June 19, 2007

Safari brings color-managed browsing to Windows

Hello, my name is John, and I’m a recovering color management hater… (“Hello, John…”)

Coming from a background in Web design, I spent many years regarding color management–that is, the process of changing an image’s colors on the fly so that the appearance will match across systems (monitors, printers, etc.)–as a royal pain.  I mean, until 1998 things were good–or at least pretty simple.  You’d design on a Mac and make things look a little bit light, or design on Windows and make things look a little bit dark, then check on the other platform (ideally on a bunch of different systems) and call it a day.  Split the difference & everyone seemed happy.  (And printing? Who needed that?)

But then in ’98 Adobe had to get all clever, adding color management in Photoshop 5.0.  Suddenly every image started complaining about not having a color profile, or having the wrong profile, or… something… and it kept asking me (!) to make the right call.  Worse, images no longer looked the same in Photoshop as they did in Web browsers (or even apps like Illustrator, which for various reasons had different default settings).

Things have improved a bit (fewer cryptic messages, consistent defaults in at least some Suite apps), but big problems remain.  Apple’s Safari Web browser respects color management profiles, but others don’t.  Here’s a screenshot of the same image open in Safari & Firefox.  If you spend time in Photoshop or Lightroom massaging an image to look just so, it’s pretty irritating that the colors go all over the map when viewed online.  The lack of reliable color also leads to bad prints, according to Smugmug.

Now, though, there’s an interesting development: Photographer Rob Galbraith reports that Apple’s newly released Safari 3 beta for Windows is color managed–bringing color management to Windows browsers for the first time.  I never thought I’d say it*, but this is great news.  Now there’s a cross-platform way to present accurate color images on the Web.  Check “ICC Profile” in Photoshop’s Save for Web dialog to include the info needed for color management to do its thing.

CNET follows up with more details and reports that Firefox may follow suit in version 3.0, due later this year.  Why Microsoft hasn’t taken the opportunity to lead here, I don’t know, but hopefully they’ll get in the game as well with Internet Explorer.

As for Adobe, I’m not sure what will happen with the Flash Player.  Right now it’s not color-managed, and most Web designers wouldn’t know an ICC profile if it bit them on the calibration puck–hence they’re not asking.  They do know, however, how much it sucks that colors shift when going between Photoshop and Flash, and they’d like a solution.  I’m hopeful that we can make the right thing happen.

* Coincidence that this is blog entry #666 for me?  With JN cheering for color management, the End must be near… >;-)

[Update: In response to requests for a tutorial on the subject, Adobe forum-wrangler John Cornicello recommends this set from Gary Ballard.]

Posted by John Nack at 8:01 PM on June 19, 2007

Comments

  • Glenn Fleishman — 7:55 PM on June 19, 2007

    Oddly, I believe that Internet Explorer 5.5 for Macintosh could read color profiles years and years ago. In fact, I remember being buoyed back then by that fact. And then it was all buried.
    [Yes--I believe IE Mac was the first color-managed Web browser, though I think the setting wasn't on by default. As I say, I don't know why MSFT has not taken the leadership on Windows. --J.]

  • Rosyna — 7:57 PM on June 19, 2007

    Of course, Safari on the Mac OS X has always had this evil thing called color management. Windows users just now get it in a browser?
    On a side note, what’s with the short archive urls? The url for this post is “safari_brings_c.html” and after all the Carbon talk from WWDC, I had to do a double-take.
    [Those names are what Movable Type assigns by default. Unfortunately Contribute doesn't offer a way to modify those URLs. Believe me, the perfectionist in me hates this phenomenon. --J.]

  • Pedro Estarque — 10:05 PM on June 19, 2007

    I too am a recent color management believer. I’ve been using Photoshop since version 3 ( still have the CD, best splash screen/ icon ever, btw )
    [Agreed! I was bummed when they went back to black & red with PS4. --J.]
    and back then I had an analog-photoshop-action: a piece of paper under the monitor describing hue, saturation and levels adjustments that had to be made to get the print just right. And surprisingly enough, it was quite accurate.
    Then came that whole icc profile thing and the world lost its innocence. Suddenly R 20 G 50 B 120 meant nothing anymore. For me it was one more layer of complexity and I had the thing working against me for years. Between annoying popup dialogs whenever I opened a file from a client, to having to “think backwards” with the save for web dialog –making the image look worse in the opposite direction so that it would look nice on the web– I spent more time fighting it than learning.
    Just recently I have come to understand enough of it to make me dangerous, and I really like it now. I have AdobeCameraRAW calibrated to my FinePix S3 ( by shooting a GretagMacbeth color checker, google “adobe camera raw GretagMacbeth” ) a calibrated monitor and a profile for the fuji frontier that I usually print. It works great.
    It’s a lost war, capturing, displaying and outputting devices are more and more ubiquitous and they render colors very differently. We need color management to be as equally spread. I think in the future we will have monitors with built-in colorimeters in every home and a color managed web. “And we shall have peace.” Darth Sidious

  • Matt Wilcox — 1:42 AM on June 20, 2007

    This is a Bad Thing. Why? Because the web is not a colour managed environment. The web is an sRGB environment with no other colour profiles. CSS has no colour profiles to attach – and thus a colour managed image will not match up with browser-generated colours.
    [A., I thought CSS3 included support for color profiles, and B., why do two wrongs make a right? --J.]
    If there’s a photo that’s outputting #006699; and it has a border of #006699; applied to it via CSS – they won’t match if the photo is being colour managed (as the browser shifts the colour to respect the embedded profile). Which makes the whole exercise rather useless, and a complete pain in the ass for web developers.
    So, if people want their images to look right on the web – convert to sRGB. It’s that simple.
    [It's not at all simple. I use a Mac, and I'll bring in a raw image, convert it using Photoshop, convert it to sRGB, then pull up Save for Web. And bang--even if I include the color profile, the colors look quite different--exactly as they will in Firefox and other non-managed browsers. The colors I just spent all that time perfecting change in appearance, despite the sRGB conversion. Same thing happens in Lightroom and Bridge when you select a Flash gallery, even though both apps do the conversion on the fly. So sRGB conversion is a good idea for Web output, but it's not getting the job done.
    I wish Bruce Fraser were here... :-\ --J.]

  • Steve — 7:18 AM on June 20, 2007

    To assume that Microsoft cares about any color besides green is naive. They’ll incorporate color management into their browser once explorer numbers start dropping and Safari numbers start increasing, look how long it took them to incorporate color management into their operating system. Besides, do people outside of the creative realm really care about color management?
    [People certainly care about ordering prints online, then getting back desaturated crap (as happened to me when I uploaded JPEGs tagged as Adobe 1998; I has more success when I first converted them to sRGB using Photoshop, then uploaded). And the companies making the prints care when they lose money due to unhappy customers. --J.]
    I hear from friends that prints from their printer look horrible but they don’t take the time to investigate how they can improve the results, even though its just a couple of settings to improved pictures.
    Are people really going to go out of their way to download a color managed browser if they don’t know why they need it?
    [No. But that doesn't mean the browser makers shouldn't step up to the plate, so that people have more of a shot at getting good results. --J.]

  • Doug Nelson — 8:35 AM on June 20, 2007

    It’s useless and pointless until monitors are self-calibrating by default. Until then, it will just be another obstacle.
    Get set for yet another round of “but I don’t understand, it looks great in MY browser”.
    Any method that has 80% of the market IS the standard, no matter what some committee agrees to somewhere. So we now have yet another non-standard browser to contend with.
    [This is not new. Many of the people (pro photographers, etc.) creating images are on Macs, and we already face this problem. At least now there's a fairly straightforward solution to recommend to one's clients: install Safari if you'd like to see a closer approximation of what I'm seeing. Now, I'd like the solution to be much lighter weight and more transparent still (cough Flash cough), but we're not there yet. --J.]

  • Lars Ekdahl — 9:16 AM on June 20, 2007

    The truth is that Windows browsers are as color-clueless as they come. They simply throw the raw RGB numbers at the screen with no interpretation. Most monitors have a color range that is somewhere in the vicinity of sRGB. There have been several discussions in different forums regarding color management for web images. At my website I have collected some of the comments on the web during the last years:

  • Pedro Estarque — 10:58 AM on June 20, 2007

    Any method that has 80% of the market IS the standard, no matter what some committee agrees to somewhere. So we now have yet another non-standard browser to contend with.
    I don’t know if I understood you correctly, but are you saying that images on WinIE all look the same ? Cause they don’t. At all. Gamma 2.2 and sRGB are just the beginning. Go to any PC store and open the same page on several monitors.
    I have two monitors of same model, one just a few months older than the other, both connected to the same graphic card. If I just set the default profile and gamma and don’t calibrate, the difference when I move the browser window from monitor to monitor is huge.
    Color management is not a solution waiting for a problem. The web, color-wise, does not work. Try choosing a color for your kitchen wall from a web page. Unless you’re going for obvious colors or don’t pay much attention to it, you are in trouble.

  • Michael Boyle — 11:50 AM on June 20, 2007

    One thing that I’ve never understood when people complain about the inconsistency between non-color managed CSS and color managed images is that they act like you have to choose one or the other. If you don’t include a profile, the image colors will match the CSS colors. If you do, the color corrected version will display with color inside the image as close as possible to the artists intent.
    So if you are making an icon that is supposed to float above the page and blend in with the surrounding color, don’t include a profile. But if you are displaying a photograph where what you care about are the colors inside the photo, include the profile.
    Safari allows the designer to make the choice about which thing to care about: color consistency with the CSS styling, or color accuracy.

  • jimhere — 11:57 AM on June 20, 2007

    John, you’re an insider. Can you tell us if you’ve heard about CSS3 coming out any year soon?
    [Ah, I'm sadly not an insider in that dept. I don't know the status of the spec, nor do I know when browser makers might get around to supporting it. --J.]
    I think Matt was implying that designing a color web page around a photo is crazy because, even with an eye dropper, it’s hard to match the hex number to make the photo’s border in CSS.
    With browser CM, photos will look better, but they still may not match the page they’re sitting on. I wonder what Adobe can do to speed up those kind of standards?
    [Great question. As I say, Web designers aren't asking for this stuff, even though they're complaining about its absence. --J.]

  • Beerzie Boy — 12:02 PM on June 20, 2007

    Good grief. Anyone got a link to a website (or a good dead-treed resource) that explains all of this so that a moron can understand it? I have never totally understood this whole subject.
    [Tell me about it! It's a wicked-complicated area, and I've found that most of the experts speak in terms I don't grok. I don't know of a great resource offhand, but maybe I can write up something in terms that at least I understand. --J.]

  • Matt Wilcox — 12:30 PM on June 20, 2007

    __”A., I thought CSS3 included support for colour profiles”
    It does as far as I remember, but it’s also been in limbo for over six years. Basic elements of CSS2 aren’t supported universally yet (Oh IE, how you cause problems). Consider that the CSS2 specification is nine years old and STILL isn’t universally adopted in it’s completeness, and imagine how long CSS3 will take to get to a similar level of support (not even complete support). Until CSS3 is universally adopted the web, and computers in general, are in an sRGB colour space. More accurately for the web, HTML/CSS specifications have no clue about colour spaces and so use sRGB. All images that you wish to match to the environment they are being displayed in (i.e., the web page itself) need to be in sRGB with no colour profile (because the HTML/CSS is in sRGB with no colour profile). Applying a colour space to the photo makes it more accurate in isolation on browsers that support colour profiling – but produce a colour shift from the main page. And, as you point out, if the vast majority of viewers are going to be in a non-managed environment (so defaulting to sRGB with no profile) there is no guarantee that the colour shift provided by colour profiling in the browser will move it toward the intended colours or further away (who knows how poor their set-up is?). Given all of that, why wouldn’t you tweak the photo to be displayed best when in an unmanaged sRGB environment if that’s what most people are using? Seems odd to require a colour profile for correct display when knowing profiling is unsupported on over 97% of your viewers software, and not-implemented for 99% of their hardware.
    __”B., why do two wrongs make a right?”
    They don’t. In a perfect world all computers would be colour managed, correctly profiled, and you would guarantee everyone saw exactly the same colours. Unfortunately hardware will never ship that calibrates itself, software will never be set for correct colour profiling for the attached hardware, except by artists, and what someone else see’s will always be out of your control no matter what.
    For all practical purposes what I’m saying is that until CSS3 is implemented, and implemented on the majority of browsers in use at the time, colour profiling for the web will cause more harm than good, because it solves only half of the colour issue inherent on the web and thus emphasises the fact that generated content isn’t colour matched (and neither is the rest of the OS for 99% of people, making profiling somewhat futile in any case). Google “PNG colour shift” to see a history of the problem of calibrated images on a non-calibrated environment right before your eyes. The only solution is to strip the colour management aspect from the PNG file – then everything matches up again (because it’s once again all in the same colour space and the same profile). Additionally, even were CSS3 colour profiling supported and the HTML colours matched the profiled photo colours – the working space of the computer itself is highly unlikely to be calibrated, or correct. So the colours will STILL be wrong.
    Another way to think of it is that the web already has a colour space (sRGB) and profile (null), which is also the profile and colour space of most operating systems and most hardware – so produce your work in sRGB if that’s where it will be displayed. Otherwise it’s like working in spot colours when you know you’ll be outputting to a deskjet CMYK. Of course the colours shift – even if you convert the document to the deskjet colour space after you’ve perfected it in ‘Spot Space’.
    The real trouble isn’t browser support of colour space, but the fact that computers in general are not colour managed. Most users would be lucky if ‘black’ was black and ‘white’ was white. We can therefore assume that the colour space of the average computer user is plain old sRGB (unless you’re an artist and have calibrated the OS to your monitor – which, frankly, is the tiny minority of users. Those users may be ‘right’, but it’s a somewhat dubious vindication if the aim of the game is to show work to the public on their own machines – which will not be colour managed, and will be in sRGB).
    __”It’s not at all simple. I use a Mac, and I’ll bring in a raw image, convert it using Photoshop, convert it to sRGB, then pull up Save for Web. And bang–even if I include the color profile, the colors look quite different”
    Interesting, I’d be interested to know what your Photoshop working space and colour management settings are. The only reason I can imagine for a colour shift _after_ converting to sRGB is if your working space is not sRGB (perhaps you’re one of the few with a properly calibrated monitor and working profile…). I’ve had a similar problem when I was using PSD’s exported from lightroom in the ProRGB colour space. Save For Web initially provided massive colour shifts. Assigning an sRGB profile via the edit menu before jumping into Save for Web did the trick for me, there was no colour shift after that. My working space is sRGB (because my output space is sRGB).
    My point is that web workspace is already a known quantity – it is to all intents and purposes unmanaged sRGB. If people are outputting to web then Photoshop working space should be set up to work in sRGB to provide consistency, and images should be in an sRGB profile (though that’ll be stripped out on the web it’s the default colour space anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference).
    Colour profiling in Safari will be a benefit only to those people who already have properly calibrated hardware. Otherwise all that happens is a colour shift that may or may not be closer to the artist’s original intent.
    Another way of thinking about it – music is created in a studio at full quality and sonic range. It then gets mastered on high-end audio equipment, and mixed into a 12bit CD format. But from then onward there’s no control of what equipment it’s listened to on. It might be played on a pair of senheisser HD590’s (analogous to a calibrated browser – safari in this case), but could be being run through a £20 CD player (analogous to your average Joe’s not-set-up-properly computer). Chances of it being played on a £2000 high end amp and CD player are slim (analogous to a profiled OS and monitor). Chances of it being played on that hardware with those headphones are _very_ slim. So what do most people hear?
    Something that isn’t what the producer intended… but as long as it’s close enough, most people wouldn’t care – and those that do took the time and effort to have good equipment (or in our case, calibrated hardware and software).

  • Matt Wilcox — 1:49 PM on June 20, 2007

    “If you don’t include a profile, the image colors will match the CSS colors. If you do, the color corrected version will display with color inside the image as close as possible to the artists intent.”
    I had not thought of that! Well, in that context there’s not much to worry about. Nicely pointed out, thank you.
    I do tend to agree with Doug Nelson though: “It’s … pointless until monitors are self-calibrating by default.”
    [I disagree with that point. Saying that one step doesn't make the solution work for everybody is different than saying it doesn't work for anybody. Until now there hasn't been a good way to make a Web gallery and have your Windows-using client have a way of seeing the colors as you intended. (Yes, you could email them JPEGs or post a PDF, but it's hard to compete with the convenience of a regular Web browser.) I see this as opening a door for some people, not serving as a magic bullet for everybody.
    And, you know, maybe most people just don't care. People watch green skies and blue cornfields all day and don't mind. I find the color and saturation of most high-end TVs overwrought. My folks don't mind that the TV signal on their screen is completely stretched. And so on and so on... But at least there's some new hope for people who *do* give a damn. --J.]

  • Eric — 3:48 PM on June 20, 2007

    sRGB wastes color information in photos. Maybe some people don’t care. But it’s certainly important for me as a photo editor licensing photos from Corbis and Getty, etc. Or for me building a web gallery of gemstones for textbook reviewers to see. You imagine how much easier it would be if everyone’s computers represented a pairaiba tourmaline’s neon blue correctly? Or least correctly enough to get the job done? The only way that would work for me is by using color managed browsers. Now I can point Windows-using reviewers to Safari for Win.

  • Jacob Rus — 5:14 PM on June 20, 2007

    I’ve been agitating for better browser color management for a while now, even prodding Dave Hyatt into writing a blog post about it.
    Ironically, this new development makes Safari on Windows the most generally correct browser on any platform. On the Mac, for historical reasons, the default display gamma is 1.8, which means that CSS colors will display differently on Mac and Windows computers (and usually this just means wrong on a Mac). Really, the Mac version of Safari should assume that css/html colors are in the sRGB color space, and convert them to display space, to darken them up as the web designer intended them to be (the css specification demands that unless otherwise stated, colors are assumed to be sRGB). But unfortunately, the Safari team claims that the lack of similar color correction in Flash is the main thing holding them back (see that post linked above).
    So I would really like to know who it is at Adobe that I should pester about adding color management to Flash. If it could be done, preferably at the same time as Safari is fixed so that colors don’t all suddenly go out-of-sync, that would be just amazing.

  • Jerome Dahdah — 11:46 PM on June 20, 2007

    Oh please, no. Talk about opening a can of worms. Until now I’ve been so glad that this is a topic I don’t have to worry about, never envying my fellow print colleagues. *sigh*
    [The problem has been there, and your designs have been suffering as a result. The difference is that you no longer have as much justification for putting your head in the sand. (As I say, I lived in denial about this stuff for years, but it's not going away, nor should it.) --J.]

  • Pedro Estarque — 6:55 AM on June 21, 2007

    John, couldn’t Adobe ship Adobe Gamma along with Flash Player ? Eye balls are not perfect but it is certainly better than nothing.

  • Bruce McL — 6:32 PM on June 21, 2007

    What does Safari 3 for Windows use as a default profile for an image if it doesn’t find one? On the Mac, Safari 2 and earlier use the monitor profile instead of the W3C standard sRGB.
    IE 5 on the Mac used sRGB as the default, consequently it was the best browser ever for displaying most (untagged, point and shoot) digital photos. Anybody know what Safari 3 does?

  • Jim Bass — 10:12 AM on June 22, 2007

    I am using WinXP. I opened my photo web site in FireFox, IE7 and Safari and there isn’t one bit of difference between them. I do have a calibrated system.
    John, regarding your “old days” tale of splitting the difference, that was an odd choice considering that 95% of the market could have seen the images just right if you hadn’t “split the difference.”
    Regarding MS caring about anything other than green, Apple has been gouging customers with their prices for years. If they hadn’t been so greedy, they would have won the battle of technologies.

  • Phil W — 10:20 AM on June 22, 2007

    If you start relying on embedded profiles you’ll have precisely the problem noted above. Narrowing the scope of the original argument doesn’t help… no one wants people without an Apple browser to see the wrong colours, so I using sRGB is the only way to go for now.
    [quote]What does Safari 3 for Windows use as a default profile for an image if it doesn’t find one? On the Mac, Safari 2 and earlier use the monitor profile instead of the W3C standard sRGB.[...] Anybody know what Safari 3 does?[/quote]
    That’s almost the right question. Safari 3 for Vista completely ignores the monitor profile… so your untagged image is “wrong”, but so are your tagged ones! Assuming the monitor is calibrated to precisely sRGB is incorrect; but Vista doesn’t just read the profile and correct all colours thrown at the display for some reason. PS does read the monitor profile and so produces correct colour.

  • Steve Upton — 10:19 PM on July 02, 2007

    Actually monitors are, to some extent, already auto-calibrating on OS X. When OS X boots, ColorSync grabs the color information of your display through the monitor cable and creates a profile on the fly. This is NOT as good as a true hardward calibration but it is a pretty good step – and most people are not even aware it is happening. Granted this is still only on the Mac, Vista still won’t even load monitor calibration curves, it relies on thrid party utilities to do that…

  • hikaye — 7:13 AM on July 04, 2007

    Merci du billet…

  • resim — 4:52 AM on October 28, 2007

    The truth is that Windows browsers are as color-clueless as they come. They simply throw the raw RGB numbers at the screen with no interpretation.
    [This really bugs me, frankly, given that for the last few years Microsoft has made a lot of noise about stepping up to improve the world of color management. That's great: lots of improvments need to be made, and if they light a competitive fire under all of us, so much the better. But in the meantime, why does the IE team fail to make what should be a small tweak that could improve the browsing experience for literally tens of millions of people? --J.]

  • Yükle — 9:28 PM on September 22, 2008

    i think in firefox3 , the devolopers not make anything for colormanagment.

  • 清拆 — 1:37 AM on November 05, 2008

    Good grief. Anyone got a link to a website (or a good dead-treed resource) that explains all of this so that a moron can understand it? I have never totally understood this whole subject.

  • Pierre Jasmin — 2:56 PM on August 30, 2009

    Not sure if you changed your ideas since. jpeg on the web should always be sRGB, anything else is nonsense. As far as I know Safari does not allow one to turn color management off so it makes things more complicated then simpler. For 8 bit images sRGB was the right idea.

  • el-aziz — 2:03 PM on September 16, 2009

    Thanks Adobe

  • resimler — 5:44 AM on February 15, 2010

    i think in firefox3 , the devolopers not make anything for colormanagment.

  • resim paylas — 8:43 AM on July 17, 2011

    i think in firefox3 , the devolopers not make anything for colormanagment.

  • resim yukle — 8:43 AM on July 17, 2011

    Not sure if you changed your ideas since. jpeg on the web should always be sRGB, anything else is nonsense. As far as I know Safari does not allow one to turn color management off so it makes things more complicated then simpler. For 8 bit images sRGB was the right idea.

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