Since the dawn of color to the desktop, the pursuit of consistent color presentation across all input and output devices (monitor to your printer, for example) has been a battle. Mac’s color-management framework, ColorSync (late 1990s), and the availability of professional-level calibration hardware and software such as the Colortron, have provided more designers with the options to have consistent and reliable color across the design workflow.
Color management has always had a bit of voodoo connected with it. Managing color is not as painless as specifying a color for a given pixel and having it carried out across all input and output devices. A monitor and printer are markedly different in their physical functions.
For monitors color is created using an additive process in which three color primaries (RGB—red, green, and blue) are mixed together to yield a specific color that is emitted from the screen. Printer color, on the other hand, is subtractive in that the pigments in the inks and dyes remove wavelengths of light before it is reflected to the eye. This process uses an entirely different set of primaries than your monitor (typically CMYK—cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Even if your printer has green ink, it is not likely to ever create the same shade of green that is emitted from your monitor for a variety of reasons, including the variations of the paper it is printed on and the source of the light on the page. Combine this with the idiosyncrasies of human color perception and you can imagine how hard it becomes to keep things consistent.
Add the infinite number of input and output devices (digital cameras, scanners, printers, film, etc.) and the display options (LCD, LED, CRT) and you’ll soon discover how complex it is to get colors just ‘right’.
Hardware and software get this maelstrom under control. They help determine what colors your various input and output devices are capable of creating, a process called calibration or profiling. Once you know where you stand in color-space, you need tools for gauging matching accuracy, palette creation, and exploration. Enter the ColorMunki 1.1 suite of tools.
ColorMunki Suite: Design
Offered in three product lines (Create, Design, and Photo) tailored to particular needs, the suite consists of a color measurement device and the corresponding software. The software is similar across the products lines and only the device varies. My particular product is the Design package, consisting of a spectrophotometer as the hardware option.
Design allows you to compose color palettes using any of several methods: enter your own values; select from a Pantone library; or my favorite, auto-extract colors from an image. Incredibly useful and fun, the auto-extract option allows one to create harmonious color palettes that work with the image. Great for exploring the color potential in my work. It also includes plug-ins for the many design apps (Illustrator, PhotoShop, InDesign), called AppSet, so that palettes are synchronized and updated across all apps.
To profile your monitor(s), you’re instructed to place the device on the screen, go through a calibration process, push a button and two minutes later you have a profile tailored to the specific monitor. In my case I have a 27″ HP LCD next to the 17″ MacBook Pro. Apple is notorious for their bright, sharp screens, but after profiling both monitors, images opened on both monitors are dead on matches to one another.
The spectrophotometer reads colors from the monitors, but can also do it from reflective material, allowing you to ‘digitize’ colors from objects. So I’ve been able to profile my printers, but also use it in real work situations. For the Observer Park apartment complex in Hoboken, NJ, they were giving the entire facility a face lift. New furnishings, paint, the works. They sent me Sherwin Williams paint chips that I was able to profile and match with a Pantone library and RGB equivalents using the ColorMunki Design workflow. The new website and logo then incorporated these colors for a true branded color theme.
The printer profiling process is as easy as the monitor profiling. Print out a sheet of colored paper (striped colors on the sheet), then scan them with the ColorMunki. Software then processes the colors and prints a second ‘tune-up’ sheet that you measure again using the ColorMunki to refine the profile’s calibration. You’ll need to re-calibrate if you switch printers or papers.
Having profiled your monitor, you now have a set of ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles used by Mac OS X (via ColorSync) and by Adobe’s Creative Suite software to provide consistency between your monitors and printers.
Different monitors display colors differently per their factory settings, and there are colors your monitor can display that your printer can’t. Your eye-brain-environment team has its own agenda deciding whether or not colors match. The calibration and profiling provided the ColorMunki 1.1 suite results in consistent and attainable monitor colors across machines, while print colors are matched well across a variety of image types.
Both ColorMunki’s hardware and software are easy to use and the digitizing features make it an indispensable tool for color matching.