Best Workflow CS5: The Ideal Color Settings for Photoshop and CS5
All of my One-on-One products---whether videos or books---begin by encouraging you to adjust your Creative Suite color settings and load my custom keyboard shortcuts. The color settings file goes by the name Best Workflow (because, I argue, that's the resulting environment); the keyboard shortcuts are dekeKeys.
I've received requests to distribute both. Which is the purpose of today's post.
I explain how to make your own Best Workflow color settings today. I'll post dekeKeys CS5 as a free download next week.
(For you impatient ones, dekeKeys CS5 is similar to the dekeKeys II file that I posted as part of Martini Hour 057, In Which Deke Gives You Part of His Brain. The podcast itself explains how they work, which is differently than dekeKeys CS4 and earlier.)
This post is devoted to walking you through the process of creating your own Best Workflow file and then applying it to the Creative Suite as a whole, if you own the Creative Suite. The steps are applicable to all recent versions of Photoshop, including CS3, CS4, and CS5.
But first, let me address why color settings are important:
- RGB is a subjective color space. The fact is, colors shift from one screen to the next. And not just a little bit. Wildly. For example, have you ever walked into a modestly enabled tech store that sells 20 or so TVs---presumably playing a football game, cuz that's what they're always playing in this country---and noticed how the green field on one screen looks more yellow or blue on another? That's because the signal contains a series of RGB codes and the TV translates them any which way it likes. Remember that game (not football) of telephone where you whisper a message into your friend's ear? "I love meatballs" comes out "I judge street brawls." It's like that, only worse.
- CMYK is a cell phone message from hell. The same thing happens when you print your images. Every printer has its own brand of CMY(MYK)K color. Which means that the old game of telephone transforms into some horribly modernized version of AT&T's freakishly unpredictable iPhone coverage. With "I love meatballs" turning into "I @#_*^ &!*%$^@# %=$ %!#*& ^%&$@ $+#_% 1001010010 111 ***** 1110 0101000000 what the +&$%#!" Again, only worse.
- Colors Settings locks 'em down. Photoshop's Edit > Color Settings command locks down the RGB and CMYK definitions so that the telephone message you hear cognates properly and comes out of your mouth in something closely resembling the same form. That is, my screen and your screen and our printers and all the happy monitors round-and-round the world (god bless 'em) convey similar colors.
Photoshop and the rest of the applications in the Creative Suite are set to generate consistent color by default. The oversight IMHO is that they lock down the RGB working space as sRGB. For all that it's routinely maligned, sRGB isn't bad. In fact, it's an excellent innovation for ensuring reliable consumer-level imaging. But if you use Photoshop, chances are you're not a consumer. You're likely working with a pro-grade digital SRL, a modern flat-panel LDC display, a capable inkjet printer (stocked with high-quality paper), and an experienced commercial print house. In which case, sRGB---which roughly approximates the color capabilities of an old-model, inexpensive CRT screen---is not for you. There's a fair amount of conjecture over what profile best embodies the ideal RGB working space. But Adobe RGB more than suffices for professional-level 8-bit/channel work. Which is why I encourage you to use it here.
That said, here are the steps required to create your own Best Workflow color settings file:
- In Photoshop (the best Adobe app for this purpose), choose Edit > Color Settings.
- Change the first RGB setting to Adobe RGB (1998). Note that doing so has consequences, which I'll explain in a minute.
- If you are in communication with a representative from your preferred commercial print house and he/she has provided you with a press profile, load that profile as the CMYK setting. (You can do so by choosing Load CMYK from the first CMYK pop-up menu.) Otherwise, leave it as is.
- Click on the More Options button to expand the dialog box.
- If your work is primarily photographic in nature, change the Intent setting to Perceptual. If it's mostly design and vector art, leave the option set to Relative Colorimetric.
- If you work with a lot of screen shots, or you integrate Illustrator artwork into your Photoshop compositions, turn off the Use Dither (8-bit/channel images) check box. Otherwise, you can leave it on. (Although personally, I like it off for all work. Dithering results in noise patterns that can interfere with editing. And dithering provides only slight advantages when converting digital photographs between color spaces.)
- Return to the top of the dialog box and click the Save button.
- Name the file "Best Workflow CS5" (or whatever) and again click Save.
- Copy this text: "These are the settings that Deke recommends in his Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign CS5 One-on-One products for Deke Press, O'Reilly Media, and lynda.com. They ensure consistent color and printing across all three applications." Then paste it into the Color Settings Comment field. Click OK.
- Click OK in the Color Settings dialog box to apply your changes,
Photoshop is now ready to go. But if (and only if) you own the full Creative Suite (any variety), you need to make the other CS applications aware of your changes:
- Choose File > Browse in Bridge to switch to the Adobe Bridge.
- Choose Edit > Creative Suite Color Settings. If you get an error message, it means the Bridge thinks you bought Photoshop by itself, not as part of the full Creative Suite. In which case, there is nothing I can do for you. It's an irritating convention that Adobe has chosen to implement, but it is Adobe's doing.
- Assuming however that you don't get an error, locate Best Workflow CS5 (or whatever you called it in the previous Step 8) and select it. Then click OK.
That's it. All applications in the Creative Suite (that pay attention to such things) are now set to observe your new color settings.
I mentioned earlier that there are consequences to shifting to Adobe RGB. They are these:
- All of your existing profiled images will look the same on screen as they did before. However, for the sake of consistency, you may want to switch them over to Adobe RGB. You can do so by opening such an image and choosing Edit > Convert to Profile. Set the Destination Space to Adobe RGB (1998). Turn off the Use Dither (optional) and Flatten Image to Preserve Appearance (mandatory) check boxes. And click OK. If you get an error message, click the Don't button. Check that your image still looks the same on screen. If so, all is well. Save your changes. If not, undo the change and leave the image set to its original profiled space.
- If you open an unprofiled image, it will appear to change. I stress that because in fact the file remains the same; it's Photoshop's interpretation of the image that has changed. To set the image back to its previous appearance, choose Edit > Assign Profile. If you get a message, click OK. Change the Profile option to sRGB IEC61966-2.1. Then click OK. The image should now be back to its old self. Choose File > Save to add the profile. If you want to make the image match the working space, perform the step documented above. But that's entirely optional.
- If you create Web graphics, be sure to use File > Save for Web & Devices for that purpose. Also, confirm that the Convert to sRGB check box is on (as by default), which converts the colors so they look moderately accurate across the wide range of typically uncalibrated consumer screens.
You Web designers may well ask, why go to all this trouble if Photoshop is set by default to sRGB, the closest thing there is to a Web working space? (Most modern Windows systems are characterized to sRGB as a matter of course.) Because my assumption is that Web work isn't your only work, and that you want as much flexibility as possible when editing your layered compositions, which is something Adobe RGB better affords.
And that, my friends, is it. One more bit of advice: If for whatever reason your world seems to have gone to hell in a handbag after applying my suggested settings, you can always restore the original defaults: Return to Edit > Color Settings and change the Settings option to North America General Purpose 2 (or the localized equivalent for those working in other countries).
I know, it's a complicated topic. Intricate, anyway. But the results are worth the effort. And once you've done the work, you don't have to do it again. Even the next time you upgrade Photoshop, you should be able to retrieve your saved color settings. If you switch to a new or different system, however, you have these steps to add you in your transition.