Color Management 101, Part 1: Monitor Profiles in Photoshop


08/01/22 – This subject has been updated in a new post – WITH VIDEO:


By request, I am going to do a series of three posts over the next several days that should get you on the road to proper Color Management, allowing you to print with a great degree of consistency and repeatability, whether it is on your home inkjet printer or through a custom print lab. It allows you to print what you see on your monitor with a large degree of accuracy. The old adage, “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) readily applies when you are properly color-managed.

To accomplish a properly color-managed workflow, you will be creating and/or using at least two Profiles, one for your monitor and at least one for your printer. A “Profile”, by the way, is nothing more than a file which tells your computer how to act and what to do.

There are Three Steps to Successful Color Management:

Step 1 – Calibrate Your Monitor and Create a Monitor Profile

Step 2 – Use the Proper Printer Profile or Create a Custom Printer Profile

Step 3 – Assure That You Have Proper Lighting Conditions and Perception (This one is already covered in this post)


Step 4 (OPTIONAL) – Soft-Proof Your Image in Photoshop (not available in Elements)

I’ll cover the other three steps in separate posts…

I realize that this subject can get confusing, but just remember, that anytime you have a challenge with proper color management, it comes back to one of the three  steps listed above not being quite right: the point being, if you’ve got questions, call or email, and I can help.


Step 1) Calibrate Your Monitor and Create a Monitor Profile

To take advantage of all that your printer has to offer,
you are matching your MONITOR to your PRINTER output,  NOT the other way around!

 Your monitor must be properly calibrated and profiled.  If it is not, proper use of color management will not be effective.  Also, you will never get your monitor to be a 100% accurate representation of your print, due to the different physical light properties between your monitor (emitted light) and your print (reflective light),  It will never be perfect, but it will be extremely close, resulting in savings in time, money and frustration.

The best way to calibrate and profile your monitor is to invest in a Monitor Profiler such as the X-Rite Eye-One Display 2 or the ColorVision Spyder 3 Elite (both around $200) – – It is a piece of hardware called a colorimeter (It looks like a pregnant computer mouse), and the software to go with it. I would strongly suggest purchasing one – a good source is Chromix.

If purchasing a Monitor Profiler is not an option right now, you can use the “by-eye” calibrators built in to your computers’ operating system. This is not a perfect solution – it is very subjective, but better than nothing. For Windows, use the Adobe Gamma Utility (usually in “Control Panel”). For Mac, use the Mac Calibration (“Apple” menu ? “System Preferences…” ? “Displays” ? “Color” ? “Calibrate…”).

By the way, I keep saying “Calibrate” and “Profile” your Monitor: It really is two steps. First, you Calibrate your monitor to a given standard, then you create a Profile so that your monitor will keep showing that Calibration.

How it Works:

This procedure will vary between the various Monitor Profiler manufacturers, but basically this is how it works:

  1. Install the software and plug the colorimeter into your computer, usually into a USB port.
  2. Attach the colorimeter to your monitor.
  3. Start the software, and run through the step-by-step procedures.
  4. Save the generated profile.

Most of the better software packages (including the two profiling packages mentioned previously) allow you to choose an “easy” mode and an “advanced” mode – – you will want to choose the “advanced” mode. This will allow you to choose a specific Color Temperature, Gamma, and Lumens.

Color Temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (°K). A smaller Kelvin value is warmer (more yellow) than a larger Kelvin value, which is cooler (more blue). Gamma is a function of contrast and midtones. Lumens (CD/m2) are a measurement of brightness: A lower Lumens value is darker than a higher Lumens value.

In the “Advanced Mode” of your software I would suggest setting a calibration “starting point” of: 5500°K (Kelvin), 2.2 Gamma, and 110 Lumens (CD/M2).

I say “starting point” because each system is a bit different, and you will see trends in your printing.

If, after calibrating and profiling your monitor, you see your prints coming out consistently dark, then you need to recalibrate and re-profile and lower your lumens value to, say, 100 lumens. Or, if the color is consistently warmer in your prints, change your color temperature to 5000°K, and conversely if they are consistently cooler, change your color temperature to 6500°K. A note of caution: Before you make these adjustments, all other aspects of your Color Management must be in order.

How Often to Profile: Monitors have a tendency to “drift”. You will need to re-calibrate and re-profile on a regular basis – – approximately every 30 to 60 days.


In the next post, I’ll talk about Using Printer Profiles in Photoshop




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•  By the way, this is all based on my Photoshop book designed for photographers, “Not just another Photoshop Book”, available exclusively on Amazon:


Questions? Please contact me – also, feel free to comment and forward this to your photography friends!


Thx again, and cheers,

John Watts 🙂




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