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What Color Space Do You Deliver Real Estate Agents For Digital Printing?

Published: 02/06/2016

DigitalPrintingNina recently asked the following:

What color space people are using for their images: sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto? Do they convert images to CMYK for realtors to print and/or sRGB versions for web if necessary? Various kinds of printers sometimes result in bizarre color shifts or oversaturate images on flyers. One realtor I work with has the staff take down all the highlights and raise shadows to the max to avoid their office copier flyers from being muddy and over-saturated, and IMO it is cartoonish. I don't care about their flyers, but when I saw my edited images were getting that treatment and ended up on the MLS like that as well, I started to deliver both MLS-ready and print-sized versions so that staff is not tempted to tweak.This same realtor's company converted my images of a recent job I did to CMYK to plug into a national brochure, and even the second set of proofs I saw on-screen looked blown out and flat and with weird colors, just like the realtor's tweaks, but her headshot photo was fine, so I know my calibrated monitor is not at fault. I have to assume the conversion of the ProPhoto jpegs I sent them was a problem. I tried converting the images to CMYK myself in PS, just to see, and they looked fine--can't explain that. Another recent experience converting ProPhoto to sRGB for a book (print house only uses Adobe RDG or sRGB) has convinced me to go simple and stay sRGB, unless requested otherwise by a printer or publisher. BTW, another realtor I work with takes my images as is, but I have not seen his flyers. They look fine on MLS.

My take on Nina's question is as follows:

  1. Deliver a set of sRGB images for MLS uploading and general web usage.
  2. Most laser printers that Realtors use of printing flyers do just fine with sRGB files. sRGB may not be perfect for flyers but the are good enough for the purpose.
  3. When agents intend to print larger brochures with off-set printers they do frequently require CMYK or sometimes Adobe RGB. But these situations depend on the specific printer being used.

So I agree with Nina's approach of going simple and delivering sRGB unless you know the specific details of what printer is being used and what color space is recommended for that printer.

What do others do about delivering different color spaces for printing?

Larry Lohrman

6 comments on “What Color Space Do You Deliver Real Estate Agents For Digital Printing?”

  1. Good question. An image that is created for monitor viewing is not always going to print well and vice versa. After a lifetime of shooting transparencies for 4 color reproduction and handing them over to art directors and graphic designers for various uses, all of them print, I learned to just shoot for detail in the highlights and shadows and let the art director work with whatever printer he wanted and whichever separator he wanted to use. All I could do was to deliver reproducable transparencies in bracketed exposures. Bracketed in 1/2 stops so the specialists down the line could pick the one that would work best under their systems. I say all this because each type of printing from high resolution 600 dpi 4 over 4 on hard gloss stock will need to be handled very differently from images reproduced on soggy news print. Although today, even that has improved from the 60 dpi of my youth.

    So my advice is to focus delivery for MLS which will be viewed on the web and look good on a decent and well calibrated monitor. You have no control over either what display it will be viewed upon, the quality or brightness or settings of that display and each will renter your beautiful shots differently. You simply cannot control how the images will look down the line.

    For print, I have found I have to darken the images for 4 color web offset. And I supply the high res images as RGB JPEGs unless requested in other formats since again you simply have no control over what printers, what quality reproduction or even what kind of printing will be used from the office ink jet on copier paper or Kinkos or higher end custom printers.

    I also produce the ads for some of my clients so I am my own client as graphic designer. I produce the digital artwork in InDesign, size the images for placement, 300 dpi at CMYK so I can see if there are any problems. Then export each page as a 300 dpi PDF so I don't have to send a packet with type faces along. Faster for the publication too, something they appreciate since realtors are always trying to squeeze in one more property just past the deadline. So these are always PSD photo files brought into InDesign as CMYK.

    But since there is no way you can know in advance what your clients are going to do with the images for print, all you can do is ask them to let you know how they are going to be reproduced and who the graphic designer and printer will be so you can check with them on what they need. And snow balls don't melt in hell.

    So my advice is just supply the MLS and HiRes JPEGs to you clients and then ask them to contact you if they know in the future what printing they will be doing. It is the rare client who will. In my experience realtors and agents don't know much about graphic design and less about printing so they just hand over the HiRes images to the designers and more often just the printers and let them do their best with what they have. Since it takes more time to render images in other formats, this should be considered an extra service and should carry a charge.

  2. I have delivered nothing but sRGB for the last several years and have never had any questions about it. Agents produce 11x14 folded brochures with no problems. On a very few occasions some minor wB needs to be adjusted.

    Agents tend to only print short runs of 50 or so pieces so offset printing is way out of their price range. Agents have a practice of putting a price on the marketing piece, but I suggest they put "Price upon request" instead so that they don't end up throwing away marketing pieces every time there is a price correction.

    Let's face it, if the printer needs a cmyk for a large run, it is no big deal to go back and provide one later

  3. I use Srgb because our local MLS in california only accepts images that are that format. I previously used alternate formats and the MLS would distort or ruin the images I provided causing discoloration and therefore ruining the images I provided to my client. Srgb is the way to go!

  4. I deliver a gallery for print in Prophoto color space. Photos for online usage are in sRGB. The gallery optimized for Zillow is 2,048 pixels wide and is very useful for many print needs. I typically provide 5 different resolutions to match the two local MLS's and Trulia, Zillow and along with a separate archive for printing. With presets in LightRoom it's no big deal and my customers will get the best looking photos on each service and in print.

    I'll happily output a new gallery optimized for a particular print method if asked.

  5. Greetings,

    I provide sRGB w/rare exception. I do have slightly tweaked settings I use when outputting specific to a commercial printer, but those are just that, tweaks. As noted, depending on the destination, what is required can vary significantly.

    For instance, any prints I create typically go to one of my local Costco print centers. Each printer has a specific profile that I download and use when creating the output image. Once done, I turn off any automatic 'enhancement' they offer to do.

    Have yet to have any issues such as you describe.

  6. Larry's advice to just use sRGB is absolutely the best choice, IMHO. And make sure you're not using a custom ICC profile, either. Just good ol' garden-variety sRGB. The problems you're experiencing sound like problems you would get from sending ProPhoto RGB files (see below explanation).

    The ProPhoto RGB color space is poorly fitted for delivering completed work. It's meant to retain latitude in color and exposure adjustments during the editing process, as the size of its gamut exceeds not only the gamut of any computer display in production, but also the capabilities of even the widest-gamut printers available. With ProPhoto RGB, you can create digital expressions of colors that don't physically exist in the real world (sort of like imaginary numbers in calculus... they mean something even though they don't exist). This can create a lot of problems if you're not aware of the individual characteristics of that color space and how it differs from sRGB and Adobe RGB. I think a lot of people just see "Pro" and "Photo" in the name and think it's an inherently better, higher-quality choice for editing and delivery. Admittedly, that's what made me choose it the first time I used Lightroom, having no idea the headache I was giving my photo lab when I ordered prints and they had to make major adjustments just to get palatable results.

    That said, Lightroom seems to take out most of the guesswork when dealing with the ProPhoto RGB color space, so that's what I edit in, saving down all images to sRGB on export to client. Most computer monitors can't even display 100% of sRGB gamut, and I don't think any except possibly the high-end Eizo displays even approach AdobeRGB display ability. Similarly, even the highest quality printers would not benefit for anything beyond AdobeRGB, and most actually prefer (read: require) sRGB for optimal results.

    To expand on Larry's point, almost all laser printers actually expect sRGB input. Even though the document is printed on CMYK inks, the printer has a built-in "raster image processor" (RIP) that does the job of converting the data to CMYK. Feeding it data that is already CMYK just confuses it unless PostScript drivers are installed (rare at real estate offices). As for the requirement of CMYK images when a brochure is being created, I have *never* had a professional printer or design firm require image assets to be sent in CMYK for assembly into a final design. What usually happens is that the RGB images are either placed into InDesign or another software package, where the final flattened artwork is saved as a CMYK PDF (InDesign does a beautiful job of color conversion), or they are uploaded in RGB using a brochure building software (XpressDocs, Impact Marketing, and others use a system like this). In the event that the images are to be converted to CMYK, you'll get basically the same result whether the original images are sRGB or AdobeRGB.

    If your clients and/or their vendors have workflows that require something else, then they will be sophisticated enough to know that they need to ask you for a different format. Otherwise, sRGB is the most universal way to retain quality, consistency, and deliverability of your work.

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