Simply put, color management is the controlled process of converting color between different devices with the end goal of obtaining repeatable and as closely matched color reproductions as possible on each of the various devices. In other words, we want to set up a process where all of our devices speak the same language and interpret color the same way. Practical examples include printing an inkjet output that closely matches your display, or scanning a physical material swatch that looks the same on screen as it does in real life. Although this is certainly not an exhaustive list of applications for color management, this should give you a general idea of the subject matter of this chapter. I suspect many of you reading this chapter have spent a great deal more time than you might like to admit trying to get your printouts looking as you expected or passing files along to clients with the hopes they see the colors you saw on your own display.
Color management is a subject that is fraught with much confusion and misconceptions and, in many cases, is not used at all. In fact, it is a subject that is widely misunderstood within many graphics fields including printing, photography, and graphic arts. Less than half of the architectural visualization industry currently uses a color managed workflow on a daily basis (based on various industry surveys conducted by CGarchitect.com). Considering the importance of achieving accurate and repeatable color in our work, it stands to reason that more importance should be placed on adopting a color managed workflow. However, most do not use color management. The reasons for this are numerous, but I think the number one problem lies in the complexity of the subject and the vague documentation that accompanies many of the applications and devices we all use in production. Color management deals with how we as humans see color and how that understanding can be turned into mathematical equations that can be understood by computers and devices. This sounds a bit daunting, but the good news is it doesn’t require a degree in advanced applied mathematics to use or to understand color management. You do, however, need to understand some core terminology and processes that are going on behind the scenes. Once you have those concepts mastered, color management is really not that hard to implement, and your workflow will be greatly improved.