Tips for Stock Photos: Matching Color From Screen to Print

Make sure your stock photos look their best.

One of the challenges in working with digital stock photos is knowing how colors will translate when printed. The potential issues with color matching are fairly complex. Image files, screen displays, and prints are three different beasts, with three separate color profiles. Particularly near the edge of the color spectrum, you may find that your stock photo contains colors that can be printed but can’t be displayed on your screen, and other colors that can be displayed on your screen but can’t be printed.

If that isn’t confusing enough, monitors don’t all display the same color profile, and neither do printers. And mundane reality can affect viewing as well: the white color of your paper (on which you print your photos) will never be bright as the pure white light emitted by your computer screen, and your choices of ink and paper will play a major role as well. Even interior lighting can change the way your eyes see color and confound color matching- ideally, use full-spectrum light bulbs, but keep distracting bright colors out of your field of vision.

Even with all those issues, some tips on “color management” should help you ensure that your stock photo prints will look as close as possible to what you see on your screen:

• Newer monitors and video cards often increase onscreen color saturation to improve the look of games and DVD’s, which makes color matching near-to-impossible. You can adjust these features (and turn them off) under your video card display settings, usually under an “advanced” button. Next to options to adjust color, gamma, or contrast, will be a “saturation” or “digital vibrance” slider, which measures the amount that the screen is enhancing the saturation. Set this slider to zero.

• LCD Monitors generally need to calibrated before they can match colors well. If you can, find a monitor that’s already calibrated correctly, and mess around with the color matching features until yours looks about the same. In general, most screens are pre-set far too bright and intense for color matching, and need to be dimmed somewhat. Monitor calibration is usually under System Preferences.

• If you’re serious about color matching, get a hardware/software package to color profile your monitor, such as Eye-One. You’ll probably want to run the software once a month, as monitors change their display as they age.

• Also, make sure you convert your images into the correct color profile for your printer. If you’re using your own printer, that profile should be in the included documentation. If you’re sending stock photography to someone else to be printed, ask them what color profile they use. If you send them images in a different color profile, it will affect the saturation.

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