Optimising your Computer Hardware for Quality Colour Output
Processing and rendering digital image files are computationally complex. The only requirement on a computer for successful digital-photographic work is that it's processor is fast enough and the that it has enough RAM to manage that complexity without slowing the system to an unacceptable crawl. Any modern computer with more than 8Gb of RAM should be OK. A fancy, high-speed, graphics card is useful for gaming but is not really necessary for digital image processing.
More important is the software that you choose to use.
Since the basic recommended workflow starts with shooting and recording RAW image files, a good raw-conversion application, which is properly colour managed, is a must. Borderfields Photographic chooses to use Lightroom, but all digital cameras that are capable of recording RAW files come with the manufacturers RAW converter. Many other applications, including Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Capture One, GIMP are either dedicated RAW converters or have RAW conversion capability as part of their functionality.
The computer display is both the weakest link, and the most critical part of the system.
It is the weakest link because it has the lowest resolution1 and smallest colour gamut2 , of all the devices in the digital color system. At best it can provide only an approximate view of the image. However, it offers the only view of the image during processing. It is therefore critical that what the photographer sees is as accurate3 as possible.
If the display is wrongly calibrated or its colour is not correct then any adjustments the photographer makes during post processing are done 'blind'. For example, if the monitor is too bright, the image will appear brighter than it really is, and the photographer may needlessly darken it so that it looks right on the screen. But then it will, of course, be too dark when printed. If the monitor has a red colour cast, colours in the image will look too red and the photographer will needlessly decrease the red component of the image colour data to make it look right on the screen. However, of course, the printed image will now have a cyan (or depleted red) cast.
The first step in standardising the colour output of a monitor is calibration.
Correct calibration often means little more than setting the monitor to its default state for image viewing by:
If the monitor does not suggest 'native' setings but its controls allow, you should set the white point to D65, and the 'gamma' to 2.2.
Once the monitor is correctly calibrated its colour response needs to be measured and its colour profile determined. The profile is used to ensure standard colours are displayed in response to colour data. Achieving this requires a colour measuring instrument and some software to make the changes. 4
Achieving beautiful prints is what print colour management, and this website is all about.
Printer technology has come a long way in recent years. The better ink-jet photo printers are capable of producing colour prints that are very much better, in terms of colour rendition and longevity, than the lab prints of the film days.
However, you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, as the saying goes. It is unreasonable to expect a run-of-the-mill office printer to produce good photographs. On the other hand, any printer marketed as a 'photo printer' ought to do well. A printer with only a bare CYMK inkset5 is likely to struggle to produce a very wide colour gamut.
The best ink-jet photo printers are relatively expensive. However, owning or operating an expensive machine is no guarantee of success.
If you are printing for yourself on a photo printer, no matter how elaborate, its colour profile must be known and used to guarantee accurate colour and quality prints.
Many photographers have been disappointed when receiving a print back from a commercial printer because the colours in the print do not match the image colours that were on the photographer's monitor.
If you're sending an image to someone else to print, you need to be sure that your image colour settings are standard, and that the operator has set up his system to correctly detect the colours in your image and to print them to an absolute colour standard.