The quest for consistent colour rendition across all input and output devices (from your monitor to your printer, for example) has been going on since the introduction of colour to the desktop. In the late 1990s, the introduction of ColorSync, the Mac's colour-management framework, and the availability of professional-level calibration hardware and software such as the Colortron, got more people thinking about the multiple issues surrounding consistent color across the design workflow.

Colour management has always had a bit of a voodoo associated with it. Unfortunately, managing colour is not as simple as specifying a colour for a given pixel and having your intent carried out across all input and output devices. Indeed, the physical functioning of the two primary components--the monitor and the printer -- are markedly different.

Monitor colour is created using an additive process in which three colour primaries (red, green, and blue) are mixed together to yield a specific colour that is emitted (like a flashlight) from the screen. Printer colour, on the other hand, is subtractive in that the pigments in the inks and dyes remove wavelengths of light before it is reflected to the eye. This process uses an entirely different set of primaries than your monitor, that is, the colours of the inks present. Even if your printer has green ink, it is not likely to ever create the same shade of green that is emitted from your monitor for a variety of reasons, including the whiteness or colour of the paper it is printed on and the nature of the light source illuminating the printed page. Combine this with the idiosyncrasies of human colour perception and you've got quite job trying to keep things consistent.

Then, when you think about all the possible input elements--graphics software, digital cameras, and various scanners and all the possible output possibilities -- printers of countless varieties, presses, film, and digital video (not to mention the displays--projectors, LCD, LED, and CRT), there is a nearly endless number of combinations and unending complexities involved in getting colour 'right.'

To help get this mayhem under control, you need both hardware and software. These help determine what colours your various input and output devices are capable of creating, a process called calibration or profiling. Then, once you know where you stand in colour-space, you need tools for gauging matching accuracy, palette creation, and exploration. And that's where X-Rite's ColorMunki 1.1 suite of tools enters the picture.

ColorMunki suite

Tools for measuring and managing colour have existed for a long time, primarily for use in the printing industry. Pantone and X-Rite has introduced the ColorMunki suite targeted at the entry-level professional market--the photographer who needs consistent prints for her customers, the designer who wants to explore colour options while ensuring the proper translation from computer to product, and even the enthusiast who just wants better colour reproduction.

The ColorMunki line is split into three products -- Create, Design, and Photo, each aimed at a particular need. They consist of a colour measurement device and associated software. The software is similar across the three products, while the hardware varies between the Create product (a colorimeter) and the Design and Photo products (a spectrophotometer). I had a look at each package, using a recent vintage MacBook Pro and Mac Pro with dual 24-inch Apple Cinema displays driven by an ATI Radeon X1900 card. Xerox Phaser 6180 and Canon i900D colour printers provided output.