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From the author of There’s Always a Fly in the Farina

There’s Always a Fly in the Farina

CIE-based color management sounds pretty cool and it is widely used, but there’s a problem: It doesn’t work very well. Okay, that’s an overstatement. CIE-based color management does work well enough for casual use, but not well enough for professional color folks in most situations.

The root of the problem is that real-world devices aren’t static; the way they reproduce colors changes as they age and as they warm up through the day. Neither your display devices nor your printers will reproduce colors exactly the same way one time to the next: Phosphors decay, ink nozzles clog, feeder tubes constrict. As a consequence, the color profiles we use cannot describe how colors appear on our display or printer today-right-now; color produced by CIE-based management is therefore always inevitably off by at least a little bit.

This doesn’t particularly matter for us casual color users; I rarely need my PDF documents to look exactly the same from one computer to another. As long as red areas look reddish and aquamarine areas look at least vaguely aquamarine, I’m happy.

On the other hand, color variations from one device to another make graphic artists and printer operators distinctly unhappy. From their perspective, color management is just one more gremlin in their systems making semi-random changes to their color, and they don’t like it. Most print and design professionals, when they make a PDF file for a printed document, do their color management the old, time-tested, incredibly-tedious-but-dependable way: They print a test run on the press or printer that will create the final, printed product; go back to the original document and adjust any colors that look wrong; then print another test run, repeating until the printed result looks good to them. Then they print the production run.

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