Hello, my name is John, and I’m a recovering color management hater… (“Hello, John…”)
Coming from a background in Web design, I spent many years regarding color management–that is, the process of changing an image’s colors on the fly so that the appearance will match across systems (monitors, printers, etc.)–as a royal pain. I mean, until 1998 things were good–or at least pretty simple. You’d design on a Mac and make things look a little bit light, or design on Windows and make things look a little bit dark, then check on the other platform (ideally on a bunch of different systems) and call it a day. Split the difference & everyone seemed happy. (And printing? Who needed that?)
But then in ’98 Adobe had to get all clever, adding color management in Photoshop 5.0. Suddenly every image started complaining about not having a color profile, or having the wrong profile, or… something… and it kept asking me (!) to make the right call. Worse, images no longer looked the same in Photoshop as they did in Web browsers (or even apps like Illustrator, which for various reasons had different default settings).
Things have improved a bit (fewer cryptic messages, consistent defaults in at least some Suite apps), but big problems remain. Apple’s Safari Web browser respects color management profiles, but others don’t. Here’s a screenshot of the same image open in Safari & Firefox. If you spend time in Photoshop or Lightroom massaging an image to look just so, it’s pretty irritating that the colors go all over the map when viewed online. The lack of reliable color also leads to bad prints, according to Smugmug.
Now, though, there’s an interesting development: Photographer Rob Galbraith reports that Apple’s newly released Safari 3 beta for Windows is color managed–bringing color management to Windows browsers for the first time. I never thought I’d say it*, but this is great news. Now there’s a cross-platform way to present accurate color images on the Web. Check “ICC Profile” in Photoshop’s Save for Web dialog to include the info needed for color management to do its thing.
CNET follows up with more details and reports that Firefox may follow suit in version 3.0, due later this year. Why Microsoft hasn’t taken the opportunity to lead here, I don’t know, but hopefully they’ll get in the game as well with Internet Explorer.
As for Adobe, I’m not sure what will happen with the Flash Player. Right now it’s not color-managed, and most Web designers wouldn’t know an ICC profile if it bit them on the calibration puck–hence they’re not asking. They do know, however, how much it sucks that colors shift when going between Photoshop and Flash, and they’d like a solution. I’m hopeful that we can make the right thing happen.
* Coincidence that this is blog entry #666 for me? With JN cheering for color management, the End must be near… >;-)
[Update: In response to requests for a tutorial on the subject, Adobe forum-wrangler John Cornicello recommends this set from Gary Ballard.]