Spectral color

What is the color gamut?

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If you’ve purchased monitors, laptops, smartphones, or printers, you’ve probably seen retailers promoting the wide color gamuts of their products. What is a color gamut and how does its size affect display or print quality?

Definition of the color range

In order to understand color gamut, you need to know that devices that capture, display, or print colors can only reproduce or represent a fraction of the colors outside of the visible spectrum. And even this fraction varies between devices and color spaces. Thus, the color gamut is established to make the color gamut of each device clear. This helps quantify a device’s color capabilities.

When a color space or device cannot represent a color, it is called out of gamut. For example, the color pure red can be represented in the RGB color space, so it is part of the RGB color gamut. But it cannot be expressed in CMYK color space, so it is out of gamut in this color space.

The most common way to represent the range of colors is to use an area in a CIE xy chromaticity diagram which shows all the colors the average man can see. A triangle inside the horseshoe shape indicates the color gamut of a device or color space.

Chromaticity diagram
Ben Q

Chromaticity charts can be misleading because you can obviously see colors outside the gamut of the color space or device listed. But the colors shown in the chromaticity diagram are only the representation of all colors in the visible spectrum, not the actual colors. And it’s an easy way to compare the size of different color ranges.

What is wide color gamut?

Justin Duino

Wide color gamut is a term used to describe devices and color spaces that can reproduce more colors than the sRGB color space. Wide color gamut displays are becoming more and more common. For example, most modern Apple devices, from iPhones to MacBooks, have wide color gamut displays. Additionally, many TVs and monitors also have a wide color gamut.

As a consumer, the important thing to remember about wide color gamut displays is that they offer lifelike colors and better color accuracy than standard color gamut displays. So you basically get more vivid images.

Color space vs color gamut vs color profile

Color space and color gamut are two crucial elements of modern color theory. But they can be confusing as they are sometimes used interchangeably. However, although they are related, they are not exactly the same.

While color space defines colors in a specific subset of a color model, color gamut is the range of colors supported by a device. That said, you can use color gamut to describe the range of colors in a color space.

Thus, a device may support one or more color spaces, but its color gamut is not necessarily the same as the gamut of color spaces it supports. For example, your TV may support the DCI-P3 color space, but its native color gamut can only cover 90% of the DCI-P3 color space. Thus, 10% of the colors in the DCI-P3 color space are out of gamut for the TV.

A color profile is another term related to color spaces. It provides a standardized way to display a color across all devices. There are two main types of color profiles: source (input) and destination (output). They include data about their respective color spaces, which is used to reconcile colors if the two devices have different color spaces.

Suppose a screen does not have the ability to produce certain colors of a scanned image. In this case, it uses the color profile associated with this image to approximate these colors according to its capabilities.

Color profiles are also called ICC profiles because they are developed according to the specifications defined by the International Color Consortium (ICC).

Because common color profiles offer information about specific color spaces, they share the name of the color space. This is why you will find both the sRGB color profile and the sRGB color space. Likewise, there is a DCI-P3 color profile and color space.

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Why is color gamut important?

Color gamut is an important aspect of image quality because it tells you how many colors a device can display or a printer can print. A wide color gamut device will provide richer, more realistic colors than standard gamut devices. So, as a consumer, if you want vibrant images and vivid colors, it’s important to have wide color gamut devices.