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What is an ICC profile?

Have you ever wondered how your devices manage to display colors so accurately? The secret lies in something called an ICC profile. These profiles are essentially look-up tables (LUTs) that define the specific properties of a color gamut. This ensures that a particular color is displayed as its exact shade, not just any random tone of that color.

ICC profile
ICC profile

The Importance of ICC Profiles in Color-Critical Work

When you’re working with color-critical software like Photoshop, having a calibrated display or printer is crucial. This calibration ensures that the colors you see on your monitor match those on your print. ICC profiles can enhance your monitor’s color accuracy, provided you find the optimal profile for your display.

However, it’s important to remember that ICC presets work best with specific monitor, graphics card, or printer combinations. They are based on an individual’s computer setup, so even if you have the same monitor as another user, the results won’t be precisely the same. Despite these variations, you can still achieve enhanced picture quality with better colors.

If you’re not satisfied with the results, you can always restore the settings to default. It’s also advisable to apply the recommended On-Screen Display (OSD) settings found in the ICC profile database or wherever you downloaded the profile from.

For the most accurate settings, consider using a hardware calibration device, also known as a colorimeter, for your display. This device is how you create the ICC profile in the first place.

Installing ICC Profiles

Windows 10

After downloading the .icc profile, you can simply right-click on it and select ‘Install Profile.’ If you can’t add the ICC profile that way—which can be the case if you have already installed a profile before and want to replace it—copy the profile to the following folder location where the ICC profiles are stored: C:/Windows/system32/spool/drivers/color.

Windows 10 Color Management
Windows 10 Color Management

Next, open Color Management from the Control Panel. Tick the ‘Use my settings for this device’ option, and then ‘Add…’ the ICC profile. After that, go to the ‘Advanced’ tab, where you will have to click on “Change system defaults” first, then ‘Advanced’ again and tick ‘Use Windows display calibration.’ You can now close all windows.

This method works for installing the ICC profiles for Windows Vista, 7, 8, 10, and 11.

MAC OS X

MAC OS X users can copy the profiles to the following locations, depending on whether the profile should apply to the entire system or just a specific user:

  • /Library/Colorsync/Profiles
  • ~/Library/Colorsync/Profiles

Alternatives

DisplayProfile is free ICC software that allows you to store many ICC presets and quickly swap between them. It lists all ICC profiles found in theC:/Windows/system32/spool/drivers/color location, and you just select which one you want to apply to.

DisplayProfile ICC Manager Application
DisplayProfile ICC Manager Application

For multiple monitors, you just drag the DisplayProfile window to the background of the monitor you want to change the ICC profile on and select the profile.

Some games will ignore your ICC profile when run in full-screen. In this case, you’ll need to use software such as Color Clutch, Color Profile Keeper, or Reshade to force the ICC profile, but this method may not work for all games.

The DisplayCAL Profile Loader is also a very useful free application that will re-apply the ICC profile you set as default anytime Windows or a certain application reverts to the default sRGB IEC61966-2.1 profile. You’ll need to use it in combination with the above-mentioned apps for full-screen games.

If you’re unsatisfied with the results, you’ll have to get a colorimeter and calibrate your monitor, or try manually fine-tuning your monitor calibration using Lagom test images.

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