This is an age old question that litters the internet. I've been working in design for coming on two decades, so am fairly up to speed with color profiling for devices, images and proofing. I've sent countless jobs to many printers and have been happy with color matching in the past.

My greatest weakness until now was using standard, uncalibrated Apple displays. I've recently fixed that issue and am using a fantastic Eizo monitor calibrated with an iDisplay Pro. Which leads me to this:



I'm aware that PDFs displayed on screen - with all the best calibration in the world - should not be held as an accurate example of print colours. PDF viewers are infamous for inaccuracies.

Using my calibrated monitor I've set my InDesign working RGB space to Adobe RGB (the monitor can display 10bit) and CMYK to U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2. My document is using the working space profiles.

Process 1:

I export the PDF as a PDF:x-1a, which has always been the safest bet for print houses in my experience. I don't need the extra features of later PDF versions and am happy with anything flattened and no transparency. It converts to my CMYK working profile.

Result 1:

The PDF looks very washed out in Preview.app (relative to the active document in InDesign) on my calibrated Eizo and calibrated Apple screen. I don't worry as this has always been my experience. It's a CMYK space being viewing on an RGB monitor and while it could do a lot better at emulating the colors, it's never going to get it perfect.

Process 2:

Just to be certain, having not used this calibrated screen before with InDesign for print output I try a similar experiment with JPEG. I export the page as a jpeg, specifying it uses the working space of Adobe RGB.

Result 2:

To my surprise, the JPEG looks equally washed out. I confirm it's using the embedded Adobe RGB profile and check it in PhotoShop, just incase Preview.app isn't showing it accurately (which it always does for jpegs).

Process 3:

Although my Eizo displays 10bit color and doesn't suffer from the issue of Adobe RGB documents not displaying accurately, I convert the InDesign document to sRGB just to rule out the issue. Exporting as JPEG, I confirm the document is to be converted into working sRGB.

Result 3:

Same as result 2. The jpeg is significantly washed out compared to the colors I was using in the active InDesign Document.

Further Info:

  • We're past the days of having to convert all images used in InDesign into CMYK before import. Its conversion engine is know to handle any exporting pretty well. If you can use Photoshop to convert an RGB profile into a CMYK profile, why would Adobe provide a poorer result automating this in InDesign? It's their same conversion engine.

  • Any images placed in my InDesign document look accurate to how they are outside of it, such as in Photoshop. It's the export that skews the colours.

  • Some people blame RGB > CMYK conversions. I've done plenty over the years and know there's a difference when flicking between the original and conversion but nothing as inaccurate as when viewing an exported rgb jpeg from an InDesign document.

  • As far as I know (and may be wrong on this). InDesign documents aren't strictly calibrated to CMYK or RGB until export. They are a collection of elements profiled to both spaces and it tries to display them as accurately as it can relevant to the working RGB space for monitor presentation. So using RGB space images in the document and exporting as an RGB jpeg shouldn't see massive color shifts anyway.

  • My system is set up for a full 10 bit color pipeline and macOS 10.13 as well as Adobe CC 2018 are 10-bit enabled. I tested everything above with my monitor set to sRGB and color spaces to sRGB too with the same results.

  • Although I'm stressing the calibration measures I've taken, it should only matter for print accuracy, not comparing a working document with an export as the final section of the color pipeline in the OS - altering for the monitor profile, would skew colors similarly on an uncalibrated monitor/profile (between the active document and the exported jpeg, as long as the software viewing both are color profile aware and perform conversions correctly).


Am I missing something? If my exported jpegs has colours so deviated from my working document, with everything calibrated and profiled, I don't feel I can send my PDFs to print with confidence. Although the project's concern is with PDF color accuracy, the question pertains moreso to JPEG exporting as, unlike PDFs, I trust the color accuracy on my monitor of any images converted through a color-profile-aware pipeline like this (RGB space images exported as an RGB space document with the entire pipeline color-managed).


I've noticed this question was closed due to requiring a 'specific setup, file, or interaction with you or your machine. Questions on this site should be potentially useful to future visitors'

I don't understand the lack of usefulness? Wide-gamut monitors are only going to exponentially increase in use and this is a very pertinent question to them. The lack of people using Adobe RGB as a workspace in InDesign and the relevance of doing so on a wide-gamut monitor is surely a very useful question to have as a resource? There is little to no information about this elsewhere, I googled it extensively before posting here (InDesign usage in regards to wide-gamut displays)

If the closure related to the niche use of a wide-gamut monitor, they already have strong adoption with graphic professionals and are only going to increase until their commonplace. I see no other specifics in my question that's intangible or irrelevant to others? The file being used was irrelevant and the model of my monitor is irrelevant.

  • ...."washed out in Preview.app".... what about in an Adobe PDF viewer (Acrobat or Reader)? You don't honestly think Apple gives two hoots how accurate color is in Preview do you? I mean beyond red being a general red.
    – Scott
    Apr 6, 2018 at 12:49
  • AFAIK, if you do not have a full-10-bit RGB pipeline, then you may have calibration issues anyhow. I have no direct experience with this, but there are also software considerations as well: Windows Desktop does not color manage for the background image and people complain about the horrible color when using wide-gamut monitors.
    – Yorik
    Apr 6, 2018 at 13:04
  • And bear in mind, not all software will handle CMYK jpeg gracefully
    – Yorik
    Apr 6, 2018 at 13:05
  • @Scott On the contrary, in my experience Preview.app has displayed any JPEG with embedded color profile faithfully. I had stopped opening Photoshop to confirm (until now, and it still shows identical results). Apr 6, 2018 at 13:27
  • 1
    It seems your main problem is using the Preview.app. Just don't use it - it's not safe. @Scott, I do respect being "old-school" - I am too in many ways. It's good to know you did the right thing instead of constantly double checking yourself. But when it comes to automatic CMYK converting I don't agree that it's "possible error-inducing". I've never had unexplainable problems, but I've saved a lot of time (I do grayscale manually though). What if the customer changes the print house or paper type, or you need to re-edit an image just before deadline?
    – Wolff
    Apr 6, 2018 at 16:08

3 Answers 3


I'm almost afraid to answer this after all these words, but here goes...

Maybe you just forget to uncheck Simulate Overprint when exporting the JPEG:

Export JPEG

Without Simulate Overprint:

Without Simulate Overprint

With Simulate Overprint (washed out):

With Simulate Overprint

  • Hah, I'm not surprised! Although the question moved to JPEG export oddities for reasons explained, I never normally export JPEG from InDesign and had completely missed the relevance of simulate overprint. Unfortunately it made only a minor change (it's barely discernible flicking between both exported versions) and still retains the significant desaturation issue I'm having. Thanks though, I appreciate the educated guess. Apr 7, 2018 at 10:58
  • @bisquitstack Have you checked in both Preview.app and Photoshop?
    – Wolff
    Apr 7, 2018 at 21:25
  • To be safe, I just double-checked and saw the same outcome. Apr 8, 2018 at 8:44
  • What happens if you make an Adobe RGB image in Photoshop, place it in an Adobe RGB InDesign document and export a jpg using Adobe RGB? Does the exported jpg look different than the original when opening in Photoshop? If I do this I do get slightly different RGB values (for example (255, 0, 0) becomes (254, 0, 0) which is odd), but I don't get washed out colors.
    – Wolff
    Apr 8, 2018 at 9:04
  • I didn't check if there was deviations of 1 from any of the channels but the exported JPEG with sRGB > Adobe RGB sources looks identical to that with just sRGB sources in Photoshop. I'm not seeing perceptible saturation shifts. Apr 8, 2018 at 9:41

Just a general note to say that Preview.app has its flaws and while it is handy, it is limited. Below is a link to a detailed study that found that only free PDF viewer that could be relied upon in graphic arts is Adode Acrobat Reader.

I think it is a few years old now and some apps might have been updated since then but you can download the PDF Checker they used and see for yourself how your go to PDF Viewer behaves.


  • That'll be interesting, thanks for linking to it. I should point out that I mentioned my opinion on Preview.app showing faithful colors to my eyes (I can't see a difference in Photoshop) was only relevant to profile-embedded jpegs. I've no opinion on any viewers accuracy for PDF as I tend to only export in CMYK and expect none to be great - relying on my working document and getting the import and export settings correct instead. Apr 7, 2018 at 11:05
  • This isn't your fault but the communication on that page is awful. If I Google Translate it to English I find that the bold text mentions it's available in English now. Great - where? If I click download I just find a request for my personal details with no idea if this proceeds to a download and, furthermore, if it'll just give me a Dutch version - which I suspect it might. I've no idea if it's free or commercial and I don't like giving my details out to just anybody with an unknown outcome. Apr 7, 2018 at 11:10
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    My bad... If you register for download you get a bundle of multi language versions. I have loaded the English version to Dropbox for you............. dropbox.com/s/1llv3dp70yf436n/… Apr 7, 2018 at 22:35

There's some theorising and naivety on my part here (as much as I think I'm on top of color management, I occasionally stumble) but some further testing has led me to believe that InDesign 2018 is currently incapable of accurately displaying colors on wide-gamut displays.


I retract this thought and put it down to my lack of being as thorough in the past from never having as accurate a monitor. I accepted that PDF prints wouldn't quite be comparable to what was on my screen so didn't look for accuracy at each step, like I was now.

I was able to get InDesign to natively display colours exactly as both CMYK PDFs and RGB Jpegs displayed them in Acrobat Reader and Photoshop, respectively. My problem was the missing the exact combination of options I need to enable/disable. In particular, I was missing that I needed to both simulate overprint and soft proof at the same time inside InDesign. Sounds obvious, but I overlooked both (a) the relevance of overprint when not consciously overlaying inks. Its simulation affects how single colours lay on white paper and (b) that Acrobat Reader is simulating overprint by default on PDF/X documents, so it was never going to match InDesign unless I ensured both matched.

On top of these, ensure blend modes are appropriate to either CMYK/RGB.

This is all standard stuff for 8bit monitors and I can confirm it works fine with an Eizo wide-gamut display using Adobe RGB working space.

It is very easy to miss an option needing changing if you change an option elsewhere. As @Wolff posted, I would also need to ensure my JPEG export options have overprint-similation on or off to match my intended comparison.

This question was closed and an upvote retracted from one of my other questions the day after I added a comment questioning the knowledge of scope of what graphic design constitutes in academia and the industry today by some moderating a graphic design forum. I'll remain an optimist and assume this is a coincidence.

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