What Is An ICC Profile?

icc profiles

An ICC profile, according to the International Color Consortium (ICC), is a set of data that characterizes a color input, color space, or output device.

In other words, every device that displays color can be assigned a set "profile." These profiles define the color (gamut) that the device can display.

Table of Contents

How your image looks on your monitor.

How your image looks, as a print enlargement, after it comes back from the lab!

This is an extreme example.  However, it demonstrates a color mismatch can occur if proper color management (ICC profile) is not followed.

Photos by Kyle Roxas.

ICC profiles are available for different types of cameras, monitors, printers, and more. They’re also available from various sources. More on that in a moment.

Setting up your ICC profile is part of a color management system. If accurate color is essential to your work, you’ll want to learn more about the different color settings in Photoshop, Lightroom, or any other software you use.

Using the same ICC profile between two different devices ensures color matching from one device to another.

For example, would you like to see the same colors in a photographic print as you saw it on your monitor?

If so, then using ICC profiles will ensure the most accurate color rendition from one device to another.

What is an ICC profile used for?

Two real-world examples are presented below to demonstrate when and why you need ICC profiles.

Keep in mind that these scenarios are more geared towards pro users. Or in other words, those that require accurate color output, use multiple computers, use a pro lab, etc.

Scenario 1

Let’s say your laptop computer is running windows. The colors being displayed are with the ProPhoto RGB color space.

However, your iMac is currently set up to use the sRGB color space to display colors.

Well, if you edit your image on your laptop and open the file via your iMac, it will notify you that the color space is different. That is if you’re using Photoshop.

Before you can open the image, Photoshop will ask you if you want to convert to your current workspace (sRGB). Or to change the workspace to ProPhoto RGB.

Should you convert to the sRGB or switch your iMac to the ProPhoto RGB color space?

It depends. What is the intended destination of your final artwork?

Intended output is for online use

If your intended output is for online use, you’re probably better off switching to the sRGB “working color space.” The reason why is the sRGB color space is used by modern web browsers.

Intended output is for print enlargements

If your intended output is for photographic prints, then I’d suggest converting your iMac to the ProPhoto RGB color space.

ProPhoto RGB has a broader range of colors. More colors provide more creative control to create a photo-based on your vision.

Although not all printers can reproduce all the colors in the ProPhoto color space. You may end up needing to switch to an entirely different color space like Adobe RGB.

In that case, I’d recommend working in the original color space, ProPhoto RGB, until you’re ready to submit for printing.

Here’s why, when you convert from one color space to another, chances are the photo will look different. The reason is simple. ProPhoto RGB has a more extensive color range vs. Adobe RGB.

Scenario 2

Let’s say your camera allows you to use the ProPhoto RGB color space during capture. In post-production, you begin editing your photos in Lightroom. Which, by the way, is the default color space for Lightroom.

Then, you send a large print order to your favorite pro lab. A few days later, the prints arrive.

To your astonishment, they look nothing like what you see on your monitor!

What happened? Your files had an ICC profile embedded with the ProPhoto RGB color space.

However, your lab’s printers are not capable of printing in that color space. So, they had to convert your files to let’s say Adobe RGB or sRGB. Both of those color spaces have fewer colors vs. your original profile.

How do you avoid an ICC profile mismatch?

One thing I recommend doing is communicating with your vendor of choice. Contact them to find out what ICC profile or color space they recommend or need for your final output.

In fact, some pro labs have ICC profiles that they can give you to install. This will eliminate most problems with color mismatches.

Most pro labs will also provide some free prints before your first order. This is the best way to ensure your prints are going to match what you see on your computer.

What are some other sources of ICC profiles?

Think about some of the other devices you’ll use for outputting your images.

In-home printers

There are hundreds of makes and models of printers to choose from.

Chances are most are going to have specific ICC profiles that will provide the best results for your final print.

The “users manual” will have instructions for installing the specific ICC profile into your editing software of choice.


Even some paper that you print on at home will require specific ICC profiles for the best results.  

Your paper of choice will also have a specific ICC profile created for your combination of paper and printer.

This is to ensure the color, and tonal characteristics of the different papers provide the best color renditions.

Your monitor

By default, your monitor is installed with a standard ICC profile. Which one is dependent on your make and model.

As part of your color management workflow, you should “color calibrate” your monitor. The device you use to calibrate will create an ICC profile for that particular monitor.

This will give you the best color, contrast, brightness, etc. for your monitor. However, you’ll still need to switch to another profile to ensure accurate color matching from one device to another.

How do you change your ICC profile in Photoshop?

By default, the profile (or color space) set in Photoshop is sRGB. However, if you’re opening an image that does not have a profile embedded, you’ll need to assign one to the file.

How to assign a profile to an image

To assign a profile to a photo, go to your menu and select “Edit.” Scroll down, near the bottom, and select “Assign Profile.”

From here, you’ll have up to three options.

photoshop profile

Unless you do not want to color mange, make your selection under “Profile.”

The color space (or profile) you choose will be dependent on your intended output.

If you wish to change your color profile, you can do so from this dialog window. Or you can go to Edit > Color Settings and make your selection from there.

From here, you’ll have up to three options.

How do you change your ICC profile in Lightroom Classic?

As mentioned previously, ProPhoto RGB is the default color space (in the Develop Module).

To install a new color profile, copy it to one of the following locations:

Then, re-start Lightroom Classic. You’ll also need to make sure the correct color profile is embedded during Export.

During your export workflow, go to the “File Settings.” Click on “Color Space” and choose your required setting.

Now What?

To avoid headaches, it’s imperative to develop a color management workflow, so these mistakes don’t happen.

Creating a color management workflow is a pain. But, spending money on prints we can’t use is a more significant pain in the you-know-what!

If you have any questions, please post in the comments below.

Thanks, and have an awesome day!


Picture of Parker
A 30-year photography pro with a desire to help you achieve your creative vision! Facebook | Youtube

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.