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Friday, June 25, 2010

Ink Swabs: My Color Management Quest!

I spent the better part of last week doing ink swabs, but to be honest I've been a little frustrated with certain colors not turning up accurately in either scans or pictures. My friend and fellow Technoscribe Sam is a photographer and quite technically savvy, and he's been entertaining my quest for accurate ink scans! What I aim to do is go beyond simply scanning and posting ink swabs....that's easy to do. What I want to do is post ACCURATE ink swabs that actually reflect the true colors of the ink! It's most certainly easier said than done.

In an hour-long conversation with Sam about 'profiling' my devices, I think I have a game plan about how to make swabs as accurately represented as possible. The main problem that we all face with trying to view accurate colors on a computer is that every device that is used in the process has different physical properties that are not in sync. My scanner has its properties, my computer monitor has different properties, and your computer monitor has different properties. Even if we set the same brightness and color contrast, the physical makeup of the devices will show colors slightly different. It's not necessarily something that would be noticeable 98% of the time, but when we're 'pushing the boundaries' of color management like with ink swabs, the difference can be severe. The key to getting all of the physical devices to be in sync is with something called profiling.

Profiling is basically setting all of the physical devices to one standard so you know the colors you're seeing are actually what they are intended to be! Photographers do this with 18% grey cards and setting their white balance. If using a scanner, then you scan a lab-tested standardized color card and a computer program interprets exactly how the scanner 'views' colors. The program then tells you what settings to adjust in your photo editing program to adjust the scanner's reading to reflect the 'true' colors. Monitors are different, they require physical devices to be profiled, and that's about all I understand about that so far!

Now I'm really pushing the limits of my understanding of color management, which is a topic upon which most professional photographers likely overlook! But here's a simple example of the differences in color profiles. Here's a picture of my Caran d'Ache ink swabs as I scanned them in:


Now here's the exact same picture but converted to an RGB profile:

You may notice a subtle difference between the two pics, especially with the Blue Sky and Saffron. That's no surprise, yellows, oranges, and blue are more affected by color profiling. Though this difference is subtle (and this is a very conservative example), it can make or break the difference between an ink you'll love and an ink you'll hate! Proper coloration as I see it is important enough for me to investigate further. It's a topic well outside my area of expertise, though, so I'm going to take my time to figure it all out. If you know about color management and scanner/monitor profiling, please, help! ;)

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