What are color spaces: sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto …

In general, the channels used by screens, monitors or cameras are RGB or what is the same: red, green and blue. For their part, printers or any device that uses ink bets on CMYK which, as they also explained to us years ago, corresponds to cyan, magenta, yellow and black. But beyond these uses, there are different color spaces and each one allows us a more shades or colors, a greater ability to represent reality. That is why today we explain the different color spaces and their differences.

color spaces cie 1931

What are color spaces?

Color spaces are the way colors are organized in an image and the way we appreciate them as they are represented. A series of data that is captured by the camera in which you take a photograph, for example, and that later the computer or the editing program would translate. Color combinations that are usually composed of three or four factors and that can vary depending on the device we are using to see it, as we have said in the previous paragraphs. Not only will it vary from a screen or monitor to a printer, but between two screens you can achieve a greater degree of representation of reality or less depending on the quality or the color space you use. For example, if you use sRGB or Adobe RGB.

Why should we care about color spaces? Depending on the use that we do or that we are going to do, it is advisable to bet on one color space or another. For example, to print photographs it is not advisable to use the same one that you would use to upload images to the Internet. In that case, we review what there are, what are their differences or what colors they show compared to reality.

Color spaces

Although there are many, as we will see below, in computer monitors and in computing, the most common are usually sRGB released by HP and Microsoft in 1998 or Adobe RGB, launched by Adobe. Both are RGB spaces along with others like DCI-P3 used for film projection, for example. But they are not the only ones and we explain the different options, their uses, their characteristics.

Pointer Gamut: What is it?

The first thing we have to take into account is Pointer’s Gamut thanks to the fact that it is an approximation of the reality that the human eye can perceive. That is, it would be the maximum point of colors that could be appreciated. The name is due to an investigation by Michael R. Pointer, published in 1980 and that gives it a name. There are no screens capable of reproducing more than 90% although we do get it in prints, as we will see with ProPhoto later. According to Pointer’s study, any color can be created by mixing red, green and blue to get an approximation of the reality seen by the human eye.

color space with pointer's gamut

sRGB or Standard RGB

sRGB or Standard RGB is the most used, the most common in screens. It is the one you find in most monitors and the one that, for example, most cameras use by default. When is it recommended? If you want to use images if you are not going to print them. That is, if you are only going to work with them online: to upload them to a web page, to send them by email, to hang them somewhere. Not to print the photos.

It is a space created by Hewlett Packard (HP) and Microsoft in 1996 for screens, especially thinking about images over the Internet. Beyond its high compatibility in monitors, it has also been approved by other major companies such as Corel, such as Pantone, Intel, Exif, etc.

You will not get the best quality or the best color, offer higher saturation of the real and higher contrast than other color spaces that will be reflected in case you bet on printing it. In addition, the range of colors is quite limited and we cannot adjust the tonality that we want exactly.

srgb

When to use sRGB?

But it has the advantage of great acceptance and the compatibility with most free open source programs or with image formats. So it is the one most affordable computer monitors use. Not all, since the higher-end monitors do have support for other spaces such as AdobeRGB. It is recommended if you are going to use it for the web, for online portfolios, for social networks … You will not need anything better if this is your purpose. You also have the option of working in other color spaces and converting the photo before publishing it on the Internet or on your website so that the colors are not altered.

For users who take photographs to save them on a hard drive or leave them as a souvenir. If you are shooting in JPEG on the camera and later you will upload them to Facebook or store them in memory. If you do not need to edit to later print those photographs.

Adobe RGB

Another of the most popular is AdobeRGB and one of the most common. Unlike the previous one, yes allows you to work professionally. It was born years later, in 1998, and was developed by Adobe as its name suggests. It is designed to edit high-quality photographs in a professional way and it is also recommended in case of printing to hang them on the walls of your house, in an exhibition, etc.

The idea of ​​Adobe RGB was to create a system that was capable of encompass virtually all CMYK printer colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) which are those that are usually used in printers, thus achieving more faithful color reproduction when printing a photograph. Of course, not all monitors are compatible and only in higher ranges you can find them although you will find models of about 250 or 300 euros that include these characteristics.

adobe rgb

Like the previous one and although both are the most used, it does not cover all the color spaces but it does more than sRGB nor are they the best that you will find. Colors are achieved less saturated and it allows us a fairly definitive idea of ​​how the final copy will look when printed: achieves 86.2% of color rendering just as our eyes would see it. In addition, most cameras are capable of capturing in this range of colors (selecting it from the settings or modes of the device itself) and most printers (mid-range or high-end, not if you buy a laptop or the most affordable one on the market ) is capable of reproducing colors when printing.

adobe wide gamut RGB

When to use it?

If you shoot and you are going to work with image building and then print them. You should always keep in mind that everything you use in that process must be compatible. In other words, it must be the camera, the monitor you are using, the printer you have used and also the editing program you use. It is advisable that you use this format to edit your images or photos in the Adobe editing programs (Photoshop, Lightroom …) and then you can decide if you store an Adobe RGB copy to print and an sRGB copy to have on your website, to send to someone and who can see the colors without modifying, etc.

ProPhoto

Better than the previous two is ProPhoto RGB and the best for those who seek the highest color perfection, which is as faithful as possible thanks to the fact that it covers the widest range of colors and the most faithful to the Pointer’s Gamut that we talked about in previous paragraphs . Of course, it will only be compatible in high-end cameras and not in compact at the user level. It is designed for professionals or perfectionists but it has the drawback that no monitor is currently compatible with these colors. Yes printers so you can get a completely faithful and real representation when printing.

ProPhoto was a color space developed by Kodak and encompasses pRctically 100% of the actual colors that we see in the world around us according to the research mentioned at the beginning. It is the only one capable of achieving fidelity in colors as seen by the human eye.

It is not recommended that you use it if you are not a professional or if color is your absolute priority. The previous two are more recommended for most users although you should know that this exists and that it is especially useful if you are looking for perfection although you will not be able to see it on a screen but yes about a print as a final result. Also, it is advised to use 16-bit color depths.

prophoto RGB

DCI-P3

This is one of the RGB color spaces used in monitors both professionally in the field of design and multimedia, in telephones, in monitors … It is developed by the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers and is intended for digital video capture and projection. The advantage, not only in video but also in gaming, is that it achieves better moving images either in the final result on screen or on camera.

It manages to cover 86.9% of the human eye so it is quite faithful to life as we see it in reality and improves what the Adobe RGB achieves that we have explained in previous paragraphs. It improves colors a lot compared to monitors with sRGB from 69.4% of the first to almost 20% more.

Although it is focused on the professional use of video editing and in most digital projectors, we also see it on monitors and televisions. Or on mobile phones that play HDR content. Or, for example, the Apple monitor with its iMac Retina. Products that use DCI-P3 use a specific product certificate that shows us that we can have the colors of this standard.

dci-p3

NTSC

In 1953 the NTSC standard began to be used, being one of the first. It was launched aimed at analog television, old video games or DVD movies. It is not as common today as the previous ones because it was thought for the analog although it is still used today as a reference standard. In addition, it has the great advantage of being one of the ones with the greatest capacity to reproduce color, achieving 89.5% according to the Pointrer’s Gamut and higher than all the previous ones.

ntsc 1953

Rec. 709 and 2020

Rec. 709 is the standard for HD televisions, the most globalized. It would be roughly equivalent to one sRGB but on televisions and shares with it the level with respect to the Pointer’s Gamut and with 10 bit color depth. For its part, the Rec.2020 standard is similar, for televisions, but in this case focused on televisions with UHD resolution and with a much greater capacity for color reproduction: 99.9%. Before these, the Rec. 601 standard was bequeathed for SD playback, but it is no longer in use. The current Rec. 2020 is also known as BT.2020 and is the one used by practically all the televisions on the market to compare their color reproduction capacity, to measure the fidelity with respect to the reality of the colors that appreciate the human eye.

rec. 2020

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