Change color management settings

Color management systems ensure that color content is rendered everywhere as accurately as possible—including on devices, such as your monitor display and your printer.

Picture of a monitor, printer, and color wheel in the middle
Color management systems help to ensure that colors appear the same on different devices

Different types of devices have different color characteristics and capabilities. For example, your monitor display can't show the same set of colors that a printer can reproduce. This is because each device uses a different process to produce color content. Scanners and digital cameras have different color characteristics as well. Even different programs will occasionally interpret and process colors differently. Without a consistent color management system, the same picture can look different on each of these devices.

How color content appears also depends on the viewing conditions (such as ambient lighting) because the human eye adapts to different lighting conditions, even when viewing the same picture. Color management systems maintain an acceptable appearance of color on devices with different color capabilities and across different viewing conditions.

When to change color management settings

You shouldn't have to change your color management settings very often. Usually, the default color management settings will be fine. Only change these settings if you have specific color management requirements that aren't being met by your current color settings. These options are generally meant for use by color professionals.

Consider changing your color management settings if you want to do one or more of the following:

  • Add or remove a color profile.

  • Associate one or more different color profiles with one of your devices.

  • Change the default color profile for one of your devices.

  • Change the system default color settings for a specific device for all users on the computer.

  • Change your default rendering intent or color space default.

What's a color profile?

A color profile is a file that describes the color characteristics of a specific device while it's in a particular state. A profile can also contain additional information defining viewing conditions or gamut-mapping methods. Working with your computer's color management system, color profiles help ensure that color content is acceptably rendered, regardless of the device or viewing condition.

In a color management system, color profiles are used to create color transforms, which programs use to convert color from one device’s color space to another. (A color space is a three-dimensional model in which the hue, lightness, and chroma of colors are graphed to represent the rendering capabilities of a device.) When a new device is added to your computer, a color profile for that device might be installed automatically.

There are two main types of color profiles that Windows continues to support: Windows Color System (WCS) and International Color Consortium (ICC) color profiles. This provides you with the greatest variety of choices for customizing color management options and color workflows. WCS is an advanced color management system found in recent versions of Windows. While supporting ICC profile–based color management, WCS provides advanced capabilities not found in existing ICC color management systems.

To add a color profile for a device

Color profiles are usually added automatically when new color devices are installed. Color profiles might also be added by color management tools, such as calibration devices for monitors. It's likely that color profiles for your devices are already installed on your computer. However, if you need to install a new color profile, follow these steps:

  1. Open Color Management by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type color management, and then click Color Management.

  2. Click the All Profiles tab, and then click Add.

  3. Locate and select the new color profile, and then click Add.

  4. Click Close.

Associate color profiles with a device

A device might have more than one color profile. This is because a color profile represents the color characteristics of a specific device in a particular state. Any change that results in a change to the color behavior of a device might require a separate profile. Also, profiles can be optimized for different kinds of projects. For example, a printer might come with several profiles, each designed for a different kind of paper or ink.

If you have more than one profile for a device installed, you can specify which profile to use for a specific project.

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To associate multiple color profiles to one device

  1. Open Color Management by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type color management, and then click Color Management.

  2. Click the Devices tab.

  3. From the Device list, select the color device that you want to associate with one or more color profiles.

  4. Select the Use my settings for this device check box, and then click Add.

  5. In the Associate Color Profile dialog box, do one or both of the following:

    • If you want to use a color profile that’s already installed on your computer, click the color profile in the list, and then click OK.

    • If you want to use a custom color profile that isn’t installed on your computer, click Browse, locate the custom color profile that you want to use, and then click Add.

      The selected color profile (or profiles) is now associated with the device and can be used by programs that use Windows Color Management to describe the color characteristics of that device. To use the newly associated color profile as the default color profile for the selected device, click Set as Default Profile.

  6. Click Close.

Note

  • Your picture or graphics editing program might also let you choose color profiles. When you make changes to the color settings in those programs, the settings are usually only used in that program.

To disassociate a color profile from a device

  1. Open Color Management by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type color management, and then click Color Management.

  2. Click the Devices tab.

  3. From the Device list, select the color device you want to disassociate from one or more color profiles.

  4. Select the Use my settings for this device check box, click the color profile that you want to disassociate from the selected device, and then click Remove.

    The selected color profile (or profiles) is no longer associated with the device and won't be used by programs that use Windows Color Management to describe the color characteristics of that device.

  5. Click Close.

Note

  • Your picture or graphics editing program might also let you choose color profiles. When you make changes to the color settings in those programs, the settings are usually only used in that program.

To save and use a device association

After associating a color profile (or profiles) with a device, you can save and use the new color device association in a few different ways. Any changes you make affect the color settings for the current user account and the selected device only.

  1. Open Color Management by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type color management, and then click Color Management.

  2. Click the Devices tab.

  3. Do one or more of the following:

    • To merge the current system default color settings that the device uses with the current set of profiles that you associated with the device, click Profiles, and then click Combine my settings with system defaults.

    • If you decide that you don’t want to use the color profiles that you associated with the device and want to use the system default color settings instead, click Profiles, and then click Reset my settings to the system defaults, or clear the Use my settings for this device check box.

    • To save the association between the selected device and the current set of profiles that it uses, click Profiles, and then click Save associations. In the File name box, type a name for the device association, and then click Save.

      After saving the device association file, you can later load it to go back to those color settings for the selected device. For example, you might have saved different device association files for multiple projects and want to quickly switch color settings by loading a different device association file. Each device association file contains information about which color profile was the default when the file was saved.

    • To load a device association file so that the selected device uses the color settings specified in the association file, click Profiles, and then click Load associations. Locate and select the saved association file, and then click Open.

  4. Click Close.

Change color settings for a device for all users on the computer

Any color setting changes that are made only affect the current user. However, you can change the system default color settings for a specific device so that the color settings are used by all users on the computer (who haven't selected the Use my settings for this device check box in Color Management for that device). To change the system default color settings, you must be logged on with a user account that has administrative privileges.

To change color settings for all users

  1. Open Color Management by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type color management, and then click Color Management.

  2. Click the Advanced tab, and then click Change system defaults.

  3. From the Device list in the Color Management - System Defaults dialog box, select the color device that you want to associate with one or more color profiles for all users on the computer that are using the default color settings for that device.

  4. Do one or more of the following:

    • If you want to add a new color profile for the selected device, click Add, and then go to step 5.

    • If you don't want a color profile to be associated with the selected device, click the color profile, click Remove, and then click Yes to disassociate the profile from the device. To continue, go to step 6.

    • If more than one color profile is selected for a device, click the color profile that you want to set as the default for that device, and then click Set as Default Profile. To continue, go to step 6.

  5. In the Associate Color Profile dialog box, do one or both of the following:

    • If you want to specify a color profile that’s already installed on the computer, click the color profile in the list, and then click OK.

    • If you want to specify a custom color profile that isn’t already installed on the computer, click Browse, locate the custom color profile, and then click Add.

      The selected color profile (or profiles) is now associated with the device and will be used to describe the color characteristics of that device.

  6. (Optional) Do one of the following:

    • To save the association between the selected device and the current set of profiles that it uses, click Profiles, and then click Save associations. In the File name box, type a name for the device association, and then click Save.

    • To load a device association file so that the selected device uses the color settings that are specified in the association file, click the Profiles button, and then click Load associations. Locate and select the saved association file, and then click Open.

  7. In the Color Management – System Defaults dialog box, click Close.

  8. In the Color Management dialog box, click Close.

    If the default color settings aren’t already being used (in which case, the Use my settings for this device check box is selected), you will be notified when you open Windows Color Management that the system default color settings have been changed. At that time, you can choose to merge those changes with your own settings or reset your color settings to match the new system default color settings for the selected device.

What's the default rendering intent?

A rendering intent determines how colors are represented when changing from one device (and, consequently, color space) to another. You can think of rendering intent as a style of rendering colors; it's the approach that Windows uses to choose the right colors when translating colors from one device to another.

The Advanced tab in Windows Color Management lets you specify a mapping between WCS gamut-mapping model profiles and the four common ICC rendering intents. In general, you should only change these rendering intent mappings if you have installed third-party WCS plug-in gamut-mapping models and you want to use those instead of the default WCS gamut mapping. Most users will never need to change these settings.

Most graphics editing programs let you specify a rendering intent for a picture. If your program doesn't, you can specify the default rendering intent that's used. There are four common rendering intents that cover the most common uses. Depending upon the rendering intent, the appearance of a picture will be different, since Windows will use a different range of available colors to render it. These are the four rendering intents in common use:

Rendering intent Common use
Rendering intent

Perceptual (photo images)

Common use

Best for photographic images. When colors are converted from one device's color space to another, the relationship between colors is maintained. This is the initial default rendering intent setting for Windows.

Rendering intent

Relative colorimetric (line art)

Common use

Best when a few specific colors must be matched exactly, such as when rendering logo graphics. This is also the best choice for the last transformation stage in print previews. The colors that fall within the allowable color space of both devices are left unchanged, but other colors may change, resulting in compressed color tone. The relative colorimetric rendering intent will map white from the source device color space to white in the destination device color space.

Rendering intent

Absolute colorimetric (simulate paper)

Common use

Best for use in the last transformation stage when making page proofs where you want to represent the paper color in the output. Absolute colorimetric intent differs from relative colorimetric intent in that white in the source color space isn't mapped to white in the destination color space.

Rendering intent

Business graphics (charts and graphs)

Common use

Best for business graphics in which vividness is more important than realistic color, such as with business charts and graphs. When colors are converted from one device's color space to another, the relative hue is maintained, but colors may shift.

To change the default rendering intent

  1. Open Color Management by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type color management, and then click Color Management.

  2. Click the Advanced tab.

  3. In the ICC Rendering intent to WCS Gamut Mapping area, change one or more of the settings.

Display calibration

Display calibration is part of color management and helps to make sure that colors appear accurately on your display by adjusting it to a known state. You can use Display Color Calibration in Windows to go through a series of steps to create a calibration for your display and improve how colors are displayed on it. For more information about calibrating your display using Display Color Calibration, see Calibrate your display.

If you already have display calibration software from another software provider installed on your computer, you can use that software to calibrate your display instead. Many times, a display calibration device is packaged with calibration software. Using the calibration device with the accompanying calibration software that often comes with it can help you get the best color on your display. In general, using a color measurement instrument to calibrate your display will result in a better calibration compared to the results of doing a visual calibration.

After calibrating your display, a new calibrated color profile is created and associated with your display. The calibration information needs to be loaded from the color profile into the display system. The calibration can be loaded by Windows or by calibration software from a third-party software provider (if it's installed on your computer).

If you're using third-party display calibration software, especially software that uses a color measurement instrument, you should use the display calibration loader that's often installed with the third-party calibration software. That software might automatically disable the display calibration loader in Windows 7, so the third-party software will be used to load the calibration instead. However, you can manually enable or disable the display calibration loader in Windows. If you're using a third-party display calibration tool, you should ensure that the display calibration loader in Windows is disabled.

To enable or disable calibration loading by Windows

To enable or disable calibration loading by Windows, you must be logged on with a user account that has administrative privileges.

  1. Open Color Management by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type color management, and then click Color Management.

  2. Click the Advanced tab, and click Change system defaults.

  3. Click the Advanced tab in the Color Management - System Defaults dialog box, and do one of the following:

    • To enable Windows to load display calibrations, select the Use Windows display calibration check box.

    • To prevent Windows from loading display calibrations, clear the Use Windows display calibration check box.

  4. Click Close in the Color Management - System Defaults dialog box.

  5. Click Close in the Color Management dialog box.