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Optimize Your Work Space for Color Management


by Aimee Baldridge – December 12th, 2012

Calibrating and profiling are the place to start in a color-managed workflow. But it’s important to give a little attention to your work space, too. Here are a few housekeeping items that will help you maintain a clear, consistent view of your images.

Use the right light. A good color calibration system will account for the ambient light in your work space, but if you make a change to the ambient light level or type, you should recalibrate your monitor. Artificial light sources are best in a color-managed work space, as natural light levels and color temperatures fluctuate.

If you do a lot of printing, it’s a good idea to have an appropriate light source for viewing your prints. In general, a light source with a neutral daylight color temperature of about 5000 Kelvin is the best choice for giving you an accurate view of the colors in your prints. Special types of halogen and fluorescent bulbs such as Tailored Lighting’s SoLux lights and some sold by OTT-LITE are among the more affordable options. Look for a bulb with a high color rendition index, or CRI (over 90 and as close as possible to 100). The CRI is a rating that describes the light’s ability to consistently render color accurately.

Avoid using incandescent lights, which have a strong yellow cast, and standard fluorescent tubes, which cast a greenish light and are affected by spiking. Some LED bulbs and compact fluorescents offer daylight color temperatures, but they often have a relatively low CRI.

X-Rite Color Management Solutions Color TipGet some shade. Make sure there are no lights shining directly onto your monitor. If you can’t position the screen to keep light from falling directly on it or from being affected by reflections, consider getting a monitor hood for it. It’s best to keep the ambient level in your work space relatively low.

Keep colors neutral. The colors of walls, furniture, and decorations in your work space can affect the way the colors on your screen look if they are reflected onto it. Strong colors in your field of view can also alter the way you perceive colors because of retinal fatigue.

In the ideal color-managed work space, everything would be a light, non-reflective gray. Look around your space and move any brightly colored elements so that they aren’t creating reflections on your screen or falling within your field of view when you’re working. If the walls aren’t a neutral tone, a monitor hood can help keep light from bouncing off the walls, picking up a color cast, and falling on your monitor.

And don’t neglect sartorial considerations. If you’re sitting in front of your monitor wearing a bright-colored shirt, you may be throwing a color cast onto the images you’re viewing.

Keep it clean. Keep your monitor’s screen clean inside and out. Smoke and other pollutants can accumulate inside your monitor and create a layer of grime on the screen over time, so keep them away from your work space. You can check your monitor to make sure it’s clean from time to time by filling the screen with a pure white image. You’ll be able to see any residue that’s accumulated.

Clean the exterior surface by brushing off dust and applying a monitor cleaning solution with a soft cloth. Don’t use alcohol-based or household cleaners, or paper towels, as they can damage your monitor. Some monitors have removable screens that allow you to clean residue off of the interior surface of the screen. Check with your monitor manufacturer about the appropriate way to remove and clean it.

Optimizing your work space will help you control and evaluate color in your images. If you really want to get serious about a color-managed work space, check out the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 3664:2009 standard for image viewing conditions.

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