Last Updated: 26/02/2016

colour management and working environment

work lighting, ambient light and colour, effects on perception

colour management and working environment

The work area is very important as it has a significant influence on a user's perception of colour and tone. Room lighting, changing influence of daylight and coloured walls and floors can have a significant influence on perceived colour. I can help with information and advice on room lighting, the influence of ambient light and on wall colour etc.

Some studio and workroom environments make it really hard to judge colour and tone, and, thus, image quality - either on-screen or in print. Computer monitors are sometimes used in brightly lit rooms or positioned so that they might reflect windows, or perhaps a coloured wall is visible to the user when viewing the screen. Under these circumstances colour management practice varies from mildly compromised to nigh-on impossible, since every viewer's perception is quite sensitive to ambient light.

idealising viewing conditions for the screen and prints:

Is bright light falling on the screen itself? If you check when your monitor is actually switched off, its surface is not a pure deep black and this raises an interesting question: how can this screen display black well? It's actually just the same with your TV - and both can appear to be quite black in use - simultaneous contrast is at work here. Basically, it’s down to the user's perception of contrast between the black and lightest levels and to the adaptability of human vision. In good viewing circumstances and with good calibration, a monitor screen can be a very accurate way of viewing an image.


The monitor display has even more of a struggle representing black well in situations where more than a little ambient light hits the screen and the base "black" becomes quite grey. If the screen didn't come with one, it’s a great idea to make up a monitor hood which shields the screen from light falling from above or from the sides, the hood would ideally be black inside and project about 12 inches or 300mm from the top of the screen and at the sides - toward the operator. Eizo make a nice one for their Coloredge screen (right).

The room, and, ideally, even the operator’s clothing, should be neutral in colour and not at all brightly lit. Click here for info on a special grey room paint. Any ambient room lighting should, where possible, be standardised to D50 [the standard for artificial daylight].
Prints and proofs should be viewed with a D50 or daylight source, see the D50 desktop print / proof viewer at left which is from Graphic Technology, our lighting partners. More on Graphic Technologyhere.

Adapting the process: It's often pointed out that in some circumstances prints must be displayed and, thus, viewed in unusual lighting. In this case, it can be advantageous to assess final prints in lighting similar to the eventual display situation - maybe the prints are being made for a particular gallery? It's always important to consider, though, that if prints are altered to suit a particular room and if this adaptation is in any way extreme, then the prints made this way will only properly suit that room.
Generally prints are made for daylight viewing and this works quite well even when viewed in unusual or subdued lighting, but how can that be? As an example, consider a magazine, it can be read in daylight or under room light and looks "right" in both circumstances, this is the adaptability of the eye at work and this simplifies print making a lot. Colour management is standardised on daylight, D50 and this works well pretty much all of the time.

avoid colour in screen "desktop" backgrounds and in walls:

As discussed above, the human eye has an uncanny ability to adapt to different lighting situations. This can work against us a little in computer imaging, since one can quite easily adapt to an on-screen display which has a colour caste without noticing. One way to minimise this possibility is to use a neutral grey background on-screen, the operator's eyes then constantly references that grey as neutral. Coloured screen backgrounds can significantly affect user perception of the screen, as would coloured walls in the room, e.g. a green room makes the (well calibrated neutral) screen look magenta tinged and results in finished images which have a green tint when printed; neutral, midtone, walls are definitely preferable. Click here for info on a special grey room paint

checking - compare a known print and the monitor screen:

It can be very useful to have a known original set of images on file and a verified print of those images for comparison. Ideally this proof print will have been properly measured and checked against the relevant ISO standard. Proof and file can then be used together to check the quality of printed output and to assess screen to proof viewing too. It is quite a good feeling to hold a good print of an on-screen image under controlled viewing light and then view the screen and to know that the print and screen are indeed very similar in appearance.

I can provide a kit to help with this, more here.

If you'd like to have a quick chat about getting your own working environment tuned up, please click here.