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Colour Management made easier
By David Crowther

As my regular readers would know, colour management is an enabling technology. Within the ICC framework of device colour management, manufacturers are continually striving to make the management of colour easier.

Whilst the rules and methodologies of controlling colour have remained stable for the past decade, the push into new markets, using simplified solutions, is becoming more apparent. An example of this is the recent release of ColorMunki Photo from X-Rite.

For the social, wedding and portrait photographers among us (along with passionate advocates), the need for colour control and precision without a degree in colour science has usually resulted in a blank stare from colour management manufacturers and suppliers. Key segments of the burgeoning photographic industry consider accurate colour to be a key element to delivering a quality image. Many of the photographers I have recently spoken to- including home enthusiasts, serious amateurs, semi-professional and professional wedding and portrait practitioners- have all been asking for an easier solution to colour accuracy and predictability. ColorMunki Photo is not a “one size fits all” solution to colour for photographers, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. ColorMunki goes a long way to answering many of the main colour related requests from photographers. What are these requests?

1)    A calibrated and profiled display that allows an accurate simulation of the print, whether it be on cotton based fine art media, canvas or a photo satin paper.
2)    Automated help with configuration of applications, such as PhotoShop, for correct profile usage when printing.

3)    Reassurance that images are viewed correctly at a client’s site.
4)    The ability to create colour palettes from your images and other sources for image editing needs in popular applications.
Getting one’s head around building and using ICC profiles in one’s workflow has proved to be a stumbling block for many. Lower cost solutions for monitor calibration have been around for a few years now, but many users have found managing the print side and sampling colours to create custom palettes to be a winding and rocky path. ColorMunki Photo offers huge breakthroughs in this area.

The actual ColorMunki device is an all in one compact Spectrophotometer. The one compact unit will profile monitors, printers and data projectors. It has an integrated white calibration plaque, eliminating fiddly, easily lost small pieces and accessories. Display calibration and profiling is taken care of with both easy and advanced modes. If you’re no colour expert, the Easy Mode has a number of presets to help to you choose settings. In Advanced mode, you can gain control over white point, contrast, brightness and ambient light measurements. Built in DDC auto detect control determines if the monitor is compliant and if so, performs all advanced calibrations automatically to create a monitor profile.

Whilst a calibrated and profiled display is imperative to accurate visualization of colour, the actual display and its associated ICC profile actually knows nothing about your printer/ink/media combination. Therefore, good soft proofing techniques, together with realizing the limitations that go with soft proofing- ambient lighting conditions, SW or HW calibrated display, type and quality of viewing system for soft proof/hard copy comparison- are paramount to display/print matching. Printer profiling, both RGB and CMYK, is taken care of with similar ease by utilising advanced technology that enables a high quality ICC profile to be created from only 100 patches. This is completed by measuring (through hand scanning) the first 50 patch chart which provides enough information on basic printer behavior. ColorMunki learns from this initial data capture to produce a second 50 patch chart that fine tunes the colour accuracy. Scanning the charts is a snap as the printed patches are quite large (see accompanying pic). Whilst analyzing this product, I ran comprehensive tests comparing the colour quality of the simplified 100 patch ColorMunki profile to profiles produced from 900 patches and over by high end professional profiling applications. Incredibly, the quality of the ColorMunki profiles was almost equal to the high end profiles!

There is also a unique benefit to ColorMunki Photo in that it provides the option to optimize your profile based on images for specific colours. For example, if you are performing a portrait or wedding shoot where the image capture falls under similar conditions, you have the option to optimize the profile for specific colours or flesh tones. 

When the time comes to print your images, ColorMunki Photo uses a module called AppSet™. This helps enable your new profile as the default in photo and design applications, as well as simplifying the set up of the print driver.

ColorMunki Photo also offers projector profiling. Whilst it may not be on everyone’s list for managing colour, for many photographers who carry out big screen presentations to their clients, this is a welcome inclusion. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to show off your creative work only to be hampered by horrible unmanaged colour from a data projector. The whole process is refreshingly painless, involving positioning the ColorMunki to measure the projected colour patches thrown up by the software. It only takes a few minutes and really does work! It even takes into account the colour of the wall you are projecting onto (if you are not using a projector screen).

Communicating images with clients, family and/or friends can be carried out with the aid of another included application called DigitalPouch™. This is a self executable Java based application. How does it work? Images can be dragged and dropped into a pouch, ‘zipped’ up and then sent to your client. Do they need a copy of ColorMunki? No. They will be able to view the images, with the embedded profiles, in a replicated viewing screen. DigitalPouch checks for, what X-Rite has called, ViewSafe™ conditions in the recipients’ computer system for an up to date monitor profile and provides a warning if it is unavailable or out of date.
Finally, the creative side is well catered for. Colours can be extracted from images within your image library automatically or manually to create a custom colour palette. ColorMunki Photo also lets you collect colour from any surface with a spot colour measurement function.

This exciting new product will not fit everyone’s requirements, but in my opinion, for those looking for entry level colour management on a budget, it certainly ticks most of the right boxes.
David Crowther
Technical Manager - X-Rite products
Manager – Chromaticity Australia