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Reproducing Reality

(September 2007) posted on Wed Sep 12, 2007

The challenge of color management.

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By Jake Widman

We’ve been working with color management for many years now. In fact, it’s hard to remember a time when ICC profiles were not a key part of a production workflow, and words like "characterize" and "calibrate" had yet to become part of our everyday vocabulary.

At this point, then, you might believe that color management is a mature technology, that there are few significant advancements coming. We all have color management down pat, you might think.

But you would be wrong.

In fact, there is a sea change on the horizon when it comes to color management. Expectations for color are being broadened, requiring new and better solutions. Plus, changes are happening to some of color management’s core components, which are sure to have some impact on your production operation down the line.

Expanding the base of the pyramid

One trend everyone seems to point to is the greater use of color management, not only by professionals but also by consumers. The explosion in availability of high-quality color devices-from digital cameras to inexpensive- but-capable desktop inkjet printers-has raised users’ general expectations of an ability to get good color out of a production chain.

As Microsoft reports, in its white paper, "Windows Color System: The Next-Generation Color-Management System," a "swift adoption of color in the office and explosive growth of color in the home have brought us well past the demands and expectations associated with the first wave of color devices. Support statistics confirm that color-quality and color-management levels judged acceptable or good enough as recently as two years ago are considered inadequate by today’s standards." And that’s an assessment from 2005-imagine how much higher standards have risen since then. (Windows Color System is the color management system in Vista, replacing the Image Color Management system from earlier versions of the operating system.)
Doris Brown, vice president of marketing for Pantone, outlines the same scenario a little more succinctly when she points to the expectations of today’s color consumer: "‘I bought a new computer, I bought a new digital camera, I bought a new printer, I’m going to make great pictures.’ Wrong!"