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Photo Print Quality – Adobe RGB vs. sRGB Working Space

by Erin Peloquin on March 1, 2010 · 12 comments

Photo Print Quality Working Space Issues is the 2nd part of a series presented by Drew Hendrix of Red River PaperFeel free to post questions for Drew if you have any after reading this post.

A working space is an ICC profile that defines all the color values relative to RGB values of human color vision. The working space is the scale that allows us to properly define and then display or output the colors in our photo images. There are two “standard” working spaces – Adobe RGB and sRGB. Your working space should be chosen based on how your print your images. For inkjet printing the preferred working space is Adobe RGB. If you prefer to use a photo lab the best working space is sRGB. sRBG is also the best for images that are to be viewed on the internet.

Photo Print Quality - sRGB vs. Adobe RGB

In the above graphic, smaller solid space represents sRGB while the larger outline is the Adobe RGB space

Adobe RGB vs. sRGB

The Adobe RGB space is recommend for inkjet output because it is similar to the performance capability of inkjet printers. You will get better reds, greens, and blues when printing files that are in the Adobe RGB working space. In general, inkjet printers are calibrated to accept Adobe RGB data which is then converted to CMYK values before printing. Sending the printer an Adobe RGB file means fewer internal color conversions and more accurate output.  (Erin’s note:  always check in your home inkjet printer’s manual before changing, especially if you are happy with your settings.  A lot of us use sRGB and get great results at home!)

The sRGB space is recommended if you are preparing images for printing at your photo lab or display on the internet. Photo lab equipment works in the sRGB space. If you provide the lab with an image that is not sRGB they will have to convert your files before printing. If you work in the sRGB space and have a calibrated monitor, the chances are your lab prints will return looking like you expect.

Note about web images: You can certainly use the Adobe RGB space for web display images. The sRGB space, being smaller, is more representative of how web browers display color. When you are working on images for web display, be aware that most computers, monitors, and web browsers do not display web images in a calibrated fashion. This means you cannot guarantee how your images will look on another person’s monitor.

Your Camera and Working Space

Most cameras can be set to capture in either sRGB or Adobe RGB. It is good practice to set your camera to the working space that you use in Photoshop. If you shoot in RAW mode you can of course change the working space at will when converting the file. It is still good practice to have your camera set to match your main working space for consistency.

Photoshop and Working Space

Photoshop and Photoshop Elements can have a preset default working space. We recommend setting your default working space to correspond to your preferred output (inkjet, lab, monitor).

The color management rules Photoshop uses are set in the Color Settings dialog. You need to access this menu and edit the default values.  To access the dialog go to the Edit Menu > Color Settings (near the bottom)

The screen grab shows our recommendations:

1. Working Space – Adobe RGB (1998) The best space for overall photographic editing inkjet printing. NOTE:  If all of your images go to a PHOTO LAB you should set the working space to sRGB. Ask your lab what color space they are expecting with your files.

2. Color Management Policies – Set all the “Preserve Embedded Profiles”. Check each of the boxes below.  Photoshop will respect the profile that comes with an image file, but at the same time stop and ask you if you would like to make changes to the setup before continuing. This is good because you are constantly reminded and can check the file’s working space before editing or printing.

When you open a file that does not contain your preset working space this dialog will appear:

You can see that the file contains the sRGB space and our working space is set to Adobe 1998. Photoshop gives you the option to use the embedded profile as is, convert the file to your working space (normally this is recommended), or discard the profile totally and work with no color management.

Convert to Profile

You can quickly see what profile is embedded in an image by going to: Edit > Convert to Profile.

The Source Space indicates the embedded profile. You can choose a profile to convert to in the Destination Space drop down. In the above example, we’re converting from sRGB to Adobe RGB. Under Conversion Options, you should use the above settings.

Note: Use this dialog carefully. Make sure you really want to make the change and save a backup copy of the file beforehand if you are not sure.

Erin’s Note:  Here is the corresponding screen shot from Photoshop Elements.  Always Optimize for Computer Screens equates to sRGB, and Always Optimize for Printing is Adobe RGB.

Photoshop Elements Color Space

The next post that Red River sponsors on Texas Chicks will begin a contest and explain why some prints come out too dark.

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