The Darkroom Makes a Comeback (Part 2)

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In the first installment of this two-part article, we made the case for turning down the lights in computer editing rooms for graphic artists and photographers who need more-accurate color. Getting your workspace right for color-accurate situations may also require toning down the colors of walls, counters, and even monitor desktop color schemes. In this second installment, we’ll give you the information you need to turn your own office into a proper "digital" darkroom, or at least to move it in the right direction.

Experts agree that the most effective workspace for critical color work using computers is a specially designed, darkened room, in which the overall illumination is lower than the light emitted by the computer monitor. In recognition of this, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has issued updated standards for establishing proper lighting and environmental conditions in graphic arts facilities (see figure 1).

Figure1: The newly published ISO 3664:2000 and the final draft version of ISO 12646 (to be released in early 2002) establish viewing-conditions standards for computer image-editing facilities.

To incorporate the latest color imaging standards into your own workspace, you’ll first need to evaluate the overall quality of lighting in your editing room. Ultimately, you’ll want to get rid of incandescent (tungsten) bulbs and fixtures and switch to color neutral, 5,000°K light sources. To ensure the most color-accurate results, you’ll also need to evaluate wall paint, the color of your work surfaces, monitor placement, the affects of window light, and a host of other factors that affect color perception.

Spending time and money altering your workspace in the name of color accuracy may seem like overkill, but these changes can help you reduce miscommunications and color production errors and, ultimately, production costs.

Here are some important tips for transforming your own workspace into a professional color imaging facility. Figure 1 shows how I’ve set up my own office.

More after the jump! Continue reading below
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Figure 2: A "digital darkroom" that helps you achieve accurate color uses D50 (color neutral, daylight-balanced) lighting at a level that is lower than monitor brightness settings. Walls, ceiling, cabinets, and work surfaces should use neutral colors. Window light should be baffled so that a constant level of illumination is maintained throughout the work day. For a QuickTime VR version of the above, click here.

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  • anonymous says:

    I understand the need for the correct lightin conditions coming from a background of photography, but what about my eyes? I have been using a computer for my artwork for over 2 years now and have noticed my eyesight suffer, won’t these new measures (if implemented) be bad for us?

  • anonymous says:

    Your observation about declining eyesight is an issue, but some things, like aging, are unavoidable. I’m a 48-year-old Mac user and my eyesight deteriorated to the point that I needed glasses by the time I was 43, which my doctor said was ‘normal’ in today’s population. While I have some trouble with bright lights or discerning shadow detail these days, the fact remains that lowering the lights in my editing room has dramatically improved my ability to work with images on computers. Do I keep a flashlight handy to find something dropped under a table or occasionally turn up the lights to do routine tasks like filing? Yes — whatever is necessary to make things work.

  • anonymous says:

    One suggestion I would like to add is to cover a substantial portion of the wall area with dark grey anechoic foam panels. A room full of computers and perripherals has many small cooling fans (mine has 19 units with fans) all of these emit a substantial ammount of high frequency white noise which over time can lead to hearing loss and in the short-term is stressful. I purchased zig-zag cut anechoic panels from an audio sound studio products catalog and covered my upper walls with 2ft x 4ft panels spaced about 6″ apart. Besides substantially reducing the noise it looks way cool and high tech. And, yes, it is neutral gray …but somewhat darker than your specification. It is a bit pricy..but all the good stuff is.

  • Anonymous says:

    Despite this article being 8 years old, It is still spot on. Thanks for the black jack forex trader on line craps on line roulette on line bingo

  • Anonymous says:

    So, would you say it would work best for over-all lighting control to simply perform digital editing in a completely dark room (no lighting other than the monitor light)? And if doing this would it then be best to also calibrate your monitor under these same blackout conditions? I have read much, maybe too much, about digital dark rooms and optimal lighting that my head is spinning. I’d appreciate insight into my thoughts on a editing under complete darkness. Thanks! Colorado Photo Newby

  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you SO very much for your accuracy and (especially) information on where to purchase the D50 flourescent bulbs. Makes me appreciate that Nikon called a camera the D5000, when searching.
    I have your site marked and will be sharing with others in the printing field(!).

  • Anonymous says:

    “Me” again:

    Note that you can purchase bulbs from – but they don’t have these on their website – have to call 866-PANTONE & ask for assisitance (pre-paid orders ONLY).

  • Tas Bandung says:

    someone with a little originality. useful job for bringing something new to the internet!

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