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First of all, let me say that I know all about color profiles: within the overall idea of using RGB to specify color, you can choose different basis vectors. At its simplest it’s like converting between Celcius and Fahrenheit, but each axis may also point in slightly different directions. Oh, and the axes wobble a bit and the numbering isn’t exactly evenly spaced all the time.

I realize that the document needs to state what it means by the color numbers it contains, as does an output device, so abstract meaning can be converted from one measurment system to another (to the extent it can).

So, that covers document profiles and device profiles. End of story.

But what’s a “working profile” in Adobe products?

Here’s an example that shows how I don’t know what Adobe is actually doing: I wanted to re-create a gradient in InDesign from an original in Illustrator, because copying the object left a mess of tiles and paths and not a single thing I can continue to adjust. E.g. so I can drag the middle dot control to tune where the color transition “breaks” relative to the other elements on the layout.

So I open the Illustrator file and it complains that the document profile (ProPhoto) is not the same as the working profile (sRGB). I told it not to abandon color management so… what did it do exactly, since Illustrator doesn’t convert profiles? But I note the values in the gradient editor.

I assume that I can’t just copy the numbers since I expected them to be in ProPhoto. But I can’t convert in Illustrator. Esporting a PNG I espected to produce sRGB but the output file is unmanaged!

So I switch to Photoshop. I create a new document in sRGB, import the Illustrator file (as a smart object), and so far it does not complain about color profile mismatch. I flatten, and still it does not complain about colorspaces.

Using the eyedropper, I measure the same RGB values that I had in Illustrator’s gradient editor!

So was that sRGB all along? Or is it silently losing my profile (since it did not complain)?

Well, I do the same thing creating a ProPhoto Photoshop file this time, and now I measure different values. So it wasn’t simply ignoring the profile when I imported. The smaller number for the same color means I can go farther along the Red axis now if 255 is still the limit.

So… does “working space” mean it will hide the actual profile from me, and use the converted values for dialog boxes where colors are needed? But it still goes (only) from 0–255 when if I was really editing a ProPhoto file I should have sRGB-converted numbers outside that range. So is it clamping input and reporting of the values as well? Is it clamping the display of color? But isn't that what the match or display profiles are for?

And, is this different between the various Adobe tools in the CC suite?

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Working profile is the profile you are doing the changes in. It may be that your monitor isn't as wide as your document profile and you would prefer to input values in that profile (because you would like to see what color you choose, or you want to copy paste colors form a browser window for example). To quote the adobe manual:

A working space is an intermediate color space used to define and edit color in Adobe applications. Each color model has a working space profile associated with it. You can choose working space profiles in the Color Settings dialog box.

A working space profile acts as the source profile for newly created documents that use the associated color model. For example, if Adobe RGB (1998) is the current RGB working space profile, each new RGB document that you create will use colors within the Adobe RGB (1998) gamut. Working spaces also determine the appearance of colors in untagged documents.

If you open a document embedded with a color profile that doesn’t match the working space profile, the application uses a color management policy to determine how to handle the color data. In most cases, the default policy is to preserve the embedded profile.

You then ask:

So… does “working space” mean it will hide the actual profile from me, and use the converted values for dialog boxes where colors are needed?

Sort of, it does not hide anything mostly the color profiled data can not be shown anyway (it can only be emulated with View → Proof Colors). But yes mostly as you describe.

Finally you ask:

And, is this different between the various Adobe tools in the CC suite?

No they use the same color matching engine.

  • So I'm right that “working profile” controls the rgb input and report numbers, regardless of the document’s stored profile. How it handles document values out of range of the working profile is another issue to be explored. My monitor is nearly full AdobeRGB, BTW. – JDługosz Sep 11 '16 at 18:08
  • «Sort of, it does not hide anything» but it is! It hides the fact that the document is capable of more greens than I can input (or pick with the eyedropper?) n the dialogs or swatches. It presents a facade that the document is in the other space, and ignores issues on non-overlap. It is hidden because it is not clear that the document is really in the other profile and I have to hunt for the properties to check. – JDługosz Sep 11 '16 at 18:13
  • It does not hide anything your just not looking @JDługosz its not its purpose. If you set the working space to something you dont intend to use that's your problem. That is why you have a option for the file to warn on opening so you can adjust the working space. If you ignore the warning that's again your problem. And yes illustrator knows how to convert the color space. Its perfectly valid and useful to have a working space defined. I'm not sure the computer can be mode clear on this issue. – joojaa Sep 11 '16 at 18:31
  • PS: The computer can not know what you intend. If you tell it to do X and x is not what you want then it is still doing X because you told it to do so. Color matching is a INCREDIBLY complex subject it simply can not be made more understandable. Either you think your input is somehow absolute which it isnt or you think you can get the color you want which most of the time isnt true either. – joojaa Sep 11 '16 at 18:40

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