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Color Management: Which Tools Are Right For You?
Color Management Technique


The Eye
Fig. 1 The Eye-One Display 2 colorimeter.
The Monaco
Fig 2. The Monaco Optix XR colorimeter.
ProfileMaker 5 Plus
Fig. 3 ProfileMaker 5 Plus offers advanced controls, such as multicolor printer profiling.
Eye-One
Fig 4. The Eye-One bundle pictured above includes tools for profiling a wide range of imaging devices.
The Eye
Fig 5. The Eye-One iO automated scanning table.
X-Rite's Pulse
Fig. 6 X-Rite's Pulse spectrophotometer in untethered mode with the Pathfinder alignment guide.

Introduction by Andrew Darlow.
Text by Rick Hatmaker.

Proper color management should be a critical part of anyone's workflow. But where should you start? Which hardware and software should be considered, and what are the costs involved? To help cut through the haze, Rick Hatmaker, an expert in the field from CHROMiX Inc., one of the most recognized companies in the world of color management, describes many of the options available from two industry leaders: X-Rite and GretagMacbeth.

STEP #1 Do Some Research

After more than 12 years in the field of imaging and color management, I've seen some major changes take place. Today's tools are easier to use and, in nearly every case, are much less expensive than in the past. To help understand color management better, there are many resources that explain the process from start to finish--a little education goes a long way. For a complete overview, the book Real World Color Management, 2nd Edition, and its companion website (www.colorremedies.com) are highly recommended. The X-Rite website (www.xritephoto.com) has a number of online videos available for download, as well as a PDF titled "Complete Guide to Color Management." GretagMacbeth's site (www.i1color.com) has many excellent resources, including an overview on the subject called "The Color of Toast" by CHROMiX's Steve Upton. CHROMiX's website (www.chromix.com) is another source filled with information, articles, links, PDFs and a color management users support forum.

STEP #2 Get Your Display In Shape

Most imaging pros know the importance of calibrating and profiling their displays, and GretagMacbeth and X-Rite both have excellent products for LCDs or CRTs. GretagMacbeth has two hardware options for calibrating displays: the Eye-One Display 2 colorimeter ($240) (See Fig. 1), which can both calibrate displays and serve as an ambient color temperature meter; and the Eye-One Pro Spectrophotometer, which has much more functionality and usually comes bundled with different packages (described in Step 3). From X-Rite, the Monaco Optix XR ($225) (See Fig. 2) offers excellent performance and can be purchased alone with software just for monitor calibration, or in a bundle with other hardware and software. However, if you need advanced functionality, or if you have an LCD and want more control, you might consider the Monaco Optix XR Pro ($350). The hardware is the same as the Optix XR, but Optix XR Pro software adds advanced functionality, including: monitor profile validation; monitor drift trending; workgroup display matching (luminance synchronization); calibration curve editing; LUT-based profiling; and more. Regardless of whether you choose GretagMacbeth's or X-Rite's products, a suction cup for CRTs and a counterweight for LCD measurements are provided.

On the GretagMacbeth side, within its Eye-One Match 3.2 software, there is a new one-button monitor calibration mode that adjusts white point, brightness and contrast without any user interaction, and at press time, this feature was only compatible with Eizo ColorEdge LCDs and LaCie Electron IV CRT monitors (both excellent commercial-grade color displays). There are also more features to allow better functionality with LCD flat-screen monitors, including user-definable luminance settings (for better color matching on multiple monitors), chromatic adaptation formula (for matching multiple monitors with different white points) and iterative gray balance optimization (for more neutral and better-defined grays). I also really like the profile summary report for post-profile analysis, which helps users see the fidelity of their profile by showing actual target color temperature, luminance, ambient light readings and gamma. A profile summary report can save a lot of time wasted on a bad profile or can show trends and changes of a monitor's deterioration.

Also keep in mind that display calibrators, like other equipment, degrade in quality over time. Just like a commercial-grade CRT monitor might have three years before it should be replaced for color-critical viewing, your colorimeter device will also wear out with time and will need to eventually be replaced.

STEP #3 Know Your Options From GretagMacbeth

GretagMacbeth has a large suite of color management products, based primarily around its award-winning Eye-One Pro Spectrophotometer. As of April 11, GretagMacbeth has been shipping Rev B of the Eye-One Pro, which, with the new Match v3.2, is almost twice as fast as the previous versions. It also glides smoother, with no pauses or hesitation required at the end of rows. The company was one of the first to implement a good wizard-guided interface in a profiling application with the introduction of Eye-One Match v1. The latest version is a significant improvement over previous versions. The interface has been cleaned up, and it has a more balanced, elegant look throughout. And it is very easy to follow--when you launch the Eye-One Match software, it prompts you to choose which peripheral you want to profile (e.g., monitor, printer, projector, digital camera or scanner). If you ever get lost in the process, there is a helpful history section that keeps you informed of where you are in the process.

The Eye-One Pro instrument is bundled with either ProfileMaker 5 Plus (See Fig. 3), which is its high-end profiling software, or with Eye-One Match v. 3.2. Both Eye-One Match and ProfileMaker are designed to be modular, and additional modules can be purchased individually or in package suites. For example, if you're a photographer using Photoshop CS, you may only want to profile your scanner, CRT monitor and Epson Stylus Pro 4000 printer, but you may not want to become a color scientist to achieve this. You also might not need a CMYK module right now, but you may want CMYK profiling capability later if you buy a RIP. In that case, the Eye-One Photo is the appropriate bundle for you.

The Eye-One Photo package ($1,250) employs the Eye-One Pro Spectro-photometer and Eye-One Match software suite. It has everything needed to profile most devices in an RGB workflow, and the cost is now about one-half of what a similar package was just a few years ago. A typical RGB workflow usually includes the use of Adobe Photoshop CS; a scanner or digital camera; a monitor; and an inkjet, which is usually considered an RGB device because the print driver sends RGB files to the printer. A version with a permanent UV filter ($1,450) is also available, but for most people this is unnecessary since Eye-One Match's RGB Output software has automatic detection and compensation for UV brighteners built right into the software. Paper and ink manufacturers are constantly trying to enhance the "visual" appeal of their products by adding whiteners, but this can cause a lot of problems unless anticipated.

The Eye-One Photo package also includes a transparent "Guide Ruler" for speeding up the creation of custom profiles. The ruler acts as a guide for the spectrophotometer and allows custom profiles to be made in about five to eight minutes. Basically you lightly glide the Eye-One Pro over each row of patches using the Guide Ruler. Then you move to the next row and repeat. The device and software will let you know if you are doing things correctly. I recommend the larger patch set (918 patches) for most printers. Because of greater sampling, the larger patch set will provide smoother transitions and gradients, especially in neutrals and skin tones. However, the 342-patch set will save you some time and get you fairly close since it fits on one letter-size sheet. The package also includes a 5x7 inch IT8 reflective scanning target for profiling flatbed scanners.

The bottom line is that the resultant profiles are excellent and are comparable to results from higher end products. We tested RGB & CMYK print profiles made by the Eye-One Photo (RGB) and Eye-One Proof (CMYK) with ColorThink (a profile inspection utility) and found very good, robust profiles with good uniformity.

The CMYK Easy Module is very basic and will produce a CMYK profile, but the results lack enough quality for most professionals. CHROMiX doesn't recommend the CMYK Easy Module for most users. Instead, if you need quality CMYK, we recommend that you purchase a serial code for the additional CMYK Advanced Module for $595, which is already in the Match software but not yet activated. You can also purchase the Beamer holder and carrying/storage case together for $195. The Beamer holder "holds" the Eye-One Pro in the light stream of a digital projector--this is one of the only commercially available methods for profiling digital projectors. We've tested this system and recommend it highly.

Also included in the Eye-One Photo bundle is the new Eye-One Match Digital Camera module package. The Digital Camera software works with the ColorChecker SG (Semi-Gloss). The ColorChecker SG can be purchased separately for $295, but it comes standard with the newly announced Eye-One Photo SG ($1,595) or the Eye-One Photo SG UV ($1,795). The Eye-One Match Digital Camera software will include an Easy Mode and an Advanced Mode. Easy Mode provides for standard photographic defaults, and Advanced Mode uses many of the same kinds of settings that you would see in the ProfileMaker 5 Digital Camera Module (GretagMacbeth's advanced digital camera solution). The cool thing is that the Eye-One Match Digital Camera allows you to interface directly, and visually, with the software's settings. For example, let's say you have a rendered image in the center pane. Photos with slight variations surround the center image. You then select the visual level you want, and that becomes the setting.

An added and valuable feature included with the Eye-One Photo, Proof or XT system is the Eye-One Match Profile Editor. GretagMacbeth has indicated that it should ship by late July, 2005, and it will be included with any Eye-One Photo purchased after December 15th, 2004. Another product coming soon and worth mentioning is the Eye-One iO. (See Fig. 5) The iO is an automated scanning table that will allow you to measure a target chart completely "hands-off." Anyone who has an Eye-One should be able to purchase the upgrade and automate the profile process. Other automated scanning tools, such as the iCColor 210 ($3000) and SpectroLino/Spectroscan ($5900), are also available.

STEP #4 Know Your Options From X-Rite

Already a recognized manufacturer of measurement equipment, X-Rite's addition of Monaco Systems (a color management software manufacturer) in July 2003 resulted in numerous software and hardware innovations. The first two were Monaco's Optix XR and Optix XR Pro monitor calibration solutions. Then in the fall of 2004, X-Rite introduced the Pulse ColorElite System to profile the entire workflow (monitors, printers, scanners and digital cameras). The Pulse ColorElite System is available in eight different bundles, all of which contain the X-Rite DTP-20 handheld spectrophotometer and the ColorElite profiling software; four of the bundles also contain the Monaco Optix XR monitor calibration system. There's no need to add anything else unless you need higher-end control over the profiling process. For this kind of user, X-Rite has Monaco Profiler Gold or Platinum software ($3,000 to $4,000).

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