Dr. Martin “Marty” Abelson is a color management guru in Tucson, Arizona. MyMac asked Dr. Abelson ten introductory questions on this perplexing topic, and his answers are fascinating and informative. If you always wondered why your photos look fine on your computer screen and not so great when printed, pay attention to his words of wisdom.
MyMac – How do you define color management, Marty, both generally and specifically, for most digital photographers and computer users of reasonable competence?
Dr. Abelson – Color Management (CM) is the process of making all of the devices involved in processing images see colors in exactly the same way. Cameras, monitors, scanners, printers, and various types of color film emulsions all produce colors with variations in their color gamut. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamut
Trying to create a uniform processing system was a nightmare. Some years ago, a group of major equipment manufacturers and lab processors got together in France to create the International Color Consortium, or ICC. Their work resulted in ICC standards and an ICC profiling system which offers a solution. An ICC profile is created for each piece of equipment. The profile reflects how that device defines colors.
When a slide is scanned to produce a digital image, or the digital image is produced by a camera, a profiled monitor (defined below) will show those colors accurately for processing. Profiling the printer/paper combination assures that when you print you have WYSIWYG.
MyMac – Do you need fancy camera and/or computer hardware/software to get started with color management? What about when you get more deeply involved?
Dr. Abelson – Color Management can be applied to any computer system capable of handling the images in need of processing. CM can be used with most image processing software. Slides can be scanned and digitized or any digital camera can be used.
As with most endeavors, better (usually more expensive) equipment permits greater control and flexibility. Photoshop Elements (approximately $80) is probably the best editing program for amateurs who expect serious results. Photoshop itself (the $600 and up pro version) is most often too much to bite off unless you are a dedicated individual. The same holds true for cameras and scanners.
MyMac – Are the many books on this topic easy to understand and follow? What about web sites? Can you recommend any that have clear, informative presentation and content?
Dr. Abelson – I have purchased any number of texts, video programs, magazines and journals on CM. There are also literally dozens of web sites which discuss various phases of CM. Most of them are sponsored by someone trying to sell a product. On occasion, I have found web sites that provide very helpful information.
Frankly, the principles of CM are extremely simple, but because of all of the possible variables people can run into in actually profiling a system, reading about CM in detail can be very confusing. Video programs go through it too quickly.
MyMac – How long did it take you to become proficient at color management for your photos and equipment? What were the most important steps along the way?
Dr. Abelson – My experiences with CM go back about ten years, when I started by scanning my slides and began learning Photoshop. Once I realized it would not be practical to convert my corrections back into slide form, I began making color prints.
Just like everyone else, I suffered with the problem that when I had the image looking good on my monitor, it just would not print properly. Changing printers did not help.
It must be at least six or seven years ago that I read an article written by Dewitt Jones (I think) in a photography magazine where he reviewed Monaco EZColor software. The software made it possible to profile a printer/paper combination to make the printer output more accurate. At that time, I was profiling my monitor using Adobe Gamma.
I learned a lot about the process from the Monaco technicians, became quite enamored with the process, and wrote several articles in my professional journal on the subject. One thing led to another and I was soon profiling my monitor with a Monaco Colorimeter. That made profiling my monitor less stressful and possibly more accurate. Today, I use an extremely accurate system based upon a Monaco Pulse spectrophotometer.
MyMac – Tell our readers what you told me last week regarding streamlined proof-to-exhibition printing with a new batch of paper from Moab. What’s the URL of that paper company?
Dr. Abelson – I’m a subscriber to Photoshop User Magazine, the NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) publication. I had read that someone had tested glossy papers and had found that the very best paper to use with the Epson 2200 printer was Moab’s Kokopelli gloss. I tried it. I profiled it for my Epson 1280 and was delighted with the results.
Someone said to try Moab’s Kokopelli Satin. I ordered a box of fifty 11×17″ sheets. I opened the box and cut one sheet in half to use to make a profile for that paper. I profiled it at 1440 dpi and the instant the profile was completed, I proceeded to print out four perfect 11×17″ competition prints without any test strips or other testing. That month, two of those prints went first and second in the advanced competition class. I guess this was the epitome of bravado.
MyMac – Shifting gears to the specifics, can you please itemize the necessary sequence of steps for an interested reader to start using color management from scratch?
Dr. Abelson – The most basic thing one can do in CM would be to profile the monitor. This can be accomplished with Adobe Gamma, a number of free utilities, a colorimeter, and software for profiling a printer (like Monaco EXColor2, priced about $365), or by purchasing one of the high end monitors which incorporate this facility (over $1,000.00). Adobe Gamma or the free utilities can be quite effective in the right hands, but using a colorimeter ($180-220) is the way to go for anyone who is serious.
Probably the next step would be to profile your printer/paper combinations. Doing so should create a WYSIWYG printing condition. Printers can be profiled using Monaco EZColor software, or similar products from companies like Colortone. These packages can be purchased with or without a colorimeter (see above).
An alternate possibility would be to purchase custom profiles from a vendor ($40-100 each), or to purchase a more accurate device like the Monaco Pulse spectrophotometer (about $1,000). Colortone is in the process of introducing a similar product at a reduced price, but I have not had any experience with it.
Once you have some sort of profiling package, you probably will be in possession of an “IT8” target which can be used with the package to profile your flatbed scanner. A flatbed scanner profile is very useful if you are scanning prints. I do not consider it practical to profile film scanners or digital cameras (unless you use them in a fixed studio environment.)
MyMac – What is the journal where you published? Is that content available online?
Dr. Abelson – For over eight years, I was the Computer Editor for the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics. I had the only column of its type in the profession. In the early years, it was my job to bring the older members of our profession into the computer age by writing about and explaining the how to’s.
It was in the later years, as I became more conversant with CM, that I began incorporating more articles on using digital cameras and processing the results. I made it a practice of trying out new products and if they were efficacious, I would report the details. I know the content is available on line, but it may be restricted to members of the A.A.O. In any case, I was not writing about the high-end work which would be of most interest to your more advanced readers, because it was usually too time consuming or too sophisticated for clinical needs.
MyMac – Do people need to have as many matched components as they can (such as HP, Epson, or Canon), or is the process of color management independent of manufacturer?
Dr. Abelson – Interestingly enough, no components match, not even from the same manufacturer. That is why CM and profiling are necessary.
MyMac – Should we purchase the latest version of Photoshop Elements, or use the software that’s already on our computers?
Dr. Abelson – The latest version of Photoshop Elements is v4. I use Photoshop CS2, but I honestly feel it just too much for most people to bite off. I usually recommend the current version of Elements to my friends and family (because it does almost everything its big sibling can do) and I run a copy on my computer so I can talk them through necessary routines.
Probably the best answer to your question should be based upon the needs of your readers and which software they are familiar with. CM will work with almost every reasonably effective product on the market. If by chance, someone is enamored with a program which does not provide for applying printer or other profiles, Monaco has a mini standalone called Color Works which will allow you to apply a printer profile.
MyMac – Is there a good online glossary of color management terminology?
Dr. Abelson – I would suggest going to http://www.xritephoto.com. They offer a 48-page booklet on CM which has at least a thirteen-page glossary. That should be a help to your readers, but they should expect some of the technical discussions to be a bit over their heads at first.
Thanks to Dr. Martin Abelson for this introduction. MyMac will address color management in future articles. Custom Printer Profiles are available through Club Camera in Tucson, Arizona, for $30.00 each. Contact him if you are interested, for details.