Know Your True Colors

Everyone perceives color differently, and women are better at it than men. This dates back to the dawn of time and traditional hunter/gatherer roles. Over the years, color-matching has evolved to such a degree that a science has been developed around it complete with its own number values, scales and terminology. There’s also a science behind the human perception of color. It’s called colorimetry and involves the study of human physiology (color receptors in the human eye) and the technology employed to more closely determine how people perceive color.

You may wonder how you personally see color. PIX-US recommends that anyone with professional imaging needs test their own color matching aptitude with online tests like X-Rite’s (formerly Gretag Macbeth). Another equally important step is examining your color-viewing tools environment, and that’s where this article can help. We tell you what you can do and why.

In the photography and CGI industries, nuances between colors can make or break a project. That’s why we take it so seriously. We want to limit frustration over color-matching by providing background about our process and tips for optimal viewing of our images.4 Panel Inswing (MAIN) V7 flat [156293]

The PIX-US Color-Matching Process
At  PIX-US we have machines and software to help match the color of your product. These include color-calibrated graphics monitors, color viewing stations from Just NormLicht, and several different color analyzation tools. Several team members (including both men and women) assess the trueness of the match. As part of the color matching process, we pick an area in a mid-value light and not too close to strong colors. Then we work to match that area and have the other areas reach a state where the viewer logically understands it’s the same product whether in shadow or highlight. If we try to match the color of every piece of product in all areas by taking out all highlights, shadows, and color reflections we end up with a flat, boring image that looks like the product was just dropped in with Photoshop, leaving a much less desirable result. Here’s a look at our setup:

1. We have new, color-calibrated monitors. The ultimate goal is to match what we see on our monitors with what our printers print. The challenge is the sheer number of variables that can help or hurt the chances of reaching this goal. Your budget may or may not allow for updated monitors and or software that creates a color profile for all of your devices, which will tell you the range of reproducible colors available on that particular device. You can use the profiles to get the same color viewing experience no matter which device you’re using. Monitors should be profiled weekly for the most accurate viewing experience. In any case, you can trust ours. We work on color matching every day; it is a major part of what we do and study in professional imaging, and we have the technology to get the truest match possible.

2. We use Normlicht color viewing stations. Calibrated monitors are just one step we take. We use Normlicht viewing stations because they provide the best light. If you have unbalanced lighting, none of your colors will look correct. You want to be viewing at 5,000 degrees Kelvin. However, it’s not only the color temperature that comes into play. Spectral power distribution (the proportion of light given off by a color sample at each visible wavelength) also affects viewing, and this is why not all bulbs with the right color temperature will give you an optimal viewing station.

3. We view in a controlled environment. Everything else can be perfect. You have an approved color, you calibrate your monitors weekly and you’ve invested in Normlicht viewing stations, yet strong colors near your station can still throw off the color-matching process. It’s important to check your surrounding and to ensure that the color of your shirt isn’t too strong and the amount of daylight is the same. Even daylight doesn’t produce a great viewing experience, as it is light from the sun distilled into our atmosphere, which of course is heavy on yellow and can vary based on time of year and day.

4. We judge color in Photoshop only and pay particular attention to its settings. With the wrong settings, you can open an image in Photoshop and lose millions of colors. We check the software’s settings and don’t use anything else to open our photos.

5. We do a final color check with two to four sets of eyes. As stated earlier, everyone perceives color differently, and even though color matching is not an exact science, two or more sets of eyes is always better than one, and everyone at PIX-US has taken the color test.

6. We save our delivery files out as 8bit Adobe RGB (1998) ICC profile. Many professional workflows are built around this color profile. This helps us achieve the same calibration on their devices whether they’re printers, scanners, cameras or monitors. To achieve effective color management, we attach a color profile to every image indicating its native color conditions otherwise known as color space. The Adobe RGB (1998) ICC color space is available in all Adobe products including Photoshop.


Optimize Your Color-viewing Experience
When our images are shared with clients, lots of variables come into play that can distort the actual color in the image we produced. For instance, if you’re using a PC monitor, there aren’t as many available colors so it won’t match what we’ve worked so diligently to reproduce at our studio. As many as 4 million colors can be dumped in the trash if files are opened incorrectly in Photoshop. Even if you’ve done everything else right, factors like the color of the shirt you’re wearing and the lighting in the room can adversely affect how color appears on your screen. Anything you can do from the following list will help:

1. At the beginning of the project, share any existing images that contain previously approved color. This sounds simple, and it is, but it can be an easy step to dismiss or skip over. However, this saves time, money and grief throughout your project’s color-management process.

2. Feel free to ask questions about color and ask for assistance with items on this list. Color matching is hugely important to us, and we deal with it every day. In fact, we’d expect you to have questions about the process. We consistently challenge ourselves and stay on top of advances in colorimetry and color matching.

3. Make sure you have a high-quality graphics grade monitor on your computer (no PC laptop screens). An investment in this area can help you succeed on the job. We highly recommend having at least two devices with high-quality monitors, so more than one of your team members can view images under optimal circumstances.

4. Use a tool like X-Rite’s Color Monkey or Datacolor’s Spyder to calibrate your monitor. Those high-grade monitors won’t do you any good if you don’t color calibrate them on a regular basis (weekly is best) so they have the same color profile.

5. View images in Photoshop and make sure your color-management settings are set to “preserve embedded profiles” when images are opened. This one is straightforward, but let us know if you have any questions about optimizing Photoshop.

6. Set up your computer in a controlled lighting environment that is a neutral color. A mid-clean gray is best, if possible. Metamerism is real, and it affects how color is perceived. Metamerism is a perceived matching of colors that, based on differences in spectral power distribution, do not actually match. Colors that match this way are called metamers. Spectral light distribution, gives complete information about the light coming from a color sample. However, the human eye only has three color receptors (cone cells). Metamerism occurs because each type of cone responds to the cumulative energy from a broad range of wavelengths, so that different combinations of light can produce the same receptor response. To avoid metamerism as much as possible, take steps to create a controlled, neutral environment.

7. If you need to look at product color, purchase a calibrated 5,000-degree Kelvin viewing source like those from Normlicht. Good lighting creates the best possible chance for a good color match. One thing that can help is a RHEM Light Indicator, a small adhesive patch that indicates when the image is not being viewed by a 5,000-degree Kelvin source.

Help us help you get your colors right. Working together, your images will turn out beautiful, on time—and correct. That’s when PIX-US and our clients all wear the same color: happy.