Color Profile

In this blog, I will be explaining about ‘Color Profile‘. Here, I’ll be discussing about, ‘sRGB‘, ‘Adobe RGB (1998)‘ & ‘ProPhoto RGB‘. My name is Lalit M S Adhikari and we are at LTY. Let’s dive into our topic!

General Introduction

Color Profile is also referred as Color Space. Few closely related term with Color Profile is Color Management System or Color Settings and Color Model or Color Mode in Photoshop. We had discussed about these topics in detail in our other blogs. To clear out the confusion between these terms, I’m defining them in a simple way.

Color Management System

A Color Management System makes colors of one system (let’s say, our software, Adobe Photoshop) consistent with another system (our device, i.e., PC, Laptop or Mac) as well as between multiple devices too. So that, a designer can confidently predict the colors of their system which it ultimately produces.

Viewing color accurately allow designers to make sound color decisions throughout their workflow from digital capture through final output.

For detailed information, read our Color Settings in Photoshop blog.

Color Model

A Color Model determines the relationship between different color values. It is also referred as Color Mode.

Some Color Models (such as CIE Lab) have a fixed Color Space because they relate directly to the way humans perceive color. These models are described as being device-independent.

Other Color Models (RGB, HSL, HSB, CMYK, and so forth) can have many different Color Spaces. Because these Color Models vary with each associated Color Space or device, they are described as being device-dependent.

Color Profile

Let’s begin with an example of a digital image with RGB Color Mode opened in Photoshop. The pixels in your images are saved as red, green, and blue (RGB) values from 0-255. Color Profile tells the software and device, how much color each number stands for.

In other words, the Color Space defines the absolute meaning of those values as colors. So, Color Profile is all the Mathematical work behind the colors in any software or device.

In fact, Color Settings or Color Management System helps in managing different Color Profiles.

Why, sometimes, colors don’t match

First thing first, no device in publishing system is capable of reproducing the full range of colors viewable to the human eye. Each device operates within a specific Color Space or Color Profile that can produce a certain range or gamut of colors.

Because of varying Color Spaces, colors can shift in appearance as you transfer documents between different devices.

Color variations can result from differences in image sources; the way software applications define color; print media (newsprint paper reproduces a smaller color gamut than magazine-quality paper) and other natural variations such as manufacturing differences in monitors or monitor age.

Have a look at the illustration below for some more details.

Color Profile in Photoshop blog image 1 at learn that yourself by lalit adhikari
Different Color Ranges of Color Modes & Devices

RGB Working Spaces

RGB is the most used Color Model in our current digital world. In RGB Color Model, we have lot of Color Profiles to work.

Here are few of the popular Color Profiles in RGB Color Model:

  • sRGB
  • Adobe RGB (1998)
  • ProPhoto RGB

sRGB Color Profile

The sRGB color space was created in 1996 by Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, as a standard based on the range of colors available on a typical low-end computer monitor. Yes! The era of CRT Monitors.

The power of sRGB is in its universality. Despite its age and limitations, support for sRGB is pretty standard and you can be relatively certain the colors you manage with sRGB will be recognized by most browsers.

In fact, the ‘s’ in sRGB stands for Standard.

Even today, most monitors can only display the sRGB range of colors. Because of that, sRGB is the default color space for the web too. As lower range of colors means lower size of image and a faster web.

Some digital cameras typically have their default Color Profile set to sRGB. In fact, some photographers are unaware that there’s a Color Profile option buried in their camera’s menu.

For all of the above reasons, Adobe decided it was best to set Photoshop’s default RGB Working Space to sRGB. After all, sRGB is the safest choice.

sRGB contains the smallest range of colors of all the RGB Color Profiles available.

Human Eye Vs. sRGB

For ease of understanding have a look at the illustration below:

Color Profile in Photoshop blog image 2 at learn that yourself by lalit adhikari
The curved area of color is the total amount of colors visible to humans and the triangular boundary represents total amount of color range available in sRGB.

As the illustration shows the color range available to us when working in the sRGB Color Profile.

The outer, curved area represents all the colors, human eye can see. It’s not the true representation because it doesn’t show brightness values. But still enough to give us a general idea of what’s going on.

Inside the larger shape is a small triangle. The area inside the triangle represents the sRGB color range. None of the colors outside the triangle are available in sRGB.

That means, many of the richer, saturated and vibrant colors, especially in green and cyan, are not available in the sRGB Color Profile.

Adobe RGB (1998)

Created in 1998 by Adobe (hence, the name), Adobe RGB (1998) offers a wider range of colors than sRGB. It originally purposed, to help our photos look better when printed.

Even though printers can print far fewer colors than the number of colors available in sRGB but they can reproduce more of the deeper, saturated colors our eyes are capable of seeing.

Many higher-end inkjet printers have the option to switch from sRGB to the Adobe RGB (1998) Color Profile, so our prints can benefit from the extended color range.

Digital cameras are capable of capturing far more colors than what’s available in sRGB. So many cameras these days, especially high-end DSLRs, already come with Adobe RGB (1998) Color Profile as default.

If you shoot JPEGs, Adobe RGB (1998) will allow your photos to preserve more of the scene’s original colors.

If you capture your images as raw files, the Color Profile setting in your camera makes no difference. Raw files always capture every color the camera sees.

However, Adobe Lightroom and Camera Raw, the tools we use to process raw images both use Adobe RGB (1998) as their default RGB Working Space.

Human Eye Vs. Adobe RGB (1998)

For ease of understanding have a look at the illustration below:

Color Profile in Photoshop blog image 3 at learn that yourself by lalit adhikari
The curved area of color is the total amount of colors visible to humans and the triangular boundary represents total amount of color range available in Adobe RGB (1998).

As the illustration shows the color range available to us when working in the Adobe RGB (1998) Color Profile.

Again, the outer shape represents all the colors we can see. The triangle inside the shape represents the range of colors Adobe RGB (1998) can reproduce.

You can easily notice how much larger the triangle is this time. While sRGB encompasses about a third of the visible color range, Adobe RGB (1998) contains roughly half of all colors our eyes can see.

Most of the difference is in green and cyan, as the triangle extends much further into those areas than it did with sRGB.

Where the sRGB Color Profile is limited to more muted tones, Adobe RGB (1998) can produce richer, more vibrant colors.

ProPhoto RGB

ProPhoto RGB is the largest of the three commonly used RGB Working Spaces, and it’s the one that best preserves all color data between a RAW file and Photoshop.

DSLRs also have this Color Profile available.

Some conditions to remember while using ProPhoto RGB:

  • Because ProPhoto RGB is spread over such a wide color gamut, you’re forced to work with larger 16-bit files to avoid posterization or banding. (The opposite is also true of a small working space like sRGB, which is ideally suited to 8-bit editing.)
  • Since ProPhoto RGB produces colors beyond the capabilities of any monitor or that of human vision, you’ll be working partially “blind” when you edit in this color space. This is a trade-off that many accept in return for extracting as much color as possible from their printer.

Human Eye Vs. ProPhoto RGB Vs. Adobe RGB (1998) Vs. sRGB

Color Profile in Photoshop blog image 4 at learn that yourself by lalit adhikari
Comparison between color ranges of Human Eye, ProPhoto RGB, Adobe RGB (1998), sRGB and 2200 Matt Printer.

The illustration is self-explanatory.

Should we switch Color Profile in Photoshop?

Many digital cameras can capture images in Adobe RGB (1998) or ProPhoto RGB. Many inkjet printers can reproduce colors that are only available in Adobe RGB (1998). There are even high-end computer monitors these days that can display nearly all of the Adobe RGB (1998) color range.

So, should you switch Photoshop’s RGB Working Space from sRGB to Adobe RGB (1998) or ProPhoto RGB? In most cases, the answer is yes. Adobe RGB (1998) and ProPhoto RGB offers a much wider range of colors than sRGB.

So if your camera can capture them and your printer can print them, why limit Photoshop to the smaller, more muted sRGB color space?

Reasons to chose sRGB

There are few reasons why you may want to choose sRGB:

  • sRGB is the safe choice.
  • Mosty devices like computer monitors, cameras and inkjet printers are all set to sRGB by default.
  • sRGB is the color space for images and graphics on the web.
  • If you’re a web designer, again sRGB may be a better choice.
  • If you’re brand new to Photoshop and all this talk about color spaces is too confusing, there’s no harm in leaving Photoshop set to sRGB.

Reasons to chose Adobe RGB (1998)

  • If you’re a photographer and you want your photos to look their absolute best.
  • If you shoot in the raw format, both Camera Raw and Lightroom use Adobe RGB as their default color space. It makes sense, then, to set Photoshop to Adobe RGB as well.
  • Even humble models of inkjet printer produce colors outside of the sRGB gamut, while only high-end printers exceed Adobe RGB (1998) in output.
  • Landscapes benefit particularly from Adobe RGB (1998), largely because of the cyan and green colors lost when converting down to sRGB. To a lesser extent, yellows and oranges are also extended without their whole range.
  • Even if you display your images on the web, there’s no reason not to edit them in Adobe RGB. They’ll benefit from the expanded Adobe RGB color range during the editing process.

Reasons to chose ProPhoto RGB

  • Some photographic subjects, particularly those with a deep yellow color, lose detail straight away merely by opening them in Photoshop in a smaller Color Space (i.e. sRGB or Adobe RGB (1998)).
  • There’s nothing to stop you from editing your files in ProPhoto RGB and then converting down to smaller RGB color spaces when required. Remember: you can’t convert up to a bigger color space and get data back.

How to export Adobe RGB (1998) or ProPhoto file for web

For this example, I have used a Raw image which have been opened as ProPhoto RGB in 16-bit.

Color Profile in Photoshop blog image 5 at learn that yourself by lalit adhikari
Raw Image opened as ProPhoto in 16-bit channel

To save this file for web, go to ‘File’ menu then under ‘Export’ chose ‘Save for Web’ or use shortcut Ctrl + Shift + Alt + S

Color Profile in Photoshop blog image 6 at learn that yourself by lalit adhikari
Save for Web option under Export in File Menu

This dialog box will open up:

Color Profile in Photoshop blog image 7 at learn that yourself by lalit adhikari
Save for Web dialog box

In this dialog box, following points are marked as 1, 2 and 3:

  1. Quality of image, it could be anywhere from 75 to 100, depending on your requirements.
  2. Always check this box for conversion to sRGB while exporting.
  3. Change image size as per your requirement for web.

Embed a Color Profile

To embed a Color profile in a document you created in Photoshop, you must save or export the document in a format that supports ICC profiles.

  • Save or export the document in one of the following file formats: Adobe PDF, PSD (Photoshop), JPEG, Photoshop EPS, Large Document Format or TIFF.
  • Select the option for embedding ICC profiles.
Color Profile in Photoshop blog image 8 at learn that yourself by lalit adhikari
Embed Color Profile option in Save for Web dialog box
Color Profile in Photoshop blog image 9 at learn that yourself by lalit adhikari
Embed Color Profile option while saving as Jpeg

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Lalit M. S. Adhikari

I am Lalit M S Adhikari. I'm blogger, Graphic & Web Designer as well as a Digtial Marketer. I also have more than 4 year of teaching experience in these fields.
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  1. Brookesays:

    Informative and helpful. Thanks for sharing such informative articles!

  2. Quinnsays:

    This is the perfect piece of info on color profile topic!

  3. Astorsays:

    This proved to be very helpful for my assignment. Thank you!

  4. Yasiimsays:

    It helped me alot to understand color profile! Thank you.