

  • Profile your monitor or make sure it is a well-adjusted monitor.
  • Always embed the color profile into your work.
  • Edit images in RGB, but preview them as CMYK using Photoshop’s magicView > Proof Colors function (Ctrl/Command+Y). Best to get the disappointment over early!
  • When working with your printer, insist that proofs are made to an accepted standard like GRACoL. 

Talking to Don, it became clear why creatives should concern themselves with the above recommendations. He explained that when he entered the industry, with the perspective of a photographer, “It was imperative for me to learn how to control the processes in order to get the result I wanted, which is exactly analogous to the desire of an artist today who wants to see their creative work reproduced properly.”

“Historically,” he said, “artists have always had a connection with the technology of image reproduction.” He continued on, leaving a beautiful sentiment resonating in my mind: “An artist that tries to completely divorce themselves from the technology of the display of their vision is missing out on the opportunity to control and maximize their vision.”

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Posted on: February 10, 2017

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