Color can be described in so many different ways that scientists in the early half of the 20th century, in order to better understand how humans perceive color, began a system of describing colors by numbers. The first area of color scientists mapped out was the RGB color space, where millions of colors are described by three color light sources. RGB is an additive color model in which red (R), green (G), and blue (B) light are added together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colors. Televisions, computer monitors, digital cameras, and scanners all use RGB to describe color from source to source. Hex codes are a shorthand version of RGB for use in the development of websites.
The LAB color space, unlike the RGB and CMYK color models, is designed to approximate human vision. LAB color space was developed in the early 1930’s. This color space describes all the color visible by the human eye and was developed to be used independently of computer and print devices for reference to other color spaces. The L in LAB refers to lightness, A is the red to green spectrum, and B is the yellow to blue spectrum.
The CMYK color space, also used in color printing, is a subtractive color model. The letters C, M, Y, and K refer to the four inks used in some color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key black. Newspapers, magazines, and your desktop printer use the CMYK color space to describe color.
Getting into the nitty gritty of Spoonflower and color
Spoonflower currently accepts several different color spaces including RGB, LAB, CMYK, and Index. We personally recommend the RGB color space both because it produces beautiful color prints and because the Spoonflower Color Guide and the Spoonflower Color Map, both in RGB color, will be more useful to you as color management tools. If you don’t wish to work in RGB color, you can use whatever color space with which you are most comfortable. The most important thing is to choose one color space, stick with it on all your designs from start to finish, and test. All designs are automatically converted to RGB before printing.
Geeking Out on Color
Good color management ensures you will get predictable results when moving files from device to device, like from your digital camera to your computer or from your computer to your printer. A Color Management Module (CMM) or Engine, as it is sometimes referred to, creates the algorithms to move color from one color space to another. All images move through a CMM when they move from device to device. The path by which images move through the CMM begins with the input device (your monitor, camera, etc), through LAB (the device independent color space), to the output device (a printer, projector, etc).
Spoonflower has a much larger color gamut than a traditional CMYK desktop printer because we use more than the standard 4 inks. We recommend working in RGB, the largest color space, to expand your potential color options from the beginning.
When a color moves from one color space to another, it will shift. This is why there are rendering options integrated into the CMM. Each type of rendering moves color differently from one space to the next. Perceptual rendering moves all the color in your design proportionately to within the smaller gamut of the printer. This works well for most photographic images because it keeps a good balance between light and dark areas. This rendering can be limiting, though, as the colors that fall outside the gamut directly influence the colors that are within gamut. Relative rendering moves only the colors in your design that are outside the smaller gamut, leaving any colors within the gamut unchanged. This is good for color sensitive projects, and for both graphic and photographic images. Relative rendering is popular among many print services. Absolute rendering retains the relationship between every color in your design to the final output. Absolute rendering is used when matching specific colors. It is not a good choice for photographic images since it tries to match each individual color separately from the one next to it. This can lead to some very unpredictable results, especially with colors outside the printer gamut.
Spoonflower uses a relative rendering. This ensures that your photographs and surface designs print accurately and beautifully each time you order, and that your colors will stay consistent when printing on the same fabric.
The Spoonflower Color Map
The Spoonflower Color Map is another tool designed to help you with color matching and is set up to print onto one full yard of any of our fabrics. This color map is comprised of over 1400 color chips and their hex codes. This is an advanced color tool to assist designers with general color selection in a design program.
Get the Adobe Swatch Exchange file for our Color Map Download the ASE file
You can preview your final print by using the ICC profiles provided below to assist in color selection. “Soft proofing” essentially matches your monitor (the larger RGB color space) to the printer (the smaller output space). Most design programs, including Photoshop, have the capability to soft proof. Soft proofing will not exactly replicate a printed piece of fabric, but it comes pretty close. For the best results, you may wish to calibrate your monitor.
To use our ICC profiles for soft proofing, download the files and save accordingly before opening Photoshop or another design program.
For all ICC Profiles (recommended): Download all Fabric & Wall Media ICC Profiles as a ZIP file
To download individual profiles, please choose from the links below.
Download the Kona® Cotton ICC Profile (updated 1/28/13)
Download the Organic Cotton Interlock Knit ICC Profile (updated 7/25/13)
Save the ICC files to this directory for use with your design program:
ICC profiles can be saved in two locations on a Mac:
If you have admin access, save it to: HD/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/Profiles
If you do not have admin access save it to: /Users/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/Profiles
Use the profile to Soft Proof in Photoshop
- Open your design in Photoshop
- Select View then Proof Setup and finally Custom
- Under Device to Simulate select the ICC you would like to proof
- Make sure the rendering intent is Relative and the Black point Compensation is checked
Your monitor will now approximate what the the final output will be including all the limitations and color adjustments that the printer and its profile will execute.
Use the profile to print
- Open the image in Photoshop
- Select File: Print with Preview
- Check More Options
- Choose Color Management from the popup menu
- Choose Document in the Print Field
- Choose Let Photoshop Determine Colors under Color Handling in the Options Field
- Choose the profile
- Choose Relative rendering intent.
- Check Black Point Compensation
- Click Print
- Make sure color management is turned off in the printer driver
To understand why color management is so important please check out this article.
For more information about color management please check out ColorWiki.