Windows Color Management: Background and Resources
Updated: August 28, 2007
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Digital media presents both consumer and professional users with challenges for getting consistent color from input devices such as camera and scanners to rendering devices such as displays and printers.
For example, a digital camera owner wants to transfer pictures to the PC for slide shows and to a printer for copies, with the color in each output matching the image from the source device. In the publishing industry, designers want identical color results when a clients print job is passed to the service bureau and then to the print shopand also want the image to look great when it is on the Internet.
Today, the standards-based color management capabilities of Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) operating systems offer sophisticated support that is equal to or better than any comparable computing platform.
Windows delivers color management benefits for end users throughout the production process: from image acquisition and editing, to display and print output. Microsoft also provides tools for developing and testing devices to help manufacturers take advantage of color management.
Microsoft Windows and color management
Why Color Management Matters
To achieve color consistency, color processes must be managed with these considerations in mind:
Color Management Challenges
"What you see is what you get" color results across scanners, monitors, applications, and printers have been difficult to achieve because of differences in how each defines the following aspects of color:
Illuminants and Colorants. Devices such as monitors and scanners use an "additive" color system based on red, green, and blue (RGB)starting with black and then adding red, green, or blue as needed to produce a specified color. Additive illuminants are the monitor phosphors and the light emitting component in scanners.
Other types of devices, such as printers, use the "subtractive" color system, typically using cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK)starting with white and subtracting RGB to produce colors and black. Subtractive illuminants are the ambient lighting environment.
Differences occur, therefore, in the color results on the different devices because, for example, the spectral transmission of the displays phosphors differ from the spectral reflectance of the printers cyan colorant.
However, other matching problems occur because colorants appear different in different viewing conditions, and different vendors use different colorants. So one CMYK printer will have one color cyan while another will use a different color cyan. When compared inside a room versus outside in the sunlight, the output might appear different in yet another way.
Device Gamuts. Each device produces a particular range of colors, known as the device gamut, as determined by the devices physical characteristics and ambient lighting. Therefore, colors may appear rich in a dimly lit room and washed out in a sun-lit room.
To compensate for differences in how different devices handle color, any color management technology must address elements such as the following:
Windows Benefits for Users
The Windows color management capabilities allow users to choose the right solution for specific casesor be supplied with flexible defaults that meet most mass-market needs.
Benefits of Windows color management
ICC Profiles: Color Management for Professionals
ICC profiles are used to communicate through the rest of the color management system to ensure that colors are represented accurately to users, regardless of the device used for display or printing. ICC profiles for devices offer great flexibility and control, and can be used to describe the unique color management capabilities of a particular device.
To take advantage of ICC profiles in Windows, each device must have its ICC profile installed. This can occur automatically when the device is installed, or the user can use the Display Control Panel to associate a profile from the device manufacturer.
Developers can test color spaces, characterization factors, and device gamuts and then record the differences among them in the ICC profile for the device. This testing can be accomplished by one of many third-party software and hardware products available. For sRGB-compliant devices, the Windows default sRGB profile can be used.
Developers who are creating applications designed to portray colors accurately can use the ICM 2.0 API. The ICM 2.0 technology also supports alternate color management modules (CMMs) that transform color information between different color spaces, such as the RGB colors captured by the scanner to the different RGB values displayed on a monitor or sent to printers.
ICC Profile Format Specification
see the International Color Consortium web site at:
SRGB Standard: Color Management for Consumers
Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft helped to develop and drive the sRGB color space as a published international standard (IEC 61966-2-1). In the most basic sense, when the operating system, devices, and applications support sRGB, the result is a simple, easy-to-use solution that works for many kinds of hardware and software that historically have been unable to represent color in a consistent manner without direct user intervention.
The sRGB color space offers these benefits:
sRGB color management provides a simple, robust system in which device vendors and content creators are responsible for converting content into and out of sRGB prior to exchange. sRGB is the ideal color space for monitors because it assures a uniform tone, making it also ideal for display-centric solutions such as the Web.
Because sRGB is the only color space for multiple devices that is a published international standard, it is the best solution for exchange in multiple-media and multiple-device environments. This standard is being broadly adopted:
ICC Profiles vs. sRGB in Workflows
A workflow takes color images from inception to final output, and may involve many different devices.
sRGB and Workflows. The sRGB color space and workflow have proven very robust under differing input, viewing conditions, and calibration states. This is a significant advantage for applications such as e-commerce Web sites, where a consumer's purchase decision is based on an expectation of consistent color representation from display to printout to actual product.
sRGB was designed for the display color space, so it may have limitations in workflows that do not involve displays, such as scan-to-print or capture-to-print. Most consumer printers perform excellent gamut mapping to expand the sRGB space to fill their inkjet color gamut without sacrificing color fidelity.
ICC and Workflows. ICC color management workflows provide a flexible but complex system in which each device vendor or user must characterize the color of that device into an ICC profile, a standard format for expressing a devices color capabilities. ICC profiles provide a highly controlled, common color language among devices and complex workflows.
ICC profiles work best as a quality-control mechanism in homogeneous, high-volume workflows such as newspapers, or in custom workflows with a single-user system and an expert user. Because ICC requirements are not easily met in consumer applications, ICC workflows are not suitable in products targeted to the consumer market:
Color Management-Capable Application Challenges
Applications that implement color management schemes often create problems such as:
Because color science is so complex, it is impossible to eliminate differences in color space, luminants and colorants, and gamuts. However, implementing color management in the operating system instead of at the application level overcomes many of these problems. Color management technologies in Windows help users consistently reproduce color across scanners, cameras, displays, printers, and applications.
Developers can use the Windows ICM 2.0 API to perform the following functions:
ICM 2.0 API in the Microsoft Platform SDK
To support multiple platforms that may be used throughout the color publishing process, Microsoft is ensuring that applications that support ICM 2.0 will be compatible with other platforms. This compatibility is possible because Microsoft has licensed the industry-standard Hendelberg color management module and supports ICC profiles.
Windows vs. Macintosh color management
APIs for ICC-based support
SRGB support and workflows
Visual display calibration
Support for Adobe PhotoShop and Quark Xpress solutions
Ease of use
Microsoft Developer Support for Color-Capable Hardware
To help hardware manufacturers deliver new color-capable, Windows-compatible devices to meet growing demand from consumers, Microsoft provides a set of color quality test kits and guidelines. These tools apply for Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Me, and Windows 98.
Windows Color Quality Test Kits
Color Quality Test Kits
Windows Logo Program for Hardware.
To ensure that users benefit from Windows color management capabilities when using devices designed to work with Windows, a set of color-management requirements is specified in Microsoft Windows Logo Program System and Device Requirements:
Testing is conducted by the Windows Hardware Quality Labs as part of "Designed for Windows" logo testing.
Guidelines for developers
Industry Standards and Activity
CIE 199:2011 Methods for Evaluating Colour Differences in Images (TC 8-02 "Colour Difference Evaluation in Images")
IEC Colour Management and Measurement international standards, including IEC 61966-2-1 sRGB Standard
International Color Consortium (ICC)
W3C sRGB Web Site
Resources from Microsoft
Color management information and test kits