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Weblog Entry

The Perils of Gamma

March 12, 2003

When designing for web, you keep in mind that everyone else will see your work differently than you. They may have more pixels or less, more contrast or less, and a completely different colour profile, guaranteed.

This is something that has been bothering me more and more. At home, I design on a 15” LCD monitor at 1024x768. This I find somewhat constraining, but I love my monitor and won’t give it up for anything but a bigger LCD. At work I run a 17” CRT at 1600x1024 — an offbeat resolution, but it gives me the space I need.

My work display makes everything smaller. This is generally a good thing, since my tendency is to use fonts at a smaller size than many are comfortable with. I can pretty safely assume that if I can read it, so can you.

The difference that irks me though is colour. The LCD has a lighter gamma profile with slightly richer colour, resulting in flat, dull green–toned images when viewed on the CRT. There’s a definite greeny–yellow tinge to everything I create on the LCD, so it displays richer blues than the CRT. When designing on the CRT and viewing at home, colours don’t shift as much — images appear just a tad lighter.

I could tweak and adjust and try to bring these two profiles closer together, but I’d just be shooting myself in the foot. I can’t predict to any certainty at all what the general public sees, since gamma can be so different monitor to monitor. The only acceptable way to deal with this, as with many other issues in web design, is to view your work on as many different system configurations as possible and just hope for the best. So my setup, while clunky for development, works.

But it’s so painful. Take my recent redesign, for example. After laying out in Photoshop what I thought was a great new colour scheme, I made a point of sending a .jpg to work. Result? Ass. Complete ass. A few level/saturation adjustment layers later and I had what I wanted, give or take.

Not being content until it was just so I spent the intervening month tweaking on and off. What was once an elegant, multi–layer .psd file grew to about 15 different source files with rebuilds of different graphics. Every new change seemed to result in a new file or two, since the tweaks were local rather than global changes. All in the name of better colour–matching.

Some days I envy the print world. Other days I shrug it off and say hey, it’s all good. At least I’m not stuck futzing with traps and bleeds and linked files and postscript rendering problems, right?

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