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Expectation

I expect a colour to look different on one display to another, due to hardware differences. I expect that my OS (Windows 11) can compensate for this difference in software, with the use of Colour Profiles. This compensation should then mean that colours match to the human eye as closely as possible, between the two displays.

Reality

However, on my clean install of Windows 11, the opposite seems to be happening. The hardware seems rather well matched to my eye (as per my testing below), but the Windows colour profile being applied to the external monitor seems to cause the colour to change to something that does not look right to my eye.

I have two reasonably good quality displays (Dell XPS17 9700 4K and Acer BM320) and if I start to drag a window so that its title bar spans across both, the colour (e.g. of the title bar of that window) looks very similar across both screens.

But if I continue to drag the window further, two things happen: the window resizes and the title bar changes colour significantly.

I understand that Windows is essentially registering the window to the adjacent monitor and attempting to match its resolution (hence resize) and colour (hence the change in colour).

I believe this means that the issue is completely independent of any monitor hardware settings (e.g. brightness of laptop screen or external monitor / gamma / contrast / selectable hardware colour profiles buttons on the monitor)

Further confusion

If I run a colour picker and point it at the background colour of a website, the HEX colour returned on one monitor is different to that on another. For example on this website the dark blue background registers as #102236 on the external monitor and #182235 on the laptop display. The source code of that site indicates the colour should be #102236. Can someone explain this to me in simple and clear terms?

Bonus question / additional confusion

When I recreate that background colour in Photoshop using the gradient fill tool and setting the colour to #102236, the colour looks significantly different in Photoshop to the colour displayed within Chrome web browser, even though the native Photoshop colour picker tells me they are exactly the same. This is when working ONLY on the external monitor. This even shows in the screenshot I have taken, see below. The bottom left colour is the website and the bottom right is my fill colour in photoshop.

However, I don't believe it's related to an issue with colour profiles. Because when I run the colour picker tool again on the fill colour I just created in photoshop, it shows as a different hex colour to the one I set in the dialog box.

Colour Management Settings in Windows

Under the devices tab, there is a profile associated with the Dell 4K screen, that profile is called 14D6 (default), the filename is Dell_XPS17_9700_UHD_SHP14D6.icm. There was previously no profile associated with the external Acer BM320 monitor, until I pressed the calibrate button and went through a calibration wizard (which barely changed any of the above issues).

Can you help?

How do I resolve the above? I just want to know how to reliably reproduce colours, and also have them look the same. Or if that's not possible then I'd like to know what workarounds I should make, and what expectations to set with my clients.

enter image description here

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  • I can't reproduce the problem on a Windows PC with Photoshop. For me, the colours on the website are the same as in Photoshop, and the same in my browser (firefox). I also tested using the Photoshop colour picker, and an external Sharex colour picker tool. see screenshot. This clearly has something to do with the way your system is set up, and I don't know if it's possible to resolve this without access to your system. Sorry. It might help if you make sure the images are saved using an sRGB colour profile as this is the standard for the web.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 17:51
  • @BillyKerr - I hadn't checked the actual website before. Confirm I get the correct numbers too. The OPs embedded image is tagged sRGB… so whatever went wrong went wrong earlier in the process.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 9:04
  • @Tetsujin. Maybe it's the browser the OP is using. There seems to be a problem with colours in Chrome on Windows which has been going on for a while now, but I don't really use it. In fact I just tested it, just now and can confirm Chrome messes with the colours.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 10:28
  • @BillyKerr - yeah; covered in my answer, FF & Chrome come with some mindless defaults to properly screw your colour up, even on a calibrated system.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 10:34
  • 1
    @Tetsujin - yeah. Also the sad thing about it all is that for most every day computer users (who are extremely unlikely to buy a colorimeter anyway), it means that the whole idea of colour matching using standards on the web seems to be a lost cause.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 10:50

2 Answers 2

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I can't provide a good answer to exactly how to go about fixing this, as I only know how to do it properly on Mac.

Let's start, though, by saying a) this is a hugely complex subject & b) your colours are miles out of true.
Not one of those colours is anywhere near what the numbers say.
You cannot trust the profiles delivered by either Microsoft or your display manufacturer to be accurate. They're generic to the display type, not specific to your actual computer.

Another thing is not to trust either Chrome or Firefox at default settings to accurately display colour. I'm not certain about Edge, I've never used it, but it might be worth a try. See Why are some colors shown as one in some display programs? for some more on this & links to how to fix each of those browsers.

For Photoshop specifically, the first thing to check is what you have set as your Working Space. This should not be one of your display profiles. It should be the colour space to which you intend to output [unless you're a photographer, in which case you use one appropriate to your camera's output until export, then export using one single conversion to your intended space.]

Sensible Web default, sRGB

enter image description here

You should ensure your display's profile is visible in the list [so your system is aware of it] but it should not be selected.

enter image description here

OK, so by the time you've got his far your workflow is in shape, but your profiling still isn't.
This is your image, imported on a colour-managed machine [which needs re-profiling, so I might be out by 1 in each colour, but it's still close enough;) with my colour picker over, showing what #102236 actually should look like. This has then been saved with an sRGB profile specifically embedded [which should give most browsers a better shot at actually getting it right]

enter image description here

If you open this & your original image in two tabs then flick between, holding a colour meter over, then each area of colour should give the same numbers in each case. This would at least ensure interpretation of web colours is consistent, but not the internal integrity of either display. My own swatch over one of them ought to actually show #011236, though at the moment that's debatable. It does here for me.

The next step is the toughest, and is the one I'm not qualified to answer for Windows, as colour management is totally different to how it works on Mac… but we've got you thus far.
To do this properly, you need a hardware colorimeter with appropriate software that can accurately calibrate & profile each display, then set those profiles as your system defaults. The two big players in this field are Datacolor and X-Rite. I couldn't tell you which of these is 'best'. I've always used X-Rite but I know many who swear by the Spyder.

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I'm sorry that I am only focusing on this part.

I just want to know how to reliably reproduce colours, and also have them look the same. Or if that's not possible then I'd like to know what workarounds I should make, and what expectations to set with my clients.

Calibrate them.

You need to use either a Datacolo Color Spyder or an Xrite i1

Then the expectation you can set for your clients is that your equipment is calibrated.

Keep in mind that for profiling prints, you probably need a more robust package than the Display only. Spyder print or i1 Publish.

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