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Why You Should Import RGB Images Into InDesign and Convert to CMYK On Export

[This article was co-authored by Claudia McCue and David Blatner.]

Yes, we know you probably learned to convert images to CMYK in Photoshop before placing them in InDesign. And yes, we know that you’ve been doing this since 1989 with PageMaker 2. But you know what? This is the 21st century now and it’s time to wake up, smell the coffee, and change your ways for the better.

So, even though we’ve been saying this for 15 years, maybe you haven’t heard it… so we’re going to say it one more time, with emotion:

You can leave your images in RGB. You don’t need to convert them to CMYK. And in fact, you probably should not convert them to CMYK (at least not in Photoshop).

As we have traveled around the world giving presentations about InDesign, Photoshop, and publishing, we’ve been constantly amazed at the number of people who are still using the old, 20th-century “convert to CMYK” workflow. And we feel a bit like someone walking into a jail announcing, “Hey, the doors aren’t locked! You don’t have to stay in here!” Some people immediately jump up and taste freedom; some wake up to the new realization slowly; and others refuse to believe it, knowing that staying behind bars is more comfortable than facing the unknown.

True, in Ye Olden Days, the RIPs (Raster Image Processors) used by commercial printers to translate PostScript from graphics programs did a lousy job of converting RGB to CMYK, resulting in muddy, inaccurate color rendering. Thus it was that, in all the land, a decree went out, ordering that Thou Shalt Convert Thy RGB Images To CMYK Before Sending Thy Job To The Printer.

Fast forward to Modern times: Current print workflows perform excellent conversions of RGB to CMYK, and some printing processes — such as digital presses and large-format inkjet output — actually provide better and more vibrant output when fed with RGB content.

You’ll still encounter print providers who insist on the submission of CMYK content, partly because “that’s how we’ve always done it” (and partly because some very small shops might still be using antiquated equipment).

Of course, you should always consult the printer to determine how your job should be submitted — never assume!

But here’s the truth: InDesign can convert your images to CMYK as well as Photoshop can. It uses the same color engine, so you can get exactly the same results. (There are a few, relatively rare exceptions to this rule, which we’ll cover below.)

So now, in the 21st century, here’s the new rule: Keep your images in RGB as long as you can, place them, as RGB, into InDesign… and then, only if you have to, convert to CMYK inside InDesign when you make your PDF files.

We’re Talking Pixels Here

We want to be clear that we’re talking about pixel-based images here — bitmapped images, such as those from Photoshop. We’re not talking about vector artwork. InDesign can convert RGB vector artwork, too, but it won’t necessarily end up the way you’d expect. If you’re using Illustrator or a similar vector-drawing tool to make logos or illustrations that will likely be printed, we generally recommend using CMYK or spot colors, not RGB.

Similarly, when you’re applying solid colors to objects in InDesign—and those documents are headed for print—you should use CMYK or spot color swatches, not RGB, in the interest of predictable conversion. For example, if you apply a solid RGB color 0/255/255 (which is bright cyan) to a frame and then print it, you’re not going to see a perfect 100% cyan in print. Instead, you’ll get something like 52% cyan and 13% yellow. That’s just par for the course when it comes to converting solid RGB colors to CMYK. So if you want 100% cyan, you should spec it in InDesign as 100% cyan.

Tip: In the Swatch Options dialog box, InDesign and Illustrator both warn you if an RGB color falls outside what CMYK printing inks can reproduce (called the CMYK “gamut”). Click the yellow alert triangle to convert to the closest in-gamut RGB value, so you won’t be shocked when the color is converted to CMYK.

Swatch Options

Note that we’re emphasizing “for print.” If you’re creating documents that are primarily for on-screen viewing, then solid RGB colors are great, even in vector artwork!

Why Placing RGB Images is (better than) OK

What’s so wonderful about Red-Green-Blue? RGB is the native language of digital cameras and scanners, and it can faithfully portray a wide range (gamut) of colors, from vibrant oranges to brilliant greens, from bright white to dramatic black. Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) printing inks can render a smaller range of colors, resulting in disappointing approximations of those oranges and greens, as well as other commonly desired colors, such as navy blue.

When you convert RGB images to CMYK, you lose those out-of-gamut colors, and they won’t come return if you convert back to RGB.

But here’s the important part: Just because you place RGB images into InDesign doesn’t mean you’re sending RGB images to your printer! InDesign can convert those RGB images to CMYK when you export your PDF file. (It changes them in the PDF file without modifying your originals on disk.) So by placing RGB images, you have a choice: send RGB or CMYK—and if you choose CMYK, then you have to decide which CMYK.

The “which CMYK” is a new question for a lot of people, because they think there’s just one CMYK. But there are thousands of different CMYKs! So when you convert an RGB image to CMYK in Photoshop you’re targeting (optimizing for) just one of those.  And, unless you use the correct target printing profile to perform the conversion, you may have stripped out RGB colors that could have printed successfully. For example, if you used a profile for uncoated paper when preparing images that will print on coated stock, your conversion is way off. Plus, printers who have implemented a full color-managed workflow want your images as RGB because they can convert to CMYK at the last stage before printing, optimizing output for the final printing platform.

Even better, sticking with RGB means you can use the same images for different jobs: the same document could be printed on Web press coated paper one day and then sheetfed uncoated paper the next. Or you can use the same image assets in multiple ways— for example, a brochure printed on a sheetfed offset press, and a companion banner printed on a grand format inkjet device. The results might be very slightly different, but you will be able to get the best quality from each, rather than target just one printing condition and then leave the other one to chance.

Keep in mind that most modern printers can handle RGB content. Converting to CMYK early won’t necessarily ruin the outcome, but might result in the loss of some color gamut, especially if the job is going on a digital press such as the HP Indigo or a wide-gamut device such as a large format inkjet printer.

So talk with your printer: If they say they can accept a PDF/X3 or PDF/X4 file, that means they can handle the conversion from RGB to CMYK themselves (and, again, they’ll probably do a better job of it than you can). If they say they need all your images converted to CMYK, then use InDesign to do the conversion when you make your PDF.

(Some of you are saying, “But I don’t make a PDF, I send my native InDesign files to the printer.” Well, um, that’s nice. We find sending PDF files to be far more reliable, assuming the file is created correctly. If you aren’t sure how to make a great PDF file, see the links to our video courses and books at the end of this article.)

Of course, your printer may request that you send an InDesign package with the PDF so that any necessary changes can be made more easily. Printers often have to modify otherwise perfect files to accommodate the final printing process. But if the file and the PDF is made correctly, they shouldn’t need to touch your original files.

How to Convert to CMYK When Exporting a PDF

When your printer tells you they do prefer CMYK images, here’s how to export your PDF files from InDesign:

  1. Choose File > Export.
  2. Choose PDF (Print) from the Format pop-up menu.
  3. Choose a PDF Preset (such as PDF/X-1a if you want to flatten all your transparency, or PDF/X-4 if you want to maintain your transparency).
  4. Set up all the other options in the Export PDF dialog box (compression, marks and bleeds, etc.)
  5. Finally (here’s the important part), in the Output pane of the Export PDF dialog box, choose Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers) from the Color Conversion pop-up menu. Do not choose “Convert to Destination” (without the “preserve numbers”) part, unless you really seriously know what you’re doing. Preserve Numbers means “if I have a CMYK image or CMYK colors in my file, then leave those alone.” You want that.
  6. Then, in the Destination pop-up menu, choose which CMYK you are targeting. Again, in the best case scenario, your printer will give you a color “profile” you should choose. But if they insist on CMYK, and for some reason can’t provide a custom profile, ask if they’re running the job on a web press or on a sheetfed press; then you can at least use canned profiles. For example, for uncoated stock on a sheetfed press, you might want to use Uncoated FOGRA29.
  7. Click Export.

The PDF you get will be all CMYK and your printer will be happy.

When It Makes Sense To Convert to CMYK Before Placing an Image

There are a few times when we convert images to CMYK in Photoshop before saving and placing into InDesign:

  • First, if an image includes a color that must show up with a specific CMYK value. For example, let’s say you have an image of a banner with a giant corporate logo on it, and that logo has to be a particular CMYK value. Or if you have an image that contains an area of solid magenta that really is supposed to be solid, 100% magenta.
  • Second, there are some image retouching situations where you really need to adjust just one plate. The classic example is when you have an image of a model’s face and you want to adjust just the black plate.

In those cases, we would convert to CMYK in Photoshop and then adjust the color on individual channels/plates to match the required color. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.

And, for goodness sake, if you are going to use Photoshop to convert from RGB to CMYK, choose Edit > Convert to Profile (instead of just choosing Image > Mode > CMYK). If you just change the image mode, Photoshop uses the values dictated by your current color setup (Edit > Color Settings). That’s fine if your current color settings match your ultimate printing process. But choosing Edit > Convert to Profile helps ensure that you’re choosing the correct target (“which CMYK”) each time.

For More Information

Want to learn more about preparing images for print, exporting documents to PDF, and managing your color? Check out:

Claudia McCue
Claudia McCue incorporates more than 20 years of traditional and digital prepress production experience in her current incarnation as a consultant, trainer, and author devoted to the graphic arts industry. Claudia's company, Practicalia LLC, provides custom onsite training for a national client base of design firms, printing companies and marketing professionals. She is the author of Real World Print Production With Adobe Creative Cloud (Peachpit Press, 2013), and a frequent presenter at industry conferences. She is also the presenter for several Lynda.com titles, including "Acrobat X: Creating Forms," "Print Production Fundamentals," and "Up & Running With Acrobat XI Pro." When not chained to the computer, she can be found riding her motorcycle on country roads. She swears it’s the cure for writer’s block.
David Blatner
David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at Lynda.com are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at 63p.com.
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164 Comments on “Why You Should Import RGB Images Into InDesign and Convert to CMYK On Export

  1. David,

    I really don’t think that you will find that placing PDF into InDesign and using its separation preview will give you CMYK values that are any more accurate than those displayed in Acrobat, especially since placing PDF/X into an InDesign document does not currently respect any output intent profiles!!!

    • @Dov: My point (and the point of the person I was replying to) is that when you open a PDF in Acrobat then open Acrobat’s Output Preview panel, it sometimes shows CMYK cross-rendered to a different profile! I think this has to do with the setting in the Simulation Profile pop-up menu. I can’t recall exactly what steps I’ve taken that causes this conniptions, but it happens.

      But if you place the PDF into InDesign and use Sep Preview, it shows you the CMYK values no matter what… specifically because ID doesn’t respect the intent profiles by default!

      • Dov, two suggested feature requests that would probably help users a lot:

        1. InDesign PDF Export: Incorporate the “Preserve” colour conversion options from InDesign convert colour (Blacks, Primaries)

        2. Acrobat Pro Output Preview: Incorporate a “preserve CMYK numbers” checkbox so that users can elect to preview how their content would be handled if there was *no conversion* from an ICC tagged CMYK source to a different ICC tagged CMYK destination. A “safe CMYK workflow” option in the preview, so that users can “trust” what they see!

        Yes, I know that the Object Inspector option is there (and I love it) to show current/actual values and not latent/potential converted values, however Object Inspector has usage issues for many people.

      • Apologies, that should have read:

        1. InDesign PDF Export: Incorporate the “Preserve” colour conversion options from *Acrobat Pro* convert colour (Blacks, Primaries)

        Not from *InDesign*

  2. Nice idea, but images coming from client’s digital camera are 72dpi. Still need Photoshop to get them into 300dpi space.

    • But at what size in 72ppi? That is what matters! If you scale them down, resolution ppi increases. In most cases 72 ppi images from clients are shot with at least 6 megapixels and are huge! (Oh, and it is ppi, not dpi by the way, dpi are dots, is for print devices…)

    • Linda: Oh yes! You still need Photoshop. You should use photoshop to resample the image to an appropriate resolution, crop, do color adjustments, retouch… nothing wrong with that. This article is simply arguing that you not convert to CMYK in Photoshop most of the time.

  3. Hi,
    Thank you for this good article. One question though: should I use sRGB or AdobeRGB in Photoshop and should I save the profile with the image when saving? Thank in advance!

    • The simple answer first. You should ALWAYS save the profile with the image when saving a color image.

      In terms of color space, AdobeRGB is a wider gamut color space than sRGB, but if you have existing content in one or the other (or even another RGB color space such as ProPhoto), simply leave the image in that RGB color space!

      If you are starting new imagery, if your target is graphic arts, AdobeRGB is a fairly safe choice. If the imagery will primarily be used in Microsoft Office applications or web pages, sRGB might be safer.

  4. Thanks for the article. I knew I was right and my printers were wrong! One of the biggest finnish newspapers… But a little question. How about PROFILE INCLUSION POLICY, does it matter what to choose, INCLUDE DESTINATION PROFILE or not?

      • Not only is it a “good idea” but it is required for modern PDF/X standards such as PDF/X-4 (even if the printer ultimately uses a different print condition and uses device link profiles to move your CMYK to theirs).

        – Dov

  5. Whenever you should or not using RGB images in InDesign is mostly based on the following points :
    – Do you need to have a precise color in your image? For example, a CMYK version of a Pantone in your document?
    – Is you image hovering above any forms, vector images or colors that is managed by InDesign and in which you find 2 media of the same color touching each other?
    – Do you want InDesign to correctly manage the overprint values of any text which is hovering above the image?
    – If it’s printed on printing presses, is there any thin white/pale text on black in which there’s a risk of a slight but visible offset from one of the 4 process color?
    – Is the printing company you’ll send the files to unable to manage web-based color profiles automatically?

    If you answer “yes” to any single questions I mentioned, you have to keep the color profile to CMYK for the images involved.

    You might think that the old RIP system were inaccurate and it’s not the case anymore, but you’re wrong to think that all the system are upgraded. You know how much it cost to upgrade such system? Between 2 and 10 MILLION dollars. And you know that the printing field is getting hit in their kidney (money) constantly. Since 2007, more than 50% of every printing companies in the World have been either fused or closed!

    You can buy a near-new printing press + all the 90’s software as well as a plate burner required to print for around 200K in $US. You can buy a automatic plate burning RGB press for around 1-2 Million PER 4 colors on 40 inches of print. (Want to print up to 80 inches wides? Around 3-4 million $US and so on.)

    Yes, there are software that does the job, but those software are not always compatible with with hardware in place. Have you ever see what software are used to produce press plates (for high quantity prints) or even those so called “Web-Press”? Makes me think about software build for Windows 95.

    Are you ready to pay 1.5 or even 3 times to amount of money for your job to be print just because you’re using RGB images as the most cheaper priced prints can’t uses your files without working over them adding a fee of 100$-200$ per hours with high risks of color variations? You might be. but your customers are not.(Those customers that might be willing mostly have their own print assets to print their stuff.)

    The problem we have got nothing to do with the fact that the software we use in graphic design can’t do the job, but that the next step in the process is evolving 4x slower due to how big the difference of costs is.

    To give you an idea, I’m currently working on a 300 page booklet project. I got 25 free page updates during the blueprint approbation, but if we exceed those 25 pages, I pay 25$ per page (for the first 50 pages) and then 20$ per additional pages and I’m the one who does the fixes (so add the time I’m working to fix things). 70% of the pages includes pixel images. If I was to risk it with RGB image which might not end up well, I’m risking having to pay 3950$ (not counting time) just because I risked it while I got a higher chance of success and a LOT less risks of colors errors if I used the fixed CMYK color values.

    Think about it that way.

  6. Hi David, great read, i don’t normally ask questions but I feel are full of knowledge so I thought id share my predicament. I recently took charge of labels (boxes and tubs) at a company, from a design agency. They used complexed images for backgrounds (placed .psd) and only ever spot colours for logos and solid colours when applicable .

    I’m considering using placed RGB placed .PSD files in my print design as my latest four colour process prints are becoming duller than on screen, also new jobs done didn’t match previous labels. After this searched old pervious artwork from the agency, and I saw indesign is linked with RGB files instead of CMYK (like you suggest).

    This backs up your statement that RGB linked files allow for more vibrant colour Four Colour Process prints.

    My question is do I just link the RGB .PSD background files to indesign and then add the text, spot colour vector objects, and then export as PDF. and also how do you stop colour levels going over 300% ink and black being a rich black. I dot want the colour to become muddy or brown. Thanks for you help

  7. @Mike,

    Placing ICC profile-tagged RGB PSD (or for that matter TIFF, JPEG, or whatever-based imagery) will NOT likely get you more vibrant color than an image properly converted to the exact CMYK color space used by your printing process.

    On the other hand, if you don’t know exactly what that CMYK color space is (and most designer don’t know that), you are better off letting that conversion be delayed to later in the workflow and possibly all the way down at the RIP. This gives you the most flexibility in terms of ability to change printing process and/or color spaces without having to generate new PDF assets.

    That is why we at Adobe recommend use of exported PDF/X-4 with no color conversions.

  8. Thank you for a nice article. It left me with a question though. Does the same go for .eps files or vector files in general. Does Indesign also convert them to CMYK?

      • There is only one good reason why one would continue to use EPS and that is that only of “legacy content” where there is no longer access to the original artwork and that the EPS was of uncertain origin. (Contrary to popular belief, Adobe Illustrator is neither a general purpose EPS or PDF editor. In the case of EPS, Illustrator can only safely open and edit EPS files created by the same or earlier Illustrator versions. Anything else is a real crapshoot!)

        For new content, I would agree! EPS is a legacy format that doesn’t support color management, transparency, and other features of modern PDF workflows.

        – Dov

  9. The same is true for whatever content you place into an InDesign document. Note that .EPS files are not necessarily vector (they can be any combination of text, vector, and raster content). By other vector files, you may be referring to .WMF, EMF, .CGM, etc. Likewise, those RGB formats get converted to CMYK assuming you do choose such a conversion to occur.

    Again, remember that a more flexible workflow using PDF/X-4 has you keeping content in its original color space all the way to the RIP itself.

    – Dov

  10. We have been having an issue with a client who is placing RGB ads into InDesign files that are then converted to Grayscale. The converted ads are ending up way too dark. We are then printing on a web-press on newsprint and in the end the ads are way too dark. In the case of RGB>grayscale conversion do you still advocate having InDesign do the conversion? We tell our clients to pre-convert . . . or better yet create ads as B&W.

    • The idea of automatically “converting” any color content to grayscale, regardless of whether done in Photoshop, InDesign, Acrobat, or at the RIP is very problematic at least!

      Content that is originally prepared for black and white printing needs to much more seriously account for contrast and tone values. With color, part of the contrast is the contrast between the colorants themselves which is totally lost in most automatic color to grayscale conversions.

      Raster images / photos really need to be individually converted in Photoshop using appropriate filters and/or curves in each image yields sufficient and pleasing contrast in the final grayscale result.

      I’m basically for the solution of “create the ads in B&W” if you are printing them as B&W!!!

      – Dov

      • Yeo, nothing is quite as sweet as when the art is prepared correctly at the start.

        For photos, Results are usually pretty good if you use Photoshop’s Black & White filter and adjust the reg, greens, yellows and blues etc. until the contrast looks acceptable. (or use curves if you’re good at curves)

        I like to then make it into a smart object, then convert to grayscale so smart object will be RGB inside.
        That also seems to minimize shifts in tone that sometimes happen when you convert to Grayscale.

        For InDesign files, you could define some gray swatches, in swatch panel-“Add Unnamed Colors” and then delete swatches and replace with a suitable gray or change them all to spot colors and use ink manager to do that.

        Dov will not like this idea – because Illustrator is not a PDF editor – but you might also be able to open the PDF in Illustrator and use it’s convert to grayscale feature.

      • Yeah, right. You like suicide? Unless the PDF was created in Illustrator with the “Illustrator editing compatibility” option, you are likely to do significant damage to the PDF file by opening and saving in Illustrator, especially in terms of text (Illustrator does not use any fonts embedded in the PDF file and thus, if you don’t have the fonts installed on your system, you get font substitution that persists when saving) and color spaces.

        That having been said, Illustrator’s color conversion is good old simple ICC color managed-based conversion from one color space to another without content-aware adjustments. You might as well let the RIP do it! You really don’t gain anything via that method … assuming you don’t end up with a bigger mess per my first comments!

        – Dov

  11. I just finished converting my photos to CMYK and placed them in InDesign. I wish I had seen your article before doing that. I am making a book using Blurb’s InDesign CS6 template, and when I press W to make the rulers vanish, some of the photos vanish, too! I can get them back using layers, but this has never happened when using RGB.

    Any thoughts????

  12. This conversion did not work well for me at all. The book printer I used pretty much insisted on converting my files as suggested here and the result was…blurred images and faded color…on the hardback version of my book. The softcover printer did no such conversion and the result was brilliant. For the hardback printer, I’m not using any printer but a nationally known well reviewed firm…that’s responsible for printing most of the better known children’s books in this country.

  13. As someone who has been working in printing cmyk for 40 years-
    Designers who work in RGB which covers all the colors your eyes see (they sense Red, green, and blue),
    will design images with colors that WILL NOT REPRODUCE with CMYK.
    Certain colors, pinks, blues and greens just will not match saturation or hue that RGB can reproduce.
    – another problem is consistency, having the same image look the same off a screen press, sheetfed, or UV inkjet-
    If you convert just for one process yes you can achieve a larger gamut, however most print buyers require
    images to look the same across the differing print methods.

  14. Good article, but I’d take the argument for RGB a step further and suggest you’re making a false distinction between vector and raster. RGB vector art is fine (and quite often preferable, especially when it comes to using some of Illustrator’s effects) unless you need to control individual separations. The important distinction is whether or not you need to control individual separations (most obviously keeping black text on the black plate), not vector or raster.

  15. Hey everybody,

    what do you do when you use a combination of greyscale images with RGB images?
    There doesn’t seem a way to prevent InDesign from converting the greyscale ones to CMYK (if coloured in InDesign for example).

    • If you need a CMYK result export as PDF/X-1a and convert to destination but keep values, that will keep the greyscale in K and convert RGB to CMYK.
      If you color a greyscale image in InDesign it takes the swatch if CMYK or converts it according the color management settings if it is RGB or Lab.

  16. I am sure this is a dumb question but I am a beginner and I have no idea. I am creating a portfolio to submit to graphic design programs and one of the programs wants our work in a PDF format, with RGB colors. I had already created several of my documents (in InDesign) and selected “print” in the Intent drop down menu when creating a new document. So now I need to convert the colors to RGB from CMYK. What is the best/easiest way to do this?

  17. Hi David

    I really hope you can help me with an combined InDesign/Illustrator issue.

    Where I work, we always place pixel-based RGB images into InDesign, and when exporting the pdf we do a CMYK colour conversion. We use the icc profile our printhouse recommend. And always Convert to destination (Preserve numbers).

    The preset varies from PDF/X-1a or PDF/X-4, again depending on what our printhouse recommends to the specific case.

    However, sometimes we place CMYK Illustrator files into our InDesign doc. And I see a tendency that people import pixel-based RGB images into these Illustrator files.

    So when I export an InDesign doc which include an Illustrator file with an RGB image, will it convert the RGB image to the CMYK profile I choose?

    I hope my question is clear, english is not my native language. Sorry.

    Best regards,
    Troels

    • Troels,

      I am not David, but I think I can answer your query.

      If you place Illustrator content into InDesign (preferably via PDF exported either as High Quality Print or PDF/X-4; never use PDF/X-1a for this purpose), any RGB in the placed content will either be passed through or converted to the exported PDF from InDesign in the same manner as native content.

      – Dov

      • Hello Dov,

        It’s good to see you in places where quality graphic arts/CMS discussion is in place. For your reply to Troels, I thought the issue is about how adobe handles netted or chained content with icc profile tagged… and what about source profile, destination profile, rendering intent, preserve number…etc.

        Logically, if everything is well tagged and late binding approach is honoured across the adobe softwares…the final color space conversion seems to be key in terms of the outcome.

        Thus, for illustrator file w/ multi color space images imported, or multi color vectors/gradients…etc should be exported in what format and with what setting?

        For intermediate authorizing software like Indesign, how it integrate such different import from Illustrator or PDF, and how it export the file.

        Finally, is there any normalization of PDF that needs to be done in order to pass the PDF to printer? PDFX/4 is most late binding, but can printer as the final gate keeper able to handle these chains of content netting?

        THANKS

      • Hi George,

        To specifically answer your question…

        Content saved as PDF from either Illustrator or Photoshop or exported from InDesign placed into an InDesign document maintains whatever source profiles were in the placed PDF file.

        For example, if you place (via link) a JPEG raster image tagged with an sRGB ICC profile into a SWOP CMYK Illustrator document and then save that as a PDF/X-4 file with no color conversion and with the source profiles preserved, placing that PDF/X-4 file into an InDesign document preserves the sRGB color space and profile of the image in that placed Illustrator-exported PDF file, even if the default RGB color space of the InDesign document is Adobe RGB, for example. If you subsequently export PDF/X-4 from InDesign, again without any color conversions, that object with sRGB and its profile will end up in the final exported PDF file.

        There is only one got’cha area that you should be aware of in this scenario and ironically, it has nothing to do with placed, color-managed RGB or LAB, but rather, with incompatible CMYK color spaces.

        If in the previous example, the Illustrator document was created with SWOP CMYK, the PDF/X-4 PDF export will have a Output Intent and profile for SWOP CMYK, as would be expected. HOWEVER, if our hypothetical InDesign document is setup for FOGRA37, at the time the Illustrator PDF/X-4 file is placed, this mismatch is not detected. Effectively as currently implemented, when placing PDF/X-4 in either Illustrator (by link) or in InDesign, the Output Intent profile is totally ignored!! For critical CMYK-based work, this could be a real problem. In this care, ironically, the fidelity of RGB is better-preserved than CMYK!!! :-(

        Yes, we are aware of this issue at Adobe and hopefully in our next major revision of PDF export we can address this issue (although quite frankly, choices will effectively need to be to either ignore the mismatch or do an immediate CMYK=>C’M’Y’K’ conversion with the possible option of maintaining pure colorants).

        All this having been said, our recommendation at Adobe is to export/save PDF as PDF/X-4 with no color conversions at PDF creation time. A secondary option would be the High Quality Print conversion options with absolutely all profiles embedded and no color conversion at PDF creation time.

        Hopefully this gives you a bit more insight and either comfort or discomfort as to the processes in place.

        – Dov

      • Hello Dov, It’s very clearly explained and I both learnt and inpired, I can see that you are a true technical veteran who has a fair view in discussion and knowledge sharing. I am continually strive for learning an optimized RGB workflow, however in the other “~planet” forum I had sour response, had a feeling that those CMYK guru fundamentally is not that much accepting RGB workflow, neither contributing comments nor solid input is made….only generalized comments is a sidetrack and not so focused way. May be it’s my bad to use an inappropriate title, maybe I’m overacting…I don’t know, but seeing your participation in various places sets a very positive impression to me on forum, but some others is just using others title to promote, steer or influence others towards it’s personal interest or benefit…and this makes me feel not that much of comfort for sure. Anyway maybe I have to learn this unspoken rules in forum of the internet world. I’m really interested in striving the RGB workflow to optimize for RGB-capable device capability.

  18. What are your suggestions for output to digital presses? I have seen nothing but problems and inconsistent color and procedures to get the output acceptable.

    • For digital presses, I definitely recommend placing RGB images. If you’re printing directly from InDesign, you’ll likely want to ensure you’re specifying the right ICC color profile for that printer, or use a profile that reflects how the printer has been calibrated (e.g. Gracol).

      • David,

        FWIW, I would personally NEVER recommend printing directly from InDesign (or for that matter Illustrator). Export PDF (or in the case of Illustrator) save PDF/X-4 and print that, even if to a conventional printer from Acrobat. Acrobat’s printing capabilities significantly eclipse those of InDesign (and Illustrator).

        – Dov

    • For optimizing your digital devices color gamut ability through proper RGB workflow, here’s what I upto:
      1. make sure the digital image capture is properly icc tagged, bit depth setup and working color space; likely when you finish save as a 16bit tiff and properly tagged (for e.g. Adobe RGB will likely fit for late binding approach)
      2. a properly tagged image, and correctly setup INDD which respected the profile, format, bit-depth, transparency etc (u need some work and test on that, Dov is a good commentor);
      3. Dov suggest to export as PDF/X-4 as a late binding format;
      4. stability of your output device, and it’s maintainence and daily calibration is important, compare heat/toner/liquid type of digital devices with printhead/ink/paper devices, compare how stable they are in delta-E, how repeatable they are thru daily check. Device or use proper wedge and spectro for checking & read deviation/tolerance.
      5. building your custom digital devices is a lot of work and expertise, which you need a dedicated person or hire a professional…u need the knowledge tools of hardware/software device vendor support to really get the true device gamut available for specific substrate at specific resolution and other parameters; I think a good profile is highly specific and exact condition has to be met.
      6. I”m in research and compilation of such, it seems kind of scattered in the market right now.
      7 you also need a guidebook : for your client (how to create, edit and handover the content); for your prepress (what needs to be preflight, normalize, and comply); for your output operator, a particular job that states very clearly the job specifications to the very detail…and the gatekeeper to makesure things are right….the wedge verification.

      • Hi Dov/George/David

        Thanks for all the replies. You guys clearly know what you are talking about.

        I have a very specific case I would like to describe.

        I have a Adobe RGB image I link into an untagged CMYK Illustrator document. I save the Illustrator file as an .ai file and do not put a check mark into “Embed ICC Profiles”.

        After that I link the .ai file (with the Adobe RGB image) into a InDesign document. I export the InDesign doc using preset PDF/X-4 and make a colour conversion to ISO Coated v2, preserve numbers.

        So what you are saying, in that pdf I would still have a Adobe RGB image, because it is linked into the Illustrator file? Or am I mistaken?

      • Dov is the right person to answer you.

        from what I understand from your description is that you have these done not so right:
        (i) the RGB image should have source icc profile specified and saved in the file;
        (ii) when you export the AI (with placed RGB image), it’s better export in PDF/X-4 with profile embeded, no color conversion, preserve CMYK numbers.

        placing the AI (export as PDF/X-4) to INDD and convert to ISO-coated-V2 preserve number seems fine.

      • George,

        For editing digital images that originated as RAW images from a digital camera, I certainly would endorse maintaining a losslessly-compressed 16bpp TIFF or JPEG2000 file tagged with an appropriate wide-gamut RGB ICC profile such as AdobeRGB.

        However, you should be aware that once you place such an image in InDesign (or import either by link or directly into Illustrator), the eight low-order bits are discarded. The rest of the workflow within InDesign (or Illustrator) and exporting (or saving) PDF contains only 8bpp images!

        The only Adobe application which can save 16bpp images is Photoshop. Although Acrobat can open PDF files with 16bpp images (and use watermarks and such with 16bpp images), printing from Acrobat such as to a PostScript printer will again truncate the eight low-order bits.

        Bottom line is that maintaining 16bpp imagery is appropriate for archives of images that you may want and/or need to “adjust” in the future OR if you are directly sending PDF files saved from such images to a wide gamut PDF-direct printer, but it is effectively useless later in any other workflow.

        – Dov

      • Troels,

        WRT Illustrator — if you place an AdobeRGB image into Illustrator via a link, the color space is preserved complete with its ICC profile. If you don’t do the link, the image is converted from AdobeRGB to whatever the default CMYK color space is at the time you are running Illustrator. YOU DON’T WANT TO DO THIS! Place via a link!!

        Export as PDF/X-4 with the default option of NOT converting any colors.

        Placing the resultant PDF/X-4 into an InDesign document preserves the color spaces of the RGB images and profiles placed by link into Illustrator.

        From InDesign, unless you have tagged CMYK content in the InDesign document (you won’t from the placed PDF/X-4 from Illustrator), export PDF/X-4 from InDesign WITHOUT any color conversion. That is the only way you will preserve the RGB with profiles in the resultant, final PDF/X-4 file!

        – Dov

  19. Thanks for the article. So when preflighting the indesign file, are we to look past the errors generated? Found in preflight panel as well as when packaging there is a flag on images using RGB color space. Thanks in advance.

  20. Alicia, you’re right: just ignore the RGB warnings. Those are sort of left over from ancient times, and InDesign still feels compelled to mention RGB content.

  21. It would be better to take some time and tweak your preflight profiles. This is easily done, you can specify then what colour spaces are acceptable. You could even turn on warnings for CMYK content, I know David B. would like that:-)

    Ignoring preflight warnings makes it easy to skip over warnings you really do want to do something about.

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