I have not given this too much thought until recently, when a bit of a back and forth happened with a client. So, when I start a new document in InDesign, for CMYK print, how to I know how to setup the color settings ?

Many times I will just not look at this and go with whatever is set by default, but apparently this may affect things.

Is this just a case of choosing between the "Europe General Purpose" vs the "North America General Purpose" presets, or is there more to this ?

Are the "Coated FOGRA39"/"US Web Coated (SWOP)" the most widely used standards that will generally work for printers in the EU/US ?

What about web documents in RGB ? Like, when you design a presentation that will not go to a CMYK printer, what's the proper colour space to use for that ?

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3 Answers 3


Why bother about color profiles?

First of all you need to accept that different printers follow different standards. The same CMYK numbers will look differently when printed according to different standards. It's not possible to make a PDF which will be perfect under all circumstances. Unless I absolutely have to, I wouldn't export a PDF for print before knowing where the document will be printed, on which kind of paper and which ICC profile the print house recommends for that paper.

To use the wrong profile can affect the colors on the final print, but even if there is little difference between the profile you choose and the recommended one, there is also a responsibility issue. If you receive a print where you think the colors are a little bit off and the print house discovers that you didn't use the recommended profile, they might park the complaint right there. Always best to keep your path clean.

Setting up your document

Setting up Working Spaces in the Color Settings affects new documents, but you can always change the settings for an existing document later by using Edit > Assign Profiles. You can also choose a different profile when exporting a PDF. So you are not confined by what the settings where when you created your document.

The main reason for caring about which profile to use for your InDesign document from the beginning is that it affects the preview.

In a print document, when you turn on View > Overprint Preview the graphics and images are displayed as they would look if they were printed according to the Document CMYK.

RGB swatches

Although all swatches in a print document will be CMYK by default, it's also possible to make RGB swatches. They are assumed to have the RGB profile chosen as Document RGB and with Overprint Preview turned on they are displayed as if they were converted from that to the CMYK profile chosen as Document CMYK.

RGB images with an embedded profile

If you are a little in doubt about color profiles and don't know exactly what you are doing and why, I would always recommend to only place RGB images with an embedded color profile. With Overprint Preview turned on they are displayed as if they were converted from their embedded RGB profile to the CMYK profile chosen as Document CMYK.

For example an RGB image looking like this:

Will look like this with Document CMYK set to Coated FOGRA39:

But with Document CMYK set to PSO Uncoated, it will look more faded because the gamut is smaller:

Untagged RGB images

RGB images without an embedded profile are a common cause of a shift in colors from screen to print. They are displayed in Adobe's applications as if they had the profile chosen as Working RGB in Photoshop or Document RGB in InDesign. So if your Photoshop for example has Adobe RGB as Working RGB and your InDesign document has sRGB as Document RGB, the untagged images will be displayed differently in those two applications.

Here is how an untagged image (which is is in reality an sRGB image) is displayed when InDesign assumes sRGB:

And here is how it looks if InDesign assumes Adobe RGB:

Untagged RGB images should be opened in Photoshop and have a profile assigned. 99% of the time it's sRGB, but if it doesn't look right you can try Adobe RGB. It's a guess.

CMYK swatches

You probably make your swatches as CMYK swatches like most of us do. This is fine, but be aware that a CMYK color is not an absolute color. You are "hard coding" the percentages and the color will appear differently when printed according to different standards.

A mistake I often experience is people creating a document without thinking about the CMYK profile and thereby unconsciously choosing U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 which is standard in Adobe's applications. Then they carefully fine-tune their CMYK swatches until they look as they want on screen. When they export a PDF they suddenly remember that they need to choose the correct color profile. They convert with Preserve Numbers to keep the black swatch at 100% black and thereby assign another color profile to the document. All the CMYK values are unchanged, but the intent of the document changes and when they see the document in Acrobat they notice that the colors have shifted.

The colors they see when designing in U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 might look like this:

But after exporting and assigning Uncoated FOGRA29 the colors look different:

CMYK images with an embedded profile

Depending on how your Color Management Policies is set up, CMYK images with an embedded profile will either be Preserved, Ignored or Converted. You can see a detailed description of each in the Color Settings dialogue. I wouldn't recommend for you to place CMYK images unless you know what you are doing and why.

Untagged CMYK images

Has the same problem as untagged RGB images. You don't know which profile it was converted to. InDesign just displays the image as if it was printed according to Document CMYK. If that profile isn't the same as the image was originally converted to, there will be a shift in colors. Avoid this issue.

Common standards

If you are forced to guess which profile to use, here is a list of commonly used profiles.


Coated paper

  • Coated FOGRA39
  • ISO Coated v2
  • ISO Coated v2 300%
  • etc.

Uncoated paper

  • Uncoated FOGRA29
  • ISO Uncoated
  • PSO Uncoated
  • etc.

North America

(Americans, help me out here!)

A way to make a general PDF?

I'm not sure I would recommend it, but if you really want to make documents which could be used on any printer, you could make a mix of RGB and CMYK. Keep the black text as 100% CMYK black and all neutral objects and images in percentages of black. All other objects and images could then be in RGB. This would enable a print house to convert your PDFs to any profile they wish without too much hassle.

  • This is a BIG question and my answer only scratches the surface. Please let me know if I need to clarify anything or you find any mistakes. I also need help to fill in the part about commonly used profiles in North America.
    – Wolff
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 18:29
  • I dont think this is entirely correct. The working space does not affect output of linked images as such. Its just that the default simulation is to simulate wirking space.
    – joojaa
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 20:29
  • @joojaa, in InDesign, if you have an untagged RGB image in a document and convert to CMYK when you export a PDF, InDesign have to guess the RGB profile. And in that case it assumes the RGB image to have the profile chosen as Document RGB. When I mention Working Space I'm talking about how the placed image looks when editing it in Photoshop. If there is a mismatch, unexpected things happen.
    – Wolff
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 20:40
  • No, mismatch is not a problem. Untagged certainly is. Working space us literally just what the values of your swatches mean. Linked images can have their own meaning.
    – joojaa
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 21:15
  • @joojaa, I think we agree.
    – Wolff
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 21:22

I'm not sure what kind of answer you expect here. Sure there are differences. For CMYK settings, the best idea is always to discuss this with the printing service. Often they offer custom profiles that are calibrated to their machines.

For presentations in RGB you usually don't have much control on what device your design will be displayed. in theory AdobeRGB is better than sRGB, but only if the display can really handle it. In general sRGB is fine.

Just don't use CMYK images, when you want to output RGB.

  • Your working space probably shouldnt be set to the printers own profile, unless your doing a once in a lifetime art print. The printers profile should be used for simulation though.
    – joojaa
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 15:15
  • @AAGD: Not sure what to expect. Maybe a way to tell if this makes any difference, or should these settings be ignored, or used in their default value, assuming machines should pretty much auto-detect and auto-adjust by themselves ? Why is there a standard for EU and one for US ? Why are there more standards, and how do you choose between these, if you have clients both in the EU and US ?
    – lmlmlm
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 16:32
  • @Lucian unless you have noticed yet people in the US are even using different measurements than everybody else. Thing about standards is theres so many to choose from.
    – joojaa
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 16:37
  • Ok, I actually "notice" inches every day, but not sure how your comment helps with the actual question ? Which profiles do you work with, and why do you choose those, if I may ?
    – lmlmlm
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 16:43

In theory it shouldnt matter* what your working space is. Its just a indication that you designed the colors with the assumption that the numeric values match this color definition. Its like stating what language you intend to use, a factual statement. Its then the publish cycles job to get it as close as possible to what you designed. If your monitor is calibrated you can then ask the computer to simulate what it would look like on a real printer or in another standard.

You should always design to some standard never to a particular printers calibration unless you never want to repeat your print or your working for the printer fixing colors. Instead, you should simulate that particular printer by setting printers profile as a preview target.

Im intentionally going to ignore how to deliver the file to the printer though. It depends on the printerhouse.

The second section on policies is more important. Unless you are allready in the stage of sending things to print or your preparing to a unusual target like say a laser. Then you want both RGB and CMYK policies to be set to "preserve embedded profiles". Because you want to preserve artwork as the previous designer stated it. Unless your setup is highly unusual and you know what your doing, you dont want to set the preserve numbers option, ever for anything.

While your at it at least check missing profiles to ask.

Now then the next section deals with what do we do when we can not convert your color. It is a bit under apreciated part of the color management system. You have it set to relative colorimetric. This is a somewhat safe bet, though it has a tendency to make people dissapointed with preview and output results. This is partly psycological on you having seen the alernative.

Now i'm not doing much archival work. So me personally i never use relative colorimetric because its the "meh" option. I tend to use absolute colorimetric when i feel i know the border constraints well, perceptual when appropriate and when im feeling bold or i need saturated i use display. The japanese may be on to something ;) But you probably shouldn follow my route.

What standard to use? ISO is ok in europe... Dunno about USA

* Well it does affect your gamut

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