Color Spaces & Color Profiles – RGB, CMYK, sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto

Color Space - sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB and CMYK

Digital Fundamentals – Color Models and Color Spaces

Difference Between sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto – RGB and CMYK

This video is available Free for Everyone.
Running Time: 12 minutes

This is a Digital Fundamentals Tutorial that focuses on the basic differences between sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto color profiles and RGB and CMYK color models. This video is only 12 minutes, and gives a quick overview on how each color space is designed to be used. It also gives a demonstration of how the image color can shift on different priced monitors.

I also have another video on this whole Color Model, Color Space, and Color Profile topic. This can all get very confusing. Not that it needs to be, it’s just that even the people teaching it don’t know what they are saying. This just opens up a level of cross information, and does not help anybody.

CMYK and RGB are Color Models, also refered to Color Modes.

Adobe RGB, sRGB, and ProPhoto are examples of Color Spaces, also refered to as Color Profiles, within the RGB Model. Swop v2 is an example of a Color Space (or Color Profile), within the CMYK Model.

sRGB – Many cameras take the picture with sRGB Profile Selected by default. Depending on the camera, you may or may not be able to change this setting. Monitors display the internet with sRGB. Visually, it has brighter colors than CMYK. However, it has a smaller gamut than Adobe RGB and ProPhoto. Colors often look more saturated.

Adobe RGB (1998) – While Adobe RGB does have a larger range of colors than sRGB, it tends to display those colors a bit more muted. But, you know, it's all about how you handle the tool, before it can perform it's best for you. For more detailed explanation, please review this article on the difference between sRGB and Adobe RGB. Printing Professionals prefer Adobe RGB over sRGB. It tends to have a closer match to CMYK, as sRGB’s saturated colors will change more drastically on press.

CMYK – CMYK is actually a Color Model, rather than a color space. This is the industry standard to 4-color printing in magazines, newspapers, and other types of flyers. It also has the most limited amount of colors it can reproduce, it tends to have much duller colors and can sometimes display banding or morie's within gradients. You should only use CMYK when going to print on a press. However, it is much easier to make advanced color corrections using CMYK tools, within RGB Color Model, like Selective Color. The reason is that RGB is an additive color space, and CMYK is a subtractive color space. For me, it's just easier to understand the relation of colors in CMYK than it is in RGB.

ProPhoto RGB – This color space was developed by Kodak, with an extremely large gamut designed for use with photographs. ProPhoto RGB should be used with 16-bit depth due to the posturization and banding issues that it can create if used with 8-bit depth. While this one has some of the widest ranges of color available, I caution it's use outside of a controlled environment of people who expect to receive a file with this profile attached. Follow the link to learn more detail about ProPhoto RGB.


Questions and Answers

  • Should I work in sRGB, Adobe RGB or ProPhoto Color Space / Color Profile?
    Depends on your end result. If you use your images for the internet, or one-shot prints, use sRGB; you will get more saturated images. If your work will regularly be printed in a magazine, or other large quantities, use Adobe RGB. If you want the best for your images (everyone else be damned), then use ProPhoto.
  • What is the best way to change from one Color Space / Color Profile to the other?
    If you want to change from sRGB to AdobeRGB, for example, there are two ways you can do it. Image – Convert to Profile, or you could use Image – Assign Profile. The worst way to do it would be to Assign Profile. Thats because it will remap the colors based on math, and will likely shift the colors on the image. However, if you use Convert to Profile, you will not only have more options available to convert with, but it will also remap the colors based on the actual pixel color. This means it will create images that are a better match to the original.
  • What type of monitor should I use?
    Standard monitors are 8-Bit, and limited with the colors they can display. This means the display could possibly show banding, or muted colors. If you were to look into a high-end display model from NEC or Eizo for example, you could buy one of 10-Bit, 12-Bit or 14-Bit.


Again, if you would like to learn more, I have another updated video at Color Model, Color Space, and Color Profile.


This is a video for Color Models RGB and CMYK. It also talks about Color Spaces / Color Profiles using sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto Tutorial. If you would like to learn more about Photoshop Tools and Palettes from a Professional Retoucher, I offer a 2 hour video explaining what each tool is, and how to use it's palette. If you would just like to watch other online videos, The Art of Retouching Studio offers many Photoshop Tutorials for Beginners and Advanced users.


  1. Howie says

    ok, so, im trying to build an 8×10 printed portfolio of my best work. Would you suggest retouching in the RGB workspace and then saving/printing in RGB also? i see in the video that magazines are CMYK but then you say photography is RGB. Im also guessing images for websites are best saved in sRGB workspace, yes? side note, when i save images i use the Ctrl+Shift+Alt+S feature in CS5.

    • John Ross says

      You should be working in Adobe RGB for maximum (Standard) colors. You may print to your InkJet printer while still using the Adobe RGB profile attached. Your inkjet will do it’s best to reproduce the bright colors. You can post to the web with Adobe RGB profile attached, and modern browsers will support the correct display, as best as their monitor will show it (likely, the same as yours). Historically, web is sRGB, but thats not a hard and fast rule anymore. Lastly, even if you are going to have your work printed in a magazine, I would still suggest supplying as Adobe RGB. Let the printer convert it.

    • John Ross says

      I have edited the tutorial based on the recommendations made. It’s now filled with much more useful information.

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