Color my world

Single-use workflows are a costly conceit

Okay, this post is a bit geeky, but there is a broader message.

Last week, both bnet and ars technica reported on a patent application by Apple.  The idea: make computer displays out of four colors (CMYK) rather than three (RGB).

Designers and editors have long struggled to match display colors (currently RGB) to print output (CMYK).  The growth of desktop publishing tools forced users to confront the problem directly, and the result was widespread adoption of an RGB workflow, one that supported multiple uses and reuses of color images.

Because the CMYK color space is more limited than its RGB counterpart, a CMYK display would essentially throttle the color capacity to more closely emulate what one sees in print.  If you wanted to reuse an image, say for a web site, you’d need to convert it to RGB and figure out what it would look like in any of the other applications.

From that, bnet and ars technica concluded that a CMYK display could be a boon for print production.

First, I think both bnet and ars technica missed the point of Apple’s idea.  A commenter in the ars technica thread picks up on the more likely motivation: a subtractive, CMYK display might draw less power, a useful feature if you own one of those tablet devices.

But more broadly: in this era, it’s a costly conceit to design workflows that match the requirements of the lowest common denominator.  This idea may help print, and print is not dead, but print alone almost certainly is.

A CMYK workflow throws away data that could be useful in other media.  Color fidelity is an issue, but RGB to CMYK is controllable (with work).  If we’re really worried about consistent display of colors, let’s figure out how to synchronize all the displays in the world.  Or ... not.





Posted by Mike Shatzkin
Apr 26, 2010  at  07:59 AM

The formulation, “print is not dead, but print alone is” (or may be…) is a great one I had somehow missed having heard before. I’ll credit you when I repeat it, unless you tell me I should be crediting somebody else!



Posted by Brian O'Leary
Apr 26, 2010  at  09:13 AM

Thanks.  I think lots of people feel this way, but I’ll take credit (or responsibility) for the phrasing here smile



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