Keeping Colors in Gamut

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Keeping Colors in Gamut

*Note: Currently I am only aware of ways to check gamut issues in Photoshop. If you are aware of another program that can check for gamut issues please let me know.

What is Gamut?

What you are designing on your computer screen is not necessarily what someone will see when they print out the item you designed. Monitors and printers handle colors differently, and when we talk about keeping colors in gamut, we are talking about making what is seen on the screen as similar as possible to what is seen when printed.

Before beginning a new project, most designers choose a color palette to work with, to keep colors standard throughout the project. This will also help to keep your project within gamut, as you can check your colors before you begin. Here I've gone ahead and set up a sample palette. Keep in mind that you will have the most gamut problems with neons and other bright colors.

To check if my colors are in gamut, I can quickly turn on a gamut check in Photoshop by going to View -> Gamut Warning:

You can see that the red color has been turned gray, which means that it is out of gamut, anything I make with that red color will not print true to what is seen on the screen.

In order to find a red that is in gamut, I can browse the color wheel. Any out of gamut color will be marked with an ! and you can click around until you find a red you like.

Or, you can switch the image to CMYK and then back to RGB. Now all the colors will be in gamut.

QC with Gamut


Gamut issues are particularly tricky, mainly because unlike some QC issues it's not black and white if something is an issue. It's easy enough to turn on a gamut check in Photoshop (View -> Gamut Warning), however just because you see some areas out of gamut, does not mean that they should be reported as a problem.

Keep in mind that what we are worried about with gamut is that images print closely to what is expected from the screen. If I am expecting to print out a neon green paper, but instead end up with a muddy green, I'll be disappointed. However, if there is a very small area that is out of gamut, which often happens when a texture is applied, I'm unlikely to notice any difference in printing.

As a designer the best way to get an idea of what's a problem or not is to convert your item to CMYK and see what happens. Here is a neon paper with a slight texture

By going to Image -> Mode -> CMYK, I can see how a "print" version of the paper will look

You can see that it's significantly different from the original. An item like this I would consider to have gamut issues and should be reported and fixed.

For this element if you turn on the gamut warning in Photoshop (View -> Gamut Warning) you will see a few gray areas, which means that there are some colors out of gamut. However, if you convert it to CMYK you will be hard pressed to see a difference. I would not consider this to be a gamut issue and it should not be reported.

When designing my #1 tip is to check your palette before you begin and make sure all colors are in gamut. You should be mostly good to go then. If I'm working with particularly bright colors, I may do some gamut checks along the way to see how things going. In order to "fix" a gamut issue, convert to CMYK and then back to RGB. If everything still looks good at this point (colors, texture, etc) you're good to go.

Thank you. That is super helpful. I had no idea about gamut or how to check it.

Is there a way to check to see if colors are in gamut in PSE15? I do not see any options under Image and Mode.

Marisa, thank you vso much! It's very useful.

Donna, unfortunately, you cannot check the gamut in PSE 15 smiley

I don't know if Adobe have added the feature in Elements 2018, but probably not, which is a pain!

Great tutorial. I created an action for the CMYK switch. But now I know when I check my colors a better way to make sure I am choosing gamut colors. I did start using Pantone colors which seem to work as well.

Very useful, will try this out.