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Tackle color profile mismatches with ease

Added on Tuesday 22nd of August 2006 06:24 am EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS/CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Every time you open a document in Photoshop, you may be faced with a profile mismatch warning or conversion option. But if you don’t know how to properly respond to the dialog box, you could potentially alter your image and wreak havoc on the colors in the image. We’ll explain how to confidently respond to the different profile warnings so you maintain the proper color in your images.


To clear up the profile mismatch confusion, we’ll:

     Explain how the different color policy settings in the Color Settings dialog box work and how to set them up.

     Detail what happens when you choose the different options available.

     Tell you how to decide what to do when you get a mismatch profile warning when opening up a document.

     Fill you in on how to correctly respond to the different warnings.


Color management is a powerful tool that unfortunately exasperates many Photoshop users. And the color profile warnings that pop up upon opening images adds even more uncertainty to many users and their workflows. But don’t let them exasperate you. We’ll help you gain control on how to properly handle color profile warnings, so you can confidently make the right choice for each image.


It all boils down to Color Settings

When you open up an image in Photoshop and are greeted with an Embedded Profile Mismatch warning, or a Missing Profile warning, you have a choice to make here that could affect the color of the image. But the settings you choose in the color Settings dialog box—also known as Color Management Policies—control whether you get a warning in the first place, as well as the default setting in any corresponding dialog boxes.

The Color Management Policies shown in Figure A are located in the Color Settings dialog box. First, we’ll show you how to access the Color Management Policies, and then we’ll explain what the different options are.




To access the Color Settings dialog box:

        Choose Edit > Color Settings in CS2 and 7/CS PC versions.

        Choose Photoshop > Color Settings in 7/CS Mac versions.


Working spaces and policies

Working spaces and color management policies have a working relationship. Every working space has a different gamut range, even if only slightly. The Working Space options you select in the Color Settings dialog box define the default color space for Photoshop. The color space defines the numbers for each pixel’s colors in that corresponding color space. Color spaces are embedded in images via profiles. The color management polices are the rules that tell Photoshop which color space—or profile—to display an image with, such as the one it’s embedded with, or the current working space.


Color model, color space, and working space

To fully comprehend the complexities of a working space you must first understand the difference between a color model, color space, and working space.

        Color Model. A system, such as RGB, CMYK, or CIELAB, that numerically describes how a color is represented.

        Color Space. A variant on a color model, such as AdobeRGB (1998), sRGB, and ColorMatch RGB, that specifically targets and maps colors within a color model into a specific gamut range.

        Working Space. A specific Color Space defined by a profile (via the Color Settings dialog box in Photoshop) that is the default space for images to be edited in.

Every file can have a different color space, outside of the default Working Space you set up in the Color Settings dialog box. For more about how to quickly identify your file’s color space, see the companion article “Identify your file’s color space in a glance” in this issue of Inside Photoshop.


What’s your policy?

Now we’ll decipher through the different Color Management Policies options available. The settings chosen here define whether you’ll get Profile Mismatch and Missing Profile warnings. As shown in Figure B, you can configure Photoshop to behave differently depending on the color mode of the image you’re opening, RGB, CMYK, or Gray. Each color mode has a pop-up menu with three options, which work the same way, regardless of the color mode chosen.





When you select this option, any profiles embedded in your images are ignored when the file is opened—unless it happens to be the same as the working space. By default, no profiles are embedded when the file is saved, and new files are created without profiles. Contrary to what the option name implies, color management is not completely turned off when this option is selected.

If you work in a non-calibrated, non-color managed workflow, and don’t work on files from sources other than yourself, you could just as well select this option. However, overall we don’t highly recommend this option because it eliminates the control you have as a user to color manage your files on an image by image basis.


Preserve Embedded Profiles

When you select this option, Photoshop does exactly what the name implies—it preserves the embedded profiles, regardless of what you have set for a working space. The preserved profile is then re-embedded in the image by default when it’s saved. If there isn’t a profile embedded, the document is converted int...