Windows 98 ICM 2.0 Color Management

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Windows 98 Control Panel's Display Properties dialog under the tab Settings, provides identification of what the OS has identified as your monitor and graphics adapter.

I'm a sensitive person, at least visually, and it used to bother me to no end to go into someone's home with the TV on and see the faces in the screen green. That situation has been improved with auto-adjust features, but even today if you go to the TV store and all the sets are tuned to one channel each picture looks a little different. A similar situation affects computer and digital photo input and output, as well as what you see on the screen. These computer photo devices, scanners, monitors, and printers all handle the data in a digital photo file differently. Even though you have the smarts to use your image-editing application skillfully and adjust each digital photo precisely, getting print output that matches the screen image may not be WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). And, if you send that digital file to your sister in Oshkosh, she'll see something different on-screen and her prints will look different than yours.

The Advanced button in the Display/Settings dialog opens this Properties dialog with a Color Management tab. It supports the identification of all .ICM files associated with the monitor identified as the Default by Windows, and provides the option of adding other .ICM files as well as setting one in particular as Default.

Color Management (CMS) to the rescue. Although operating system level color management was introduced with Windows 95 (ICM 1.0), it has taken till now and Windows 98 (ICM 2.0), with a new "engine," for software and hardware vendors to begin providing support. What that means is a beginning toward solutions for different devices like scanners, monitors, and printers, so they can talk to each other through a translator, and in effect speak the same language. This is done through a process referred to as characterization that results in a profile, a file of information in a standard international language (ICC) format which defines how a device handles color information. In Windows 98 there is a Sub-folder under the System folder called Color, which is used to house these .ICM profile files. Many of these profile .ICM files supplied by different vendors like Kodak or Hewlett-Packard are included by Microsoft in the Windows application. Others are filed when you install the software for a printer or scanner.

If you're interested you can open Explorer and go to Windows/System/Color. If you click on an .ICM file and then click on Properties from the File menu a dialog will open which includes an identification of the device that file profiles. Until very recently, and according to Microsoft's assumption of how color management should function, whether or not the correct .ICM is activated is an entirely automatic process and one that's transparent to a user. Theoretically if every manufacturer of a device which inputs or outputs color, and every monitor maker, supplies precise, carefully characterized profiles, and then every application vendor provides support in their software when images are input, displayed, and output, every user should get WYSIWYG digital color, automatically. But that theory is like a politician's promises, the devil is in the details.

The Help menu bar selection includes a Color Management item that opens an Adobe Color Management Wizard. This easy to use series of procedure dialogs supports setting Photoshop up to manage color according to your particular needs.

As I write this, some hardware and software vendors are providing user support for implementing the color management potential of MS Windows ICM 2.0. More extensive solutions are in the wings, like a new version of Apple's Colorsync written for Windows. So here is what I've experienced using color management with Windows 98, with a condensed commentary about how it works. There is additional in-depth documentation available on several web sites, including: www.adobe.com, www.apple.com/colorsync and www.monacosys.com/.

Microsoft Windows 98 ICM 2.0. As I indicated earlier, apparently it was Microsoft's intention that color management should be an automatic function that's entirely transparent to the awareness of the user. Besides the very hidden folder with .ICM files, most users would not find unless they're looking for it, there is only one access to a color management function in Windows 98. That access is a very critical one, but unfortunately it is also pretty well hidden, and apparently assumed it will be taken care of automatically. It involves the identification of your monitor and the association of an .ICM profile with the monitor that is connected to your system.

This is the first screen opened by the "Adobe Gamma" button in the first dialog of the CM Wizard. It will take you through a step by step calibration of your monitor and then it will write a new .ICM profile file to provide an accurate description of your monitor's display properties.

You'll find this information about your monitor by first going to Control Panel, and then double clicking on the Display icon. This opens the Display/Settings Properties dialog. Under the picture of a display there should be a line of text which identifies the brand and model of your monitor, as well as the brand and model of the graphics display adapter installed in your system. If the information is correct, then you have no problem at this stage. If the information is incorrect or incomplete go to the Advanced button at the lower right corner and click on it. You can then click on the Monitor tab and in its upper right corner click on the Change button. If Microsoft Windows has the information on file about your monitor you will be able to select it from lists provided. Otherwise obtain a disk with this information from the manufacturer of your monitor, hopefully including an .ICM file for the monitor. Next, once this is accomplished, click on the Color Management tab, and in the window any .ICM profile associated with the monitor will be displayed. If none are, and you know there is one in Windows/System/Color, click on the lower left Add button to pop-up a selection dialog. Select the correct profile, and then set it as Default.

When your monitor is correctly identified in Windows 98, and the correct .ICM profile file is set as the Default, then you are assured your visual reference. Your on-screen view of a photo image is being properly referenced by any application which supports ICM 2.0 color management.

When Photoshop 5.0 is installed an icon access to Adobe Gamma is created in Windows Control Panel. At any time it may be opened to identify the .ICM profile Photoshop uses, as well as gamma and color temperature settings. This dialog provides access at any time to run the Adobe Gamma Wizard to recalibrate your monitor and write a new profile.

Color Management In Adobe Photoshop 5.0.2. Shortly after Adobe released the 5.0 major revision of Photoshop, they released a 5.0.2 upgrade primarily adding to the implementation of color management. If you have Adobe Photoshop 5.0 and have not upgraded, the necessary files to do so may be downloaded from Adobe's web site. What this adds first of all is a Wizard that may be accessed by going to the main menu bar and clicking on help, and under it click on the Color Management menu item. This opens the Adobe Color Management Wizard. In the opening screen there is a button "Open Adobe Gamma," which if you have not already run, you should by clicking on the button. Then in the next dialog window, select Step By Step Wizard, and follow the procedure doing exactly as instructed. The purpose of this procedure is to adjust and thereby calibrate your monitor to a visually determined level of performance. The software then writes a new .ICM profile based on this calibration. Then, each time you boot up, Adobe Gamma sets your monitor's performance in accordance with this profile.

Now, back to the Adobe Color Management Wizard, which asks questions, the answers to which establish the specific kind of use you are expecting to apply to your image work in Photoshop. One in particular involves the choice of a ColorSpace. Essentially this is the gamut, or the limit, of the total range of possible visible colors. For instance, your monitor will only display a limited range or gamut of all of the colors identified within the visual spectrum. The ColorSpace sRGB is a gamut which describes the range of colors a typical computer monitor is capable of displaying. The ColorSpace default for Photoshop is sRGB, but this should not be selected unless your output is intended only for display, over the Internet for instance, by another monitor. A wider and more effective ColorSpace you should select for the purpose of photographic input and output is Adobe RGB (1998). This ColorSpace comes close to replicating all of the colors which can be scanned from a typical Ektachrome transparency, while the default sRGB's smaller gamut loses many of the subtleties of color in a photograph. When you have made this selection and completed each step the Color Management Wizard requires, Photoshop is set up for color management in accordance with specifications your specific workflow demands.

The latest version of LaserSoft's SilverFast scanner software includes support for Windows 98 ICM 2.0. This includes the ability to select how the scanner driver engages color management as well as what specific device profiles are used.

An ICM Enabled Device: The Nikon Super CoolScan 2000 With SilverFast 4.1.4. There are many input and output devices you can purchase and use with a Windows 98 personal computer, like the HP DeskJet 895Cse I reported on recently, which are ICM 2.0 enabled, and the software places an .ICM profile in the Windows/ System/Color folder. In the case of this HP printer, there was a switch to check in the printer's driver dialog to enable ICM color management. With many devices there is not even that indication color management is supported. The device maker has apparently assumed the Microsoft intent that color management remain transparent to the user. Exceptions are surfacing, and for more reasons than just letting the user know there is a profile associated with the device that is being used, as we will see in greater detail further on.

But for now, one device I recently reported on in Shutterbug, the Nikon Super CoolScan 2000 with LaserSoft SilverFast software, offers a more ideal and complete dialog so users can select a specific set of profiles to manage color in a specific, controlled manner. In the SilverFast Options dialog there is a CMS tab which opens a dialog that supports specifying exactly how the scanner software implements Color Management, what profiles should be used for the scanner, the monitor (Internal), and for output. There is also a provision to embed the profile as attached data to the output file information. This embed capability supports the provision of a profile reference allowing the opening of the file with another computer so it has a reference (profile) as to how the image should appear.

From the continuation of my testing with the Nikon LS-2000 with the SilverFast driver, both in a version without ICM 2.0 enabled, and with it in Version 4.1.4, the advantage in obtaining accurately adjusted scans when CMS is enabled was extremely apparent. This carried on throughout in making any post-scan adjustments, which were now limited to local area corrections, and then to the production of truly WYSIWYG prints of these scanned images.

Custom Profiling--The Ultimate Refinement In Color Management. For some years now color management has been available and used in high-end professional design studios, pre-press service bureaus, and reproduction service companies. As many as a couple of dozen companies, including Kodak and Agfa, have been providing proprietary hardware and software color management solutions, most of which are far more expensive than an individual user would or could afford. These solutions have recognized that individual devices like scanner and monitors of the same make and model vary from one to another, and also vary in time with age and use. Therefore, means have been provided to profile individual devices, usually involving again expensive sensitometric measuring equipment. As the potential for quality digital photo reproduction has become increasingly affordable and has moved into the consumer market, custom individual profiling of monitors, scanners, and printers has become a problem some of these color management companies have begun to address.

Again leading the way, Epson has partnered with Monaco Systems to jointly offer a software solution designed to be bundled with Epson scanners, including the Expression 836XL, and the just announced Expression 800 model. Monaco Profiler Lite is an ingeniously designed Wizard utility that leads you easily through the rather complex process of making custom profiles for your monitor, scanner, and printer. In addition to the application, an Acrobat .PDF file containing a comprehensive, well-written, 48 page guide thoroughly documents how the software works and how to use the resulting profiles. The software supports separate profiling of your monitor, which should be done first, if you have not already calibrated with an .ICM profile on file using Adobe Gamma, or some other facility like Sonnetech's Colorific which is supplied with the matrox Millennium graphics card. Next there is an option to profile a scanner using an IT-8 color reference supplied by Monaco with the software. This is a reflective scanning target, but Monaco indicates there is the availability from them of a transparency target as well to use if your scanner also has a transparency scanning accessory. The last profiling option is for your scanner and printer. This is done together in a single series of steps using the scanner to measure the printer's output from a "test" print made from a special image file included within the Monaco software.

As I hinted earlier, the programming by Monaco of Profiler Lite is unusually effective. Going through the process demands following the instructions on-screen precisely, but they are clear and unambiguous, so I obtained a set of profiles for my Epson scanner and Epson Photo Stylus 700 printer filed in Windows/System/Color with no difficulty and quite painlessly. The proof of how it works is of course in the pudding, in this case a print of a scan. So I made a scan and print of a photographic image without color management and invoking the new Monaco custom profiles, and repeated the process using the profiles. The difference in the two prints is quite dramatic in terms of the degree to which the final color managed print matches the original's values and the appearance of the image on-screen, compared to a much less accurate reproduction of values in the control print.

If there is any proviso, any reservation I have and should pass on about the advantages of implementing color management in Windows 98, it involves the fact the system is still largely transparent providing user control only to the monitor setting and profile selection directly through Windows, while fully aware and controllable color management is supported only by a very few device drivers like LaserSoft SilverFast, and imaging software from Adobe including the current versions of applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, and PageMaker. This does not mean you cannot enjoy any of the advantages of color management using other applications. By calibrating your monitor and producing a custom .ICM profile that's set as the Windows Default, you can assure a closer match of what you see on-screen in scanning results or in print output. And, if you do choose to use Adobe Photoshop 5.0.2 for your digital photography processing, it has the facilities to implement custom profile control throughout the process.

Even by the time you read this the intervening period may have seen the release of Apple Colorsync for Windows 98, which will provide full user control of the color management environment at the operating system level. In addition, more and more device manufacturers will more likely than not provide effective profiles for their devices, as well as software support to facilitate using custom profiles with manual selection. I believe this will help immensely in assuring computer users to realize a level of color quality consistently that has previously been unavailable to consumers by analog or digital means.

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