CQ Blog

Color Management is not Color Correction

Posted by Martha DiMeo on December 5th, 2013 | No Comments

In the webinar I presented to the Graphic Artists Guild titled Color Management for the Graphic Arts Professional, I highlighted a key concept—that color management is not color correction. It is a common misunderstanding that the two processes are thought to improve color, but in fact, they are two very different things.

Color correction is the process of making changes to the color—either overall or to a specific area—to improve the image. Color management concerns maintaining color appearance.

Color Correction vs. Color Management

If for instance, an image is in need of color correction because it has an overall color-cast, or if it needs selective color correction (i.e flesh tones are too red, a sky is heading toward purple, a color of a product is not accurately represented) a color-managed workflow will not compensate for the problem. If the color in an image is “bad” in some way, color management will dutifully reproduce the image as is. Displeasing color in, displeasing color out. Why is this?

Color correcting skin tones in portraits using PhotoshopIn this example, selective color correction was performed to remove the heavy red cast in the skin tones. A color-managed workflow does not compensate for colors that need to be color-corrected. Color correction must be done in Photoshop.  Retouching by Martha DiMeo; Digital Imaging Specialist 


Color Management’s Role

Color management’s role is to preserve color appearance. It doesn’t know if a color is “off”. Color management does not perform color or image evaluation. Only a human being can determine whether a color is not pleasing and should be amended.

Color management’s goal is to maintain consistent color appearance as the file moves through the digital workflow from capture to final output. If you do not want the “off” color maintained then the file must be color-corrected before passing it to the next step in the production workflow.

Photoshop's " Convert to Profile" dialog  box Photoshop’s ”Convert to Profile” dialog box. Color management’s job is to preserve color appearance when converting from one color space to another. In this example, the photo is being converted from the RGB color space of Adobe RGB 1998 to the CMYK color space of U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2.


With that said, to accurately evaluate whether color correction is needed, the file must be viewed on a calibrated and profiled monitor. If you are unfamiliar with monitor calibration and profiling, I  wrote an article for on monitor calibration for the Graphic Artists Guild, Spring 2013 newsletter. Contact me and I’ll  be happy to send you a copy of article.

No Bad Originals

I started this discussion by referring to images needing color retouching as “bad” originals. But in fact, most color problems can be fixed. Therefore, there are really no bad originals. If the color of an image is slightly or drastically “off”, know this– in the hands of a Digital Imaging Specialist  skilled in color correction most color and tonal problems can be corrected. To get a sense of the magic that can be done to improve seemingly bad images, take a look at some of the examples I highlight in the Improving Stock portfolio gallery as well as many of the other images featured throughout the ChromaQueen site.

In conclusion, remember—to communicate color accurately with everyone in the production workflow and maintain color appearance, a color-managed workflow is vital. But, if you don’t like what you see when you open the image on your display for the first time, work with a skilled Photoshop/ Color Specialist to achieve correct color before moving forward with the design and layout of the project.

© Martha DiMeo 2013


More on Color Management

You may also be interested in an earlier blog post, The Color Management Series–Perception & Our Environment. Discover how our eyes trick us. You may not be seeing the color you think you’re seeing.

Color Management Resources

Visit the Resources + More page for more information, helpful links, and PDF downloads on color perception, color management, and digital color reproduction.


Color Management Consulting Services

Frustrated with not getting the color you desire from screen to print? Want to learn more about color management? I work one-to-one with graphic designers and photographers. Visit the Services>Color Management Consulting page for information on my color management consulting services and to schedule a time to chat.


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(Click the above link to be taken to our Project Form page, or visit the Contact Us page.)


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