Aug 212011

Granger-Chart[Update 21 March 2012: I haven't used Google Chrome much but have discovered that Google Chrome 17 can colour manage by appending the string --enable-monitor-profile to the application shortcut target e.g. C:\Users\name\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe --enable-monitor-profile.]

There are a bunch of web browsers on the market today and there seems to be a big battle happening between IE, Firefox and Chrome. However, for me and others on non-Mac platforms who care about colour management, there is really only one choice. Let me explain.

Historically, most consumer PC displays have adhered (more or less!) to a colour standard known popularly known as “sRGB” (or more formally as IEC 61966-2-1:1999 for the latest version). The sRGB standard was originally developed by recognising the limitations of common consumer monitors at the time (mid 1990s). This standard allowed for fairly good and consistent colour reproduction for consumers, and a lot of software assumed sRGB colour-flow from source to display; web browsers being a prime example.

However, professional photographers, graphics artists and others utilise images that have far more colours than can be displayed by sRGB monitors but which other output devices are well capable of reproducing (eg high-end printers). For such people, an sRGB monitor is unsuitable for creating/modifying images. So a small market in high-end and expensive monitors was created that could display colours far greater than sRGB monitors; these are the wide-gamut monitors.

With the unrelenting march of technology, many “prosumer” digital cameras and printers today can capture/reproduce colours far in excess of the sRGB colour space. And wide-gamut monitors are increasingly being found in the consumer market. This allows professionals and other keen hobbyists to work with colours outside of the sRGB colour space and have a good idea what such colour spaces look like on their monitors before committing to prints.

There is one big issue with wide-gamut monitors; software needs to be colour-aware. By “colour-aware” I mean that the software must be able to translate an image from one colour space to that used by the display device. This is achieved by ensuring that the monitor is calibrated and profiled; the profile is used by colour-aware software to do the translation. If the software is not colour-aware or makes incorrect assumptions on colour spaces then there is going to be colour mismatch. For example, an sRGB image without colour-translation would have its colour space stretched on a wide-gamut display making the image appear too saturated especially in the reds. Believe me, this looks horrible but, unfortunately, some people seem to like that artificial colour pop (but I digress).

Image files can be saved in various colour spaces such as sRGB, Adobe RBG, etc. Most colour-aware software such as Abobe Photoshop CS5 can tag the image file with a colour space so that other software can use this tag to undertake colour-management. Files without a tag are called “untagged” but it can be safely assumed that such images are in the sRGB colour space. But there is a large amount of graphics software which isn’t colour aware and which don’t tag the files they create. On the web, most images are untagged. Those that are tagged are in the sRGB colour space. Very few, percentage-wise, are in other colour spaces. The common rule of thumb is that, unless there is a special reason for doing otherwise, all images on the Internet should be in sRGB format.

As indicated earlier, web browsers have not traditionally been colour-aware but the need for this requirement is increasing especially with the rise and proliferation of wide-gamut monitors.

I’m on a Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit platform with two wide-gamut monitors each properly calibrated and profiled (ICC v2) using a colorimeter. I’ve set my monitor luminance to 80 cd/m2 which some people may consider too dark so they may recommend 90 cd/m2 or even 120 cd/m2. ISO 3664:2000 allows a monitor luminance from 74 cd/m2 to 100 cd/m2, and ISO 12646:2004 (which takes printer output into account) allows a monitor luminance from 80 cd/m2 to 120 cd/m2. It all depends. The chromaticity graphs for my two monitors are shown below:


A three dimensional graph of one of these monitor profiles compared to Adobe RGB is shown here:

Right. Let’s go onto web browsers. I have the latest non-beta builds of the following 32-bit browsers:

  1. Internet Explorer (version 9.0.8112.16421)
  2. Firefox (version 6.0)
  3. Chrome (version 13.0.782.112 m)
  4. Opera (version 11.50 build 1074)
  5. Safari (version 5.1 build 7534.50)

What I have found is that only Firefox gives me the capability for full colour management using ICC v2 profiles (Firefox appears to have problems with the newer ICC v4 profiles). The other browsers don’t colour-manage at all or have partial (i.e. broken!) colour management (I am led to understand that Safari on the Mac is fully colour-managed but I do not know if this is limited to ICC2 or if it extends to ICC v4 profiles). Despite what Microsoft may say about IE9, their browser is broken as discussed in a separate blog. Chrome, fast as it is, does not colour-manage and the hideous results far outweigh any speed advantage that Chrome has. It has to be Firefox, especially for those using wide-gamut monitors.

browser screen-shots of untagged image

browser screen-shots of untagged image

Firefox has colour management turned-off by default and I think that this is very sensible. Unless your display is calibrated and profiled, colour-management will mistranslate from one colour space to another. To turn on colour management, see the article at . Note that you do not need to enter a path to the monitor’s colour space as Firefox will use the default monitor profile. I actually have two monitors so I’m not entirely sure which display Firefox is using but my two monitors are pretty much identical (see the chromaticity graphs above) therefore that isn’t a real problem for me…other people with displays exhibiting different colour characteristics may opt to use Firefox on a designated monitor and use the appropriate monitor profile in the Firefox settings.

So there you go. That’s why I use Firefox on a non-OSX platform. If you care about accurate and consistent colour reproduction, and especially if you use a wide-gamut monitor, get your monitor calibrated, profiled and then install Firefox.

Article by Kulvinder Singh Matharu – 2011

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