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09. Photo Print Quality – Adobe RGB vs. sRGB Working Space

Photo Print Quality Working Space Issues is the 2nd part of a series presented by Drew Hendrix of Red River PaperFeel free to post questions for Drew if you have any after reading this post.

A working space is an ICC profile that defines all the color values relative to RGB values of human color vision. The working space is the scale that allows us to properly define and then display or output the colors in our photo images. There are two “standard” working spaces – Adobe RGB and sRGB. Your working space should be chosen based on how your print your images. For inkjet printing the preferred working space is Adobe RGB. If you prefer to use a photo lab the best working space is sRGB. sRBG is also the best for images that are to be viewed on the internet.

Photo Print Quality - sRGB vs. Adobe RGB

In the above graphic, smaller solid space represents sRGB while the larger outline is the Adobe RGB space

Adobe RGB vs. sRGB

The Adobe RGB space is recommend for inkjet output because it is similar to the performance capability of inkjet printers. You will get better reds, greens, and blues when printing files that are in the Adobe RGB working space. In general, inkjet printers are calibrated to accept Adobe RGB data which is then converted to CMYK values before printing. Sending the printer an Adobe RGB file means fewer internal color conversions and more accurate output.  (Erin’s note:  always check in your home inkjet printer’s manual before changing, especially if you are happy with your settings.  A lot of us use sRGB and get great results at home!)

The sRGB space is recommended if you are preparing images for printing at your photo lab or display on the internet. Photo lab equipment works in the sRGB space. If you provide the lab with an image that is not sRGB they will have to convert your files before printing. If you work in the sRGB space and have a calibrated monitor, the chances are your lab prints will return looking like you expect.

Note about web images: You can certainly use the Adobe RGB space for web display images. The sRGB space, being smaller, is more representative of how web browers display color. When you are working on images for web display, be aware that most computers, monitors, and web browsers do not display web images in a calibrated fashion. This means you cannot guarantee how your images will look on another person’s monitor.

Your Camera and Working Space

Most cameras can be set to capture in either sRGB or Adobe RGB. It is good practice to set your camera to the working space that you use in Photoshop. If you shoot in RAW mode you can of course change the working space at will when converting the file. It is still good practice to have your camera set to match your main working space for consistency.

Photoshop and Working Space

Photoshop and Photoshop Elements can have a preset default working space. We recommend setting your default working space to correspond to your preferred output (inkjet, lab, monitor).

The color management rules Photoshop uses are set in the Color Settings dialog. You need to access this menu and edit the default values.  To access the dialog go to the Edit Menu > Color Settings (near the bottom)

The screen grab shows our recommendations:

1. Working Space – Adobe RGB (1998) The best space for overall photographic editing inkjet printing. NOTE:  If all of your images go to a PHOTO LAB you should set the working space to sRGB. Ask your lab what color space they are expecting with your files.

2. Color Management Policies – Set all the “Preserve Embedded Profiles”. Check each of the boxes below.  Photoshop will respect the profile that comes with an image file, but at the same time stop and ask you if you would like to make changes to the setup before continuing. This is good because you are constantly reminded and can check the file’s working space before editing or printing.

When you open a file that does not contain your preset working space this dialog will appear:

You can see that the file contains the sRGB space and our working space is set to Adobe 1998. Photoshop gives you the option to use the embedded profile as is, convert the file to your working space (normally this is recommended), or discard the profile totally and work with no color management.

Convert to Profile

You can quickly see what profile is embedded in an image by going to: Edit > Convert to Profile.

The Source Space indicates the embedded profile. You can choose a profile to convert to in the Destination Space drop down. In the above example, we’re converting from sRGB to Adobe RGB. Under Conversion Options, you should use the above settings.

Note: Use this dialog carefully. Make sure you really want to make the change and save a backup copy of the file beforehand if you are not sure.

Erin’s Note:  Here is the corresponding screen shot from Photoshop Elements.  Always Optimize for Computer Screens equates to sRGB, and Always Optimize for Printing is Adobe RGB.

Photoshop Elements Color Space

The next post that Red River sponsors on Texas Chicks will begin a contest and explain why some prints come out too dark.

09. Photo Print Quality – Adobe RGB vs. sRGB Working Space was last modified: June 20th, 2015 by Erin Peloquin


  1. Michelle
    Posted on March 1, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Wow. I totally thought I was supposed to be using Adobe RGB for photo lab printing!

  2. Joan
    Posted on March 2, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for the information; I really needed this.

  3. Tara
    Posted on March 4, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you so much!

  4. Marsha Says :
    Posted on March 4, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Thank you for explaining all of this in such a clear and concise way. I am totally getting it!
    .-= Marsha´s last blog ..3 steps to bugging your brother =-.

  5. Rod Ralston
    Posted on April 2, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    This is the best explanation I’ve had for my non-professional level of ability. Many thanks.

  6. taylor
    Posted on February 17, 2012 at 10:54 am

    thank you for this! I was looking online all morning and yours was the most useful information and easy to understand. Answered all my questions!!!

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on February 17, 2012 at 11:27 am

      Thanks so much, Taylor! Glad I could help!

  7. Vincent Munoz Says :
    Posted on July 16, 2012 at 3:00 am


    Thanks for the info. However I’m printing at Costco and had downloaded the color profile of their printer from their website. Turns out the saturation and contrast is a bit off. The picture was a bit dull.

    What should I do, just use sRGB since they’re photolab?

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on July 16, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Hi Vincent, I’ve never printed at Costco. However, I think you have to choose Adobe RGB or sRGB in addition to using their color profile. Give that a try. If it doesn’t come out better, try another print lab. Also, make sure you monitor is calibrated.

  8. Liz
    Posted on March 27, 2013 at 9:29 pm


    Great information. I shoot in JPEG + RAW. I use the jpeg files if I need to post or get a quick print from a local lab. I have just gotten one of the better inkjet photo printers and have been editing and printing using Photoshop Elements starting with my RAW files.

    Does it matter which working space I set my in my camera if my source files for editing and printing at home are RAW files?


    • Erin Says :
      Posted on March 28, 2013 at 10:44 am

      Liz, I am not completely sure about the answer. But what I do know is that it can’t hurt to set the color space on your camera. Mine is set to sRGB, if that helps.

  9. tedtedsen
    Posted on July 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    hai srgb vs adobergb i shoot TIFF what is the best collorprofile for tiff as tiff.s is 24bits and 109mg size on my d800 i Wonder what is the optimal collor profile for me i do not prit onley home use

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