June 29, 2022

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Color Management: A Checklist for Digital Artists

Color Management: A Checklist for Digital Artists


If you want to master visual arts, you should turn your eyes to color management. Why? It’s one of the most important processes for photographers and digital artists to maintain color consistency between multiple devices. Many different elements may impact your color management efforts, and creating a viable color management workflow can be more complex than it seems. But don’t worry, we got your back with this post summarizing all you need to remember to create awesome pieces of design! 

Read on for a complete checklist of color management for digital artists or check out ViewSonic solutions for creative work.   

Color management is an essential skill and process for digital artists, photographers, video editors and, basically, anyone involved in content creation. Without taking the appropriate steps to manage color throughout the editing process, inconsistencies can occur, and this can impact – sometimes hugely – the final visual. 

As practice, color management may initially seem daunting, especially at the beginning if you’ve never had to perform such tasks before. Remembering all the different steps involved is a large part of the battle.

All visual artists must get through it, and to help you with your daily process, we’ve summed up the most important steps in this color management checklist for digital artists. You won’t miss out on any detail anymore! 

What is Color Management? 

Before we get too granular with our color management checklist, it’s important to start by explaining precisely what we mean by “color management.” The best way to think of this concept is as a process for managing the way in which color is presented at every step of the creation flow. We mean – all devices being used in the workflow, including your camera, computer monitor and, finally, printers. 

Even subtle differences in the way the various devices display color can have an undesired effect on the quality of your final work and how it’s perceived. For instance, noticeable discrepancies of color representation on your computer screen and on printed work. And seeing how your artwork was misrepresented in print can be a big disappointment. 

Color management's role in creative workflow

Color plays a crucial role in our lives on many different levels. All forms of visual design reflect that importance. The right choice of hues, opacity, balance, brightness and contrast, fine-tuned for hours before your screen are meant to evoke certain impressions, feelings or thoughts. This is why, as a digital artist, you want to be certain that the work you are creating is going to be experienced as you intend.  

For this reason, above all, you need to take the time to configure your hardware and software properly. Don’t skip this part and pay close attention. Taking additional steps to optimize your use of color throughout the editing process first, will save you a lot of headaches later. 

Color Management Checklist: Elements That Impact Color Management 

Let’s start by getting a better understanding of the different elements that contribute to a robust color management strategy and what kind of role they play. In general, this can be broken down into two categories: hardware and software. Hardware refers to the physical components, such as a monitor, a camera or a printer, and software describes the programs and operating system that is utilized by a computer. 

Color Management - Hardware Elements

Hardware 

If you’re working as a digital artist, photographer, or content creator, it’s likely you’re going to use a wide range of devices in your workflow. However, as Adobe explains, problems arise when these devices utilize different color spaces affecting the color display. 

Without getting too technical, colors are generally assigned numeral values to identify specific tones or shades. As an example, the RGB profile creates each color through a combination of red, green, and blue. Consequently, specific hues can be defined by their values for each of these three primary colors. 

 Yet, because of subtle hardware differences, you can have the same color displayed unequally on two separate devices, even if all the numerical values are the same. 

When buying new devices, take some time to make sure their features fit your technical needs. Explore their settings in depth and do some research on how to best configure them. It’ll be worth it on the long run. It’s critical you take the time acquire the right hardware for your specific needs but it’s equally important to ensure that the hardware is configured properly so that visual consistency is possible.  

At the hardware level, to achieve the utmost visual consistency, you’ll have to start by selecting the right color space, ensure this color space is utilized by all devices, and carryout a full color calibration process. 

Color Management: Hardware Checklist 

When people think about color management, the focus is often on computer monitors and cameras. Yet, in truth, the amount of hardware that can be included within a color management workflow is much larger than this. Here’s the list of main hardware relevant to this process: 

  • Monitors 
  • Digital cameras 
  • Video cameras 
  • Printers 
  • Scanners 
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones 

In fields like photography and digital art, the concept of soft proofing – where you see an accurate digital representation of what the final printed product will look like – is of vital importance. However, for both digital and physical versions of the photograph or design to be the same, all the relevant hardware needs to be calibrated or optimized. 

Color Gamut 

Digital artists and professional content creators also need to be aware of color gamut. It’s a range of colors within a color space that can actually be displayed by an output device, such as a computer monitor. 

For professionals who are serious about color management, the technicalities of color gamut are important and may have a bearing on what hardware to invest in. As a reference, modern OLED technology has enabled the production of computer monitors that are capable of a wide color gamut, encompassing all common color spaces. 

Software 

Great, you’ve adjusted the settings and calibrated the various devices used for your digital artwork. Now, what happens next? You still need to optimize the settings at the software level.  

Again, the aim is to achieve consistency throughout the whole editing process. This means fine-tuning settings so that color is displayed accurately everywhere. You want the colors to look the same – or as similar as they possibly can – regardless of whether your design or image is displayed on a screen, a printed page, or online. 

Color Management: Software Checklist 

Within the category of software-based color management, there are several concepts vital for artists to understand and remember. The most significant ones are explained below: 

  • Color spaces: The absolute range of colors on a visual spectrum that can be displayed or produced. They’re also known as color space profiles and some of the most common examples include sRGB, Adobe RGB, and CMYK. 
  • ICC profiles: The International Color Consortium system, which can be used to describe the color characteristics of a device. These profiles can be broken down into input profiles (associated with devices like cameras) and output profiles (associated with devices like monitors). Creatives need to synchronize ICC profiles across devices. 
  • Software calibration: The calibration of color settings on a monitor via the software layer. This is achieved by adjusting the settings associated with the operating system and the graphic card being used by a particular device. Software calibration differs from hardware calibration because the monitor’s settings are stored on the computer and will only apply when the monitor is connected to that source. 
  • Screen resolution: The number of distinct pixels for the height and width of the screen on your computer monitor.

Color Management: The Workflow of a Digital Artist 

Ultimately, to succeed with a color management strategy, you need to make it a fundamental part of your workflow. This means that each time you begin a new project, you should work through the checklist and ensure color consistency and accuracy. 

As color management includes a number of different components and elements, it can be easy to overlook certain steps along the way. This can then lead to problems arising at different points in the creative flow. Developing a thorough color management workflow helps to avoid this, so here’s the 3-step process to follow to make things easier: 

Step 1: Select the right color space for your camera. The sRGB color space is considered the standard and the best option if your work is going to be published on the web. However, the Adobe RGB color space was created to encompass the colors that are possible on color printers and so may be preferable for printed work. 

Step 2: Calibrate your monitor. Software color calibration is the absolute minimum that digital artists and photographers should carry out. Keep in mind, most professionals should also perform hardware calibration too. Good news is the hardware calibration process may not need to be carried out every time as settings can be saved. 

Step 3: Select the right ICC profile for editing. Your chosen ICC profile needs to be synchronized with the settings on your input device, such as your camera or your scanner. At the same time, you will also need to ensure your output device is able to translate these settings properly. 

Assuming your color management strategy has been successful, the output finished product should be identical – or as close as possible – to what you have been working with on your input device and on your computer. 

Color Management - Software Checklist

Final Thoughts 

 Color management is one of the single most important aspects of working as a digital artist, but there are many different elements to remember. From hardware and software monitor calibration to selecting the right color space and ICC profile, while also ensuring that input, editing, and output devices are all able to use the same settings. 

By implementing a color management strategy to your workflow, you can ensure your work is consistent throughout the entire creative process, helping to avoid overlooking important color management components or practices. 

If you liked this read, you might also enjoy learning about Color Management and Color Blindness or make sure to check ViewSonic ColorPro monitors for digital artists. 

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