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How RGB Color Spaces Can Affect Textures

Have you ever placed a texture into your image file and the colors of the texture changed dramatically? In fact, they may have turned rather garish. You may also have had Photoshop warn you that the color space was different and you weren’t sure what to do? This is due to a difference between the color space of the texture and the color space of your image. Let’s take a quick look at the most common RGB color spaces.

A Quick Overview of RGB Color Spaces

It used to be that all print files were in CMYK and RGB was for the web. Today, while CMYK is still usually used in print, RGB is often the preferred color space for digital printing. The most commonly used RGB spaces are: ProPhoto RGB, Adobe RGB and sRGB. I’m not going to get too technical on describing these as the main point of this post is to let you know how this might relate to texture usage.

 ProPhoto RGB

This color space has the greatest gamut of colors. If you shoot in RAW format, this is the color space you should consider using in your master Photoshop files. This RGB space will allow you to best keep the range of colors captured by today’s digital cameras. Not all printers can print in ProPhoto RGB, but by using this color space, you are insuring you keep that information in your file for when it can be used. For instance, I can print in ProPhoto RGB to my Epson 3880. This format is best kept to your master files and not sent out—unless you are sure the receiver can handle this file type.

 Adobe RGB (1998)

This space has less color gamut than ProPhoto, but is a good all-around workspace. It was conceived as a workflow color space that would not be tied to a specific device. It encompasses most of the colors CMYK printers are capable of. It has more colors and a greater range than sRGB.

 sRGB

This color space is known as a web color space and is best for viewing images online. In fact, if you don’t use sRGB for web images, they may look very drab. It is often used for digital printing as well. There are many digital photo labs that specify using sRGB.

note: there are some arguments about wether one should use sRGB or Adobe RGB, but I’m not going to get into that in this article. If you want to delve deeper, an internet search will turn up many articles.

RGB Color Spaces And Texture Usage

Most textures (all the ones I’ve ever downloaded and/or purchased) come in sRGB. This is mainly for file size considerations. If you buy a pack of 40 textures, even in sRGB, it’s going to be a big download!

What To Do

Most of the time, you won’t notice any difference leaving textures in sRGB, but it can be annoying when it is a problem. If you work in ProPhoto RGB or Adobe RGB, you may want to convert your textures to the same color space. First, I’d recommend backing up your original textures. (You do have your textures backed up, right?) In the Photoshop menu, choose EDIT / Convert to Profile / choose ProPhoto RGB or Adobe RGB (whichever you use.)

Important: Choose Convert to Profile, NOT Assign Profile!

Note: Converting an sRGB doesn’t actually give the texture more colors – it’s like pouring a cup of milk into a gallon container. You still only have a cup of milk, but you may find your textures play nicer with your workflow if they are in the same color space.

Example:

The first example below is a texture in sRGB. The second image was the result when I placed it into my image file that was in ProPhoto RGB.

Texture in sRGB

Texture in sRGB

Same sRGB texture placed in ProPhoto color space

Same sRGB texture placed in a ProPhoto color space

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5 Responses to How RGB Color Spaces Can Affect Textures

  1. Mary Doherty July 13, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    Leslie,
    Great article, thanks for sharing this information…can’t wait to try this out!

  2. Julie Legg July 20, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Leslie,
    Much needed article. Great job. One other point is I have downloaded some texture files that say, “untagged scanner file” or something like that. In that case, if I convert to profile it still gives it a crazy color, but if I assign an sRGB profile first and then convert to ProPhoto color space the color is correct. Have you come across that situation and what is your solution?

    • Leslie Nicole July 20, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

      Thanks Julie. Part of my own workflow when I scan things is to immediately change the color profile as otherwise it would be Epson sRGB.

      Have you tried just converting directly to ProPhoto RGB? I’m not sure you need that intermediary sRGB step. Also, I’m always cautious about assigning profiles rather than converting. What’s your experience been?

  3. Karen Lynch January 19, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    Hi,
    I’ve been having trouble getting good color rendition when printing photographs that have been textured. I seem to be getting muddy results, quite different than what appears on my monitor. I have calibrated everything, and still have trouble. Especially with the blues and cyans, using the sky type textures. I use an Epson 2800
    and don’t have trouble with other, non textured images. Any suggestions?
    I was interested in this post and wondered if the RGB might be the culprit?
    Thanks,
    Karen

    • Leslie Nicole January 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

      I also found that when I got my Epson 3880, I needed to adjust the textures and overall brightness. Adding textures is adding density in many cases and what looks rich on a back-lit monitor can indeed just look muddy printed. Especially when using a fine art, matte paper expect to have ink gain. It’s really just a process of getting to know your images and printer. I’d say the majority of my images are just fine, but those with darker colors needed to be adjusted.

      Not sure this has anything to do with RGB color space though. Are you using the correct paper profile?

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