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The Color Management Primer

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Clear and unambiguous communication leads to predictable color. When color goes bad, it's usually the result of a failure to communicate. This chapter covers the conceptual underpinnings of the color management system as well as its real-world implementation.
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  • "What we've got here is...failure to communicate."
  • Captain in Cool Hand Luke

COLOR MANAGEMENT IS a system of communication. It allows color appearance to be communicated clearly and accurately from file to file, from device to device, and from partner to partner as an image makes its way through the RGB-to-CMYK workflow. Clear and unambiguous communication leads to predictable color. When color goes bad, it's usually the result of a failure to communicate.

A firm understanding of color management is essential to being a collaborative workflow partner. It is fundamental to fulfilling our role as Guardians of the Color. However, color management is the source of much frustration among many users; it can seem at once simple and inscrutable. Like chess, each move by itself is basic and easily understood; the challenge is in strategically stringing together multiple moves in order to win the game. Likewise, the path to predictable CMYK color involves knowing not only the basic color management steps, but also how those steps fit together to achieve the desired end product.

In this chapter, we discuss the conceptual underpinnings of the color management system as well as its real-world implementation (see Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1 Which color is the right one? And how do you communicate that color to your workflow partners?

Driver or mechanic?

How much do you need to know about color management? It depends.

It's like dealing with cars. You can be a driver or a mechanic. As a driver you guide the car down the road to get from here to there and take your car to the service station when it needs work. As a mechanic, you drive, but you also do all the service work yourself. Generally, you love being able to crawl under the hood to do a complete engine overhaul. However, knowing the ins and outs of disc brake replacement and transmission repair is not necessary to being a good driver. As a driver, you just need to know the rules of the road, learn safe driving skills, and pay attention at all times. Eyes on the road, both hands on the wheel.

If your goal in working with digital image files is to specify and edit color accurately and communicate that color clearly to others in the workflow, you're a driver.

This book addresses drivers. We'll cover what's required to get you safely down the road, as well as what ongoing maintenance you need to do. We'll discuss everything you need to know about color management, not everything there is to know.

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