Color spaces and color profiles: what are they?

In the next lines we will see what is the difference between color spaces and color profiles, concepts often confused with each other. These terms are fundamental to clearly understand the topic of color management in photography. Not an irrelevant matter for a photographer!

The basis: the color models

The best known are the RGB and CMYK. These are abstract mathematical models that allow colors to be represented in numerical form.

color models rgb cmyk

What is a color space?

A color space is the specific application of a color model (RGB, CMYK) and describes a particular area of reproducible colors. Generally, the CIE L*a*b three-dimensional color space is taken as a reference.

CIE Lab Color Space
The CIE L*a*b color space. Author: Holger kkk Everding [CC BY-SA (]

Among the most used color spaces in photography, derived from the RGB model, we find, from the smallest to the largest: sRGB, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB.

What are the color profiles?

Each device reads colors differently, even if it is a monitor of the same brand and model.

For this reason, in order to correctly manage the color, it is necessary to calibrate and generate a color profile (if you are interested in knowing how an ICC color profile is created you can take a look at this previous article).

The color profile, obtained through the use of a calibrator or a spectrophotometer, represents the colorimetric identity card of the device: the result of the association of the coordinates of the L*a*b color model with each RGB value (Red, Green, Blue) of a color space.


I hope this post about the difference between color spaces and color profiles has clarified some doubts about color management in photography. A complex topic, not easy to assimilate and that often generates misunderstandings.

If you liked the article or have any questions about it, write me in the comments below!

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