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The Conceptual Framework

Photoshop 6 introduced several new concepts and made some old ones more important than they used to be. Getting a handle on these will give you a much clearer understanding of how the various settings work and why you'd want to choose one option over another. So before we dive into the depths of the Color Settings dialog box, let's look at an overview of the controls and the kinds of things they do.

Photoshop Color Management at a Glance

The color architecture in Photoshop CS is deep but straightforward. Here, in a nutshell, are the controls you need to know about to make Photoshop CS produce the results you want.

  • The Color Settings dialog box lets you set default working spaces for RGB, CMYK, and Grayscale, and set Color Management Policies, which dictate how Photoshop uses (or ignores) embedded profiles in images. It also lets you set warnings for missing or mismatched profiles.

  • The default working spaces are the ones Photoshop always uses when it encounters untagged images (those with no embedded profiles), and are also the ones Photoshop always uses as the destination when you convert between color modes by choosing RGB, CMYK, or Grayscale from the Mode submenu on the Image menu.

  • Untagged images use whatever working space is currently set for that color mode. If you change the working space, Photoshop reinterprets the image as being in the new working space. Tagged images stay in the space represented by the embedded profile unless you explicitly ask for a conversion to another space.

  • Color Management Policies let you control Photoshop's color management behavior. Preserve Embedded Profiles makes Photoshop open each image in the space represented by its embedded profile. Convert to Working RGB/CMYK/Grayscale forces a conversion from the embedded profile space to the working space. Off ignores embedded profiles and treats all images as being in the working space. Untagged images—those that don't contain an embedded profile—are always treated as being in the current working space.

  • Photoshop always displays images through your monitor profile, which it picks up from the operating system. It performs an on-the-fly conversion on the data sent to the video card from the document's space (either the document's own embedded profile or the current working space) to your monitor space. This conversion is only for display—it doesn't affect the contents of the file.

  • The Assign Profile command lets you assign a profile to any image. Assigning a profile doesn't change the numbers in the image, it just attaches a new meaning to those numbers, and hence it changes the appearance, sometimes dramatically.

  • The Convert to Profile command lets you convert images to any profiled space, with a choice of rendering intents. Unlike Assign Profile, Convert to Profile changes the numbers in the image but preserves the appearance. Convert to Profile offers more control over color space conversions than changing modes from the Mode submenu, because it lets you preview different rendering intents, and it allows you to perform RGB-to-RGB or CMYK-to-CMYK conversions, which are impossible using the Mode commands.

  • The Proof Colors command offers a live preview of conversions to any RGB, CMYK, or Grayscale output space. You can work in a working space while previewing the output space. Proof Colors offers separate control over the rendering from source space to proof space, and proof space to the monitor, providing very accurate previews.

  • The Color Management Options panel of the Print with Preview dialog box lets you perform a conversion on the data that's sent to the printer. The conversion can be a simple one from document space to the output space, or a more complex one from the document space to the Proof Colors space to the output space. The former is handy for printing final art on a composite printer directly from Photoshop. The latter is useful for proofing final press output on a composite printer.

If you learn how to use all these controls effectively, you'll have achieved mastery of Photoshop's color management in its entirety. Maybe you should write a book!

On your way to mastering Photoshop's color management, just remember the basic principle that color management only does two things: assign a color appearance to the numbers, and change the numbers to preserve that appearance in a different scenario. Learn to figure out whether you're assigning an appearance or making a conversion.



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