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Mike Rollins is a highly respected expert in the digital imaging community. As a consultant, he trains users on advanced PhotoShop techniques, image editing, color management, and workflow. His web site contains some very informative tutorials. We are pleased and priveledged to have received permission to mirror his excellent article on Color Workspaces. This article and the images in it are the exclusive copyright of Michael Rollins, and no part of this article may be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

Color Managed Workflow: Working Space

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood Photoshop concepts is that of working space. The selection of a working space has a significant impact on the quality of edits and ultimately on the quality of the output, whether it is to web or print.

Just as color devices can have device profiles, images can be profiled with image profiles. Photoshop translates the color of individual pixels in all RGB, CMYK, and Grayscale mode files using image profiles, known as working spaces, prior to sending that image to a monitor or other output device. To put it a bit more technically, Photoshop's color management engine uses a working space to convert the information in the image into the reference color space. From there, it can again be converted by the color management engine into the color space of any profiled device such as a monitor or printer. This working space can be either the one you set as your preferred space in Photoshop's Color Settings dialog, or one already embedded in your image file.

From version 5 on, Photoshop has had the ability to embed a working space profile in a Photoshop file. These are known as tagged files. Embedded working spaces insure that a Photoshop file looks the same even when viewed on different monitors (assuming a calibrated and profiled monitor). This allows the shared editing of files across two or more systems or users. Adobe Illustrator from version 9 on and Adobe InDesign version 2 can also embed working spaces and work with tagged files.

Version 6 of Photoshop supports document specific color which allows you to open a file with an embedded working space different from your preferred working space selected in Color Settings, and view that document correctly with its embedded working space. This is a welcome change from version 5 which forced you to match the embedded working space with the preferred working space for a correct preview.

The rest of this tutorial will discuss working spaces in terms of RGB images, but the same general concepts apply to working spaces in CMYK and Grayscale. Only the working spaces themselves are different.

Selecting Your Working Space

In Photoshop 6, you set a preferred RGB working space in the Color Settings dialog box (Edit/Color Settings...) by selecting one of the offered color spaces from the drop down menu beside RGB Working Spaces. This working space then becomes the default working space through which you view all new files created in Photoshop and all existing untagged files that you open in Photoshop.


Figure 1: Color Settings dialog box.

There is no off button for working space. Photoshop has to have some way to translate the image into the reference color space before converting the information for your monitor. If the image does not have an embedded working space, then Photoshop uses the working space selected in Color Settings. If you open an image in Photoshop with an embedded working space different than your selected working space, then you can choose which working space to use in viewing the image. Photoshop always translates your image using some working space.

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Copyright 2002 Michael W. Rollins

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