I've been sent a number of CMYK tiff images for some custom processing in Photoshop. These are expensively-shot images (Hasselblad digital body, full studio setup, already processed in Photoshop CC) for expensive glossy magazines. They come from an experienced, professional photography shop. Yet, the tiff files include no color profile, and I've seen the same thing in the past from other sources too.

Hoping for the best, I chose "Do not color manage" in Photoshop and shipped out my modified tiff files without embedded color profiles too.

Is it common for high quality CMYK images to be shipped about without embedded profiles? For RGB images, I'd think that a potentially serious mistake. Is there something about CMYK working practices that makes it acceptable?

  • Generally it's best to leave the files in RGB until you know what specific output profile your project is going to be printed in. My guess is whoever was processing your photos didn't want to change the output intent without knowing where it was going. If you sent them a CMYK file they probably just left that part alone. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 13:42

4 Answers 4


Depending on the color workflow (Early Binding, Intermediate Binding, Late Binding) you convert to the right Colorprofile for the output on different stages of Production.

However to work with no colorprofile is never a good idea (as long you want to take control over your colors ^^).


I have a well-calibrated monitor for color correction, and I have physical proofs from files to confirm the reasonable accuracy of the calibration.

Calibration to an idealized target (eg 6500k etc) is not the only step, you should attempt to adjust your calibrated monitor slightly to match your past printed results. This way, you can truly trust what you see.

I take photos in RAW RGB using a DSLR, convert immediately to CMYK TIFF with no profile and make corrections. I deal with accurate color reproduction of fine art (paintings).

Place in design software and hit "go." The results are what matter.

The best way to sample results is to do some test layouts and get physical proofs made from a decent print supplier. Get some randoms and apply different profiles to them: for example the printer's suggested, SWOP (or whatever) and "no profile."

Compare the different versions against each other and against your expectations.

As far as late-conversion of RGB (or letting the printer handle the conversion), the worst color I ever see is when I accidentally pick up an RGB format image. You can spot them on the proof from 6 feet away. If I am in a crunch, I merely convert the images myself to CMYK no profile and resubmit to the printer and that fixes it.

  • "take photos in RAW RGB using a DSLR, convert immediately to CMYK TIFF with no profile"... how? When I convert from raw RGB to CMYK in Photoshop, photoshop implicitly uses the current default CMYK profile, whatever I have it set to. I can choose to embed that profile in the tiff file, or not, but I can't convert without using a colour profile. No?
    – emrys57
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 16:00
  • I believe "yes" you are correct. The point is to use a single display profile for the CMYK but to not store it in the file. My point here is to have your display be trustworthy with respect to output. Decent printers have a well-calibrated and regulated workflow to the point that many are consistent.
    – horatio
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 16:07
  • If I send a CMYK file with no embedded profile to the printer, and it comes back looking just like it does on my well-calibrated monitor, doesn't that just mean that I happen to have used the profile that the printer uses as the default when it is not specified in the file?
    – emrys57
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 18:26
  • Does it matter? Additionally, how do you know the printer did not automagically force all color management to a specific profile on their end?
    – horatio
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 20:16
  • This is bad advice unless you only use only one output device / service
    – Bruno
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 2:48

In the US, if the color profile is missing from a CMYK file before the prepress stage, it is legitimate to assume that it should be US Web Coated (SWOP) v2. Most print shops in the US will make this assumption. In Europe, it may be Coated FOGRA39 (ISO 12647-2-2004).

Between the prepress shop and the press, if the profile is missing, it is legitimate to assume that the CMYK conversion has been done correctly by the prepress shop for the particular printer to be used. It's the job of the prepress shop to get that right, and know about the specific printer.

The reason why photography shops send out CMYK files rather than RGB seems to be historical. When color separation was done photographically, with giant cameras and filters, the printer expected to get 4 images, C, M, Y and K, and photographers just continued that tradition. It may also be that the variation between CMYK color profiles is less extreme than the variation between RGB profiles. Nowadays, it could make much more sense, as @GoofyMonkey commented above, to stay in RGB until the prepress shop, and always include a color profile, as @qudrat commented. But, tradition dies hard.

The reason that photographers don't embed color profiles in CMYK images is that, for cheaper publications, publishers probably don't care, they don't take that much trouble over the image quality. For more expensive glossy magazines, the prepress shop will likely have the customer approve a proof of the image, and the customer then will ask for color adjustments or just OK the final result. The prepress shop probably doesn't care what the exact color of the subject was, they just care that the customer likes the final print.

If I have this answer right, all credit is due to Tariq Husain of Express KCS for his patient explanation. If I have the answer wrong, well, I clearly misunderstood what he was trying to tell me!


It is acceptable to send a file without colour profile if you know the receiver knows the output intend. When we send a file to a printer for example. The file would be in the output intend of that particular print house.

Hoping for the best, I chose "Do not color manage" in Photoshop and shipped out my modified tiff files without embedded color profiles too.

This is generally a bad idea if your modifications include a colour correction; when choosing Do not color manage we view the image in our own condition. Which likely deviate from the output intend of original creator. Meaning, you don't see the colours as they suppose to be. (You are unable to proof.)

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