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InDesign Color Management

Stop settling for mediocre color, and see how a few easy techniques can improve your colors immensely


This article appeared in Issue 85 of InDesign Magazine.

Color is tricky. Of course, it’s easy to make a color in InDesign and apply it to an object on your page, but to ensure that the color looks the same way on your screen and other people’s screens, and when you print it out… that’s tricky. And that, in a nutshell, is what color management is all about.

Color management has a bad reputation as being too complex and technical, something that would require years of study to understand. And the result is that too many designers (especially InDesign users!) just ignore the topic entirely and resign themselves to complaining about color infidelity, rather than actually doing something about it.

But in reality, things aren’t quite so daunting. You can get much better color by learning just a little bit about color management. So in this article, I’m not going to be comprehensive about how to get perfect color, because that would take hundreds of pages. Instead, I’m going to focus on the basics, and the most important things you need to know about color management. I promise, this won’t hurt a bit.

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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.
David Blatner

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11 Comments on “InDesign Color Management

    • Hi Biju. Yes, to read articles from InDesign Magazine, you need to get a Premium Membership, which will also give you access to all the back issues of the magazine, templates, and other goodies. Hope you decide to join.

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  1. When used properly, InDesign’s colour management can be a very useful tool but the thing that is most frustrating with it is that you can set up a document with the correct icc profiles assigned and the colour policies and behaviours set exactly how you want them but other users can trash all that just because of the way they have their colour settings configured on their machines.

    I really wish Adobe would come up with a way that colour settings and assigned profiles could be locked to a document so they cannot be overridden at all or at least not without a degree of difficulty.

    In my experience, it is very rare for a document to be returned to me with its original icc profiles still assigned. They have usually been removed entirely or changed to one of the Adobe defaults.

    • hedgman: Your experience is fascinating to me because the default out-of-box experience should work the way you want. Are you talking about the InDesign document profiles? Or the profiles of assets (e.g. Photoshop files)?

      In general, the only ways to change the document profiles is to use Edit > Assign/Convert to Profile (which very few people do), or if someone has Profile Mismatches > Ask When Opening enabled in Color Settings (which few people do).

      In the vast majority of cases, if you set a document profile (with, say, Assign Profile), that will stay with the document forever. The Color Settings on someone else’s machine will NOT change anything if they open and save a document.

      • I’m talking about InDesign document profiles. I agree with everything you have said about what should happen but in my experience it is often the case that documents come back to us with no or different profiles assigned. I should add that we use many different CMYK profiles in the course of our work and we do not tend to use the Adobe default profiles.

        I think the main reason could be that users have changed the Colour Management Policies to Off. If this is the case assigned profiles do get discarded.

        But the point I’m trying to make is that if there was a way to lock the profiles, colour management policies and conversion options to the documents then it wouldn’t matter what the user had chosen for their Colour Settings

      • hedgman: WOW. Why would they change their policies to Off? That is not InDesign’s problem, that is their problem!! You are correct that ID will strip the profiles. But no one should ever set the policies to Off (unless they are specifically trying to strip off profiles, and destroy the intention of the document creator).

        This is exactly like someone opening your document, then using Find Font to change all your fonts to different fonts. Then the document comes back to you and you say, “hey, where are the fonts I used?!”

        InDesign cannot stop people from messing up your files. I can understand your frustration, but in my opinion this is a matter of education. The people you are working with are obviously misinformed, malicious, or monkeys.

  2. I suspect they set the policies to off because it is a way to get rid of some of those annoying colour management warnings. To be honest, I can’t think of a good reason to even have the Off options available. Colour management savvy users don’t really need the option and those that don’t understand should never go near it anyway.

    I don’t agree with your Find Font analogy because that requires the user to actively make choices whereas the colour policies settings can do their damage in the background and, if the warnings have been disabled, will go unnoticed.

    I’ve encountered this issue many times with files from disparate sources so I’m inclined to believe that misinformation is the most likely of your three suggestions.

    • You make a good point. I agree that it’s mostly misinformation/misunderstanding. But the best way to make the policy warnings go away is to simply turn off the Ask When Opening checkboxes. That is typically safe.

      I recommend people just use the Europe General Purpose 3 preset (yes, even in the USA, though you may not see it in the popup menu unless you turn on the Advanced Mode checkbox). That is the appropriate “safe” setting.

      And yeah, you’re right about the Find Font analogy. Good point. But the result is similarly horrible (though often not noticeable at first).

  3. Hey David
    I have just finished watching your video on Lynda ‘InDesign Insider Training: Colour Management’ – whoa a lot to think about!!. I have a 2 queries…

    1. We are now all set up with Europe Prepress 3 on all our macs how do we treat legacy indd documents? Do we leave as is, or do we adjust the document to match current settings? and if match do we keep existing assignments for placed content?

    2. I have learnt that you feel converting PMS to LAB colour is the best way to get closet to the PMS colour in print… does this mean we don’t look at the values in the Pantone booklet for CMYK conversions -(as they are completely different) This is more about when advising a client in a style guide the CMYK breakdown of a PMS

    • Karina:
      1. The problem with Prepress 3 is that it turns on those Policy Mismatch checkboxes, so you’re always getting warnings about files. I hate that. I like General Purpose 3, which turns those off. I don’t want to see warnings; in general, I leave documents in their own color space, unless I know that it is incorrect (then I use assign profile to change it).

      2. If you are trying to give clients a CMYK equivalent, then I would suggest using the booklet, which is better because you can actually see the CMYK (at least on that particular paper stock). But printing the spot colors using Lab is good for proofing, for example.

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