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Best Color Space for printing

Ellen Stoune Duralia , Nov 10, 2004; 12:24 p.m.

Hi all! I have been outsourcing my prints and the lab I've been using requests that I send them files in the sRGB color space with a JPEG file format. However, the RGB space has a wider gamut. My question is, should I find another lab? Or am I worrying about the constraints of sRGB for nothing? Can those of you who sell your work (art prints that will be displayed on the wall) give me some tips for the best output?

Thanks!

Responses


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Jon Austin , Nov 10, 2004; 12:36 p.m.

If your lab asks for sRGB, then it means that their equipment is optimized for that color space. Also, if you shoot your images in sRGB, and then convert them to a "larger" color space, i.e., Adobe RGB, you will have gained nothing. You'll just have the same (sRGB) color information in a larger (Adobe RGB) "container."

To benefit from the wider color space, shoot in Adobe RGB, and then take your images to a lab that provides Adobe RGB output. Otherwise, I dare say you're wasting your time.

As an experiment, capture an image in Adobe RGB, process it as usual, save it, then convert it to sRGB and save it a second time as a separate file. Send the sRGB version to your current lab, and the Adobe RGB version to a lab that uses that color space, then compare the results.

Beau Hooker , Nov 10, 2004; 01:50 p.m.

Hi Ellen, sRGB will be fine - no need to find another lab. In fact, lots of pro labs want you to send the files in the sRGB colorspace. They'll likely convert it to a profile that works best with their printers. Good luck!

Ethan Hansen , Nov 10, 2004; 03:32 p.m.

Hi all! I have been outsourcing my prints and the lab I've been using requests that I send them files in the sRGB color space with a JPEG file format. However, the RGB space has a wider gamut.

Which RGB space? Adobe RGB? Pro Photo? Something else? In general, you are correct. sRGB is among the smallest of standard color spaces.

If your lab asks for sRGB, then it means that their equipment is optimized for that color space.

Unfortunately this is usually not the case. More often, the lab is either clueless about color management, too lazy to support it, or is running many printers and does not have a mechanism to tie an order to a specific printer. No printer outputs in sRGB. It would be nice if they did, but no such luck. Fuji no longer touts the Frontier as being an sRGB printer. All standard lab printers exceed the confines of sRGB over at least part of their range and none can print all sRGB colors. If you use a lab that offers an ICC profile for their machine, you can ustilize the full extent of the printer capabilities. If you send sRGB, the most vibrant and saturated colors the printer can reproduce are eliminated before you even begin.

Also, if you shoot your images in sRGB, and then convert them to a "larger" color space, i.e., Adobe RGB, you will have gained nothing. You'll just have the same (sRGB) color information in a larger (Adobe RGB) "container."

Excellent point, and one too many people forget. Before worrying about the color range of your printer, make sure your source image uses a larger color space. If you shoot in raw mode with most DSLRs, this is not a concern. Likewise with decent film scanners. You can compare the actual, measured color range of many printers, scanners, and digital cameras with the aid of the interactive color gamut models on our web site.

To benefit from the wider color space, shoot in Adobe RGB, and then take your images to a lab that provides Adobe RGB output. Otherwise, I dare say you're wasting your time.

Look at the plots linked above. Even a typical Fuji Frontier or Noritsu printer exceeds sRGB in yellow, orange, and cyan. It is getting late in the season for strong yellow fall colors, but vivid sky and water shots benefit from the extra cyan saturation. All that is needed is a lab offering a accurate profile for their machine and the willingness to print your files with no further adjustments.

Hi Ellen, sRGB will be fine - no need to find another lab. In fact, lots of pro labs want you to send the files in the sRGB colorspace. They'll likely convert it to a profile that works best with their printers.

It is true that some labs convert sRGB input to a profile for their printers. Some of the larger labs even charge "color correction" fees for simply converting your sRGB image to the profile for the particular printer the job is run on. To continue the comments above, one reason for this is that they run jobs on many different machines. As all their printers differ, a single profile is not adequate for the task. A better approach would be to provide a baseline profile for soft proofing and image adjustments but still take images in Adobe RGB or other color spaces. This gets back to the color-cluelessness problem.

Ellen Stoune Duralia , Nov 10, 2004; 04:07 p.m.

I shoot and edit in Adobe RGB; I convert to sRGB as the last step in my workflow and save the image file as a JPEG as requested by WHCC.com (a lab I've seen recommended several times on various forums). If this isn't adequate, I would certainly appreciate some recommendations for labs that will produce optimum prints at reasonable prices. Thanks!

Jon Austin , Nov 10, 2004; 07:16 p.m.

Response to Ethan Hansen's post

I said, "If your lab asks for sRGB, then it means that their equipment is optimized for that color space."

Ethan said, "Unfortunately this is usually not the case. More often, the lab is either clueless about color management, too lazy to support it, or is running many printers and does not have a mechanism to tie an order to a specific printer."

Good catch, Ethan. I give some people too much credit / benefit of the doubt. I should have written, ""If your lab asks for sRGB, then -- at best -- it means that their equipment is optimized for that color space."

Beau Hooker , Nov 11, 2004; 10:42 a.m.

I can't vouch for everything this guy says, but you might want to take a look at this link. I've had very good luck with Mpix.com for ordering prints. (http://www.mpix.com) Good luck!

Ethan Hansen , Nov 11, 2004; 01:50 p.m.

Beau,

The good Mr. Crockett is a font of information. Would that it were all correct. At least he no longer recommends using your monitor profile as your RGB working space. Give him another few years and he may even figure out that sRGB is not the be-all and end-all for digital work. His advice is OK if you only desire the simplest, lowest common denominator of printing.

The last of the two pairs of plots on his own page help illustrate why sRGB is a less than optimal working space. Notice the huge extension of color in the Fuji PG 4500 color gamut outside the sRGB space. Those very yellow greens, yellows, and oranges are captured by every color film on the market and most digital cameras. If you only shoot subdued portraits with no color other than dark skin and blue, as his test image shows, then sRGB is fine. Otherwise all you accomplish is chopping the color range of your prints. I find it strange that many who advocate using sRGB are equally vocal about using good film vs. Max, Superia, and other supermarket junk. Much of the vibrant, saturated colors the pro films record fall outside the range of sRGB.

Going back to Mr. Crockett. His statement that "FACT ONE: there are no printers with a color space (aka output space) that is larger (holding more volume of data) than sRGB" is (with the exception of some Hi-Fi inkjets) true. As I and others have said before, this is a misleading and not terribly relevant statement. The issue is that the neither color range your camera or film + scanner captures or printer spits out have the same shape as sRGB. There is overlap, but most printers exceed the limits of sRGB for part of their range. The absolute volume of color in sRGB may be larger. Since the colors do not match, I prefer working in a color space sufficiently large to allow getting the utmost in performance from camera, film, scanner, and printer.

Playing devil's advocate, allow me to make the case for sRGB. Of all the standard color spaces, sRGB comes closest to that used by most consumer oriented (in the loosest sense of the term) minilab printers such as Fuji Frontiers, Noritsu QSS, and Agfa d-Labs printing on consumer grade paper. This is not purely by chance; the makers of these printers designed them to make acceptable quality prints from the kinda-sorta sRGB output of consumer digicams. Someone merely wanting a few 4x6's to slap on the frige does not want to screw around with color profiles and Photoshop. Where there was a tradeoff to be made between compatibility and absolute performance, the minilabs tilt towards compatibility. The simplest method is to shoot, edit, and print in kinda-sorta sRGB. Your prints will bee kinda-sorta good. If you think your prints deserve display in tonier places than the refrigerator, do not use a color space that hampers your efforts.

Beau Hooker , Nov 12, 2004; 09:44 p.m.

Hi Ethan, That's why I said I couldn't vouch for everything he said! ;-) You might be interested to know that Rob Shepperd recommends that very page in his column in the July/August issue of "Digital Photo Pro" magazine. I personally rarely use sRGB myself, but I rarely send my prints off to a lab either. I think mountains get made out of molehills with this subject though and can probably be summed up this simply: If your lab asks for sRGB, send 'em sRGB. I'd love to watch someone tell me from a print in what color space the image originated. Any takers? ;-) Best wishes . . .

Lucas Jarvis , Feb 22, 2005; 04:17 p.m.

Put that print beside an exact copy in Adobe RGB I probobly could.


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