Profile Types


Today’s Question: What is the connection between the profiles of the computer display, the profile embedded in an image, and the profile of the paper onto which you print?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In essence, all of these profiles are helping to translate the color in your images as those images move through your workflow. The display profile helps ensure that the display presents an image accurately, the embedded profile describes the colors as they are used in the image, and the printer profile describes the behavior of the printer.

More Detail: It is easy to assume that profiles shouldn’t be necessary. After all, can’t we just describe what color we want and always get that color? In the real world, color isn’t that simple.

To begin with, there are limitations related to the devices that present our images. A monitor display can only present a specific range of color values, and a printer can only produce a certain range of colors based on the specific inks and paper being used, and an image can only include colors based on the color space being used to adjust that image.

The embedded profile for the image (or the working space profile if there isn’t an embedded image) describes the color values contained within the image. Generally speaking this involves mapping the RGB values for the pixels within the image to the Lab color space that is generally used as a reference color space in color management. So, the embedded profile helps to describe color more accurately for a given image, within a variety of different contexts.

When you view an image on your monitor, the display profile helps to compensate for the fact that the embedded profile for the image may not map directly to the native behavior of the monitor display. In other words, the display profile reflects the behavior of the specific monitor you are using, and enables a compensation based on that behavior so the colors in your image will be presented as accurately as possible.

Finally, the printer profile compensates for the specific behavior of a given printer, ink, and paper combination. In much the same way that a display profile ensures that an image is displayed on the monitor as accurately as possible, the printer profile ensures that the print reflects the colors in the image as accurately as possible.

You can think of profiles in the context of a color-managed workflow as being tools for translating colors across a variety of output devices and conditions. In many respects you can think of profiles as a way to translate from one color language to another without losing the meaning of the various colors involved. There are, of course, limitations that can reduce the overall accuracy of colors presented, but profiles help minimize those issues.

To learn more about color management, check out my video course “Color Management for Photographers” in the GreyLearning library. You can save $15 off this course by starting with this link: