Variations in Color Occur Across Devices

We've talked about color before (here and here). Now we shall attempt to de-mystify some of the basic technical reasons why variations in those colors are inevitable. So, why exactly do colors sometimes look different even when they are assigned a specific color build?

It's a topic with a lot of complexity and there can be many reasons why variations occur from print to screen, but we can start by understanding some basics.

Fun fact: Humans are trichromats, which means our eyes have three independent channels for processing color information. It is estimated that the average human can distinguish up to ten million different colors. Wow!

Not surprisingly, no device in any publishing system is capable of reproducing the full range of colors viewable to the human eye. Refer to the image below from Adobe. It's a great illustration of the range in color gamuts for some common devices. (In the world of color, gamut is the term used to describe an entire scale or range of color.)


As shown above, each device operates within a specific color space which is limited to producing color within a certain gamut. Because of these varying color spaces, colors can shift in appearance as you transfer documents between different devices. Color variations can also result from differences in image sources; the way software applications define color; print media (for example, newsprint paper reproduces a smaller gamut than magazine-quality paper); and other natural variations, such as manufacturing differences in monitors or monitor age.

The bottom line is, color shifting across devices is inevitable. Reproduction of a certain color is not an exact science even when you have a set color build. There are important steps to be taken in color management to minimize these variations, but in the end the big idea is to own a color.