Colour Management in the Digital World

The last few years has seen an improved effort in DTP colour management but, even with the work of the ICC, there is still some...

The last few years has seen an improved effort in DTP colour management but, even with the work of the ICC, there is still some way to go

Colour management in the digital environment is improving. The International Colour Consortium (ICC) has provided hardware and software system developers and users with the ability to define the characteristics of input, display and output devices in a consistent, cross-platform format. This is a move in the right direction, but there is still much more work to be done.

To move colour management forward, we must define the problem that colour management systems try to solve. The goal is accurate and predictable colour from concept to reproduction. It makes no difference how the graphics are created. In the past, designers would use Pantone by Letraset, Colour Markers and papers to create sketches and comps that would closely resemble the printed piece. Today, most conceptual work is done using drawing, painting and illustration software. Again, the goal is realistic and accurate colour throughout the design and production.

Colour management must enable users to specify, control and predict colour from concept to reproduction in any creative process in which the use and impact of colour is important. It must provide a comprehensive and intuitive set of tools that will ensure we get the desired result.

We must not underestimate the power of colour and where it is important. The proper use of colour is critical in the professional graphic arts and publishing industries. But other areas ( in particular, personal and Internet publishing - are introducing colour on the computer to the consumer markets. Colour management tools are in demand from both the high-end colour "specialists" and people just starting in the world of colour.

Technically, a few more issues need to be resolved. A consistent or identical device colour profile across two platforms currently will not provide identical results. The colour transformation engines interpret the same data in an ICC device profile differently, causing unpredictable results. From a software developer's perspective, cross-platform product performance is inconsistent. The ICC initiative is one piece of the puzzle, but not the entire solution.

Apple has provided the best implementation. Its ColourSync 2 provides the best support for ICC profiles and for developers who wish to implement colour management in their products. Apple has provided the ingredients for a successful colour management environment: colour pickers that can be extended, full ICC support, and a long and flexible colour definition that handles multiple colour types, including high-fidelity colour.

When ColourSync falls short, you can extend its capabilities using software solutions. While ColourSync does a good job managing colour in photographic images, it doesn't always accurately match spot colours. A product like PANTONE ColourDrive can provide accurate colour matching for spot colours and act as a bridge, bringing ColourSync capabilities to other applications that don't yet support ColourSync.

The picture for Windows 95 and its ICM colour management system is not as encouraging. While Microsoft did address the colour management issue in Windows 95 in a unique and elegant way, it was not enough to solve the previously defined problem. Also, cross-platform colour support between the Mac and Windows platforms is virtually impossible. Until Microsoft offers centralised or system-level colour selection tools, provides developer support and extensibility options, and comes up with a robust colour definition, colour management under Windows 95 will remain an unfinished puzzle. We believe Microsoft is aware of these issues and is working seriously to enhance its colour strategy.

Developers and users want consistent, predictable, cross-platform colour handling. In 1993, Pantone introduced the Pantone Open Colour Environment (POCE) technology, a method for colour selection and control across Mac and Windows. A developer who creates software for both platforms needs to do little extra work to complete the interface to the applicable colour management system. POCE for ColourSync 2 has been available since late 1995, and POCE for Windows 95 will ship late first-quarter 1996. In the meantime, users have access to this technology through Pantone ColourDrive.

It is clear at this point that colour management still has a way to go. By focusing on the real problem and making a commitment to a workable solution, colour experts working with system vendors can and will make rapid progress ahead.

The original text of this paper can be found on the Pantone website and is written by Richard Herbert.

Compiled by Richard Pitt

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