What are Colour Profiles?

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The question “What are Colour Profiles?” is one asked by every designer in their early career or studies. The thing is, this is such a generic question, it really needs breaking down into three other questions. I will attempt to answer them below, but be aware that this is just a summary. Indeed, whole books are available on the subject of colour profiles, so there’s an awful lot of information to condense into this post…

Every image or file that is created in programs like Adobe Photoshop®, Illustrator® and InDesign® needs a color profile assigned or embedded in order for the software to display and print the image accurately. If no profile is assigned, or a ‘generic profile’ is used, results can be very unpredictable.

To clarify, here is a brief overview of the questions that relate to the use of colour profiles:

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What are Device Profiles?

Basically, device profiles contain certain information pertaining to three variables regarding how a certain device (such as a digital camera) ‘represents’ colour. These variables are Color Gamut (colour & brightness), Dynamic Range (relates to the white point) and finally, the Tone Reproduction of colous.

For example, a device profile would be included in the software of a digital camera, scanner or desktop printer.

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What are Profile Classes?

Profile Classes relate to the types of Device Profiles available:

★ INPUT PROFILES, which describe the ways in which Digital Cameras and Desktop Scanners capture color.

★ DISPLAY PROFILES, which describe the ways LCD displays display colors.

★ OUTPUT PROFILES, which describe color for printers and presses.

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What are Document Profiles?

Document Profiles are ‘destination profiles’ that are assigned to a file after a conversion from a Device Profile (or source profile). For example, ProPhoto RGB Color Profile from Digital Camera (source) > Photoshop® File with Adobe RGB (1998) Profile (destination).

I realize that there is much information to cover on the subject, so this is just one of a series of articles about the subject of Color Profiles, Gamuts and Color Spaces. Why not Subscribe to my RSS Feed so you don’t miss the next article?

Next up is a more visually interesting post about  Color Gamuts. If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to leave your thoughts below…

6 thoughts on “What are Colour Profiles?”

  1. Andrew Kelsall

    Hi Robin,

    Yeah, there’s an awful lot of information out there on color profiles and of sort. Even though this was a rather short article, I tried to condense the most important data into it. Thanks for your comment…

  2. Josh Durham

    Nice Post! This can be a very confusing topic. Not knowing about color profiles causes a lot of headache. I look forward to the next posts.

    Josh Durhams last blog post..The 7 Deadly Sins of Print Production

  3. Andrew Kelsall

    Thanks Josh. I’ve been a little sidetracked in writing the next one, but I will have it up soon I hope…

  4. Ray Pettersson

    Great article Andrew! I wish to find more information about this subject presented in such a clean and objective way. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Andrew Kelsall

    @Ray → I’m glad it can help…