Linux color management

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Linux color management has the same goal as the color management systems (CMS) for other operating systems: to achieve the best possible color reproduction throughout an imaging workflow from its source (camera, video, scanner, etc.), through imaging software (CinePaint, Digikam, GIMP, Krita, Scribus, etc.), and finally onto an output medium (monitor, video projector, printer, etc.). In particular, color management attempts to support WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) on-screen previewing (soft-proofing) ability for color work such as retouching prior to printing. Note that in practice, what counts as "best" is determined according to some algorithm and may not correspond well to what a human eye would consider best.

Linux color management relies on the use of accurate International Color Consortium (ICC) profiles describing the behavior of devices such as digital cameras, monitors or printers, and color-managed applications that are aware of these profiles. These applications perform gamut conversions between device profiles and color spaces. Gamut conversions, based on accurate device profiles, are the essence of color management.

Historically, color management was not an initial design consideration of the X11 display system on which much of Linux graphics support rests, and thus color managed workflows have been somewhat more challenging to implement on Linux than under OS's such as Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X. This situation is now being progressively remedied, however it must be admitted that color management under Linux, while functional, has not yet acquired mature status. Although it is now possible to obtain a very consistent color management workflow under Linux, certain problems still remain:

  • The absence of a central user control panel for color settings.
  • Many hardware devices for color calibration lack drivers and proper supporting software on Linux.
  • Some necessary software such as LUT loaders can seldom be found in the package repositories of even the major Linux distributions.

Since ICC color profiles are written to an open specification, they are compatible across OS's. Hence, a profile produced on a specific OS should work on any other OS given the availability of the necessary software to read it and perform the gamut conversions. This can be used as a workaround for the lack of support for certain spectrophotometers or colorimeters under Linux: one can simply produce a profile on a different OS and then use it in a Linux workflow. Additionally, certain hardware, such as most printers and certain monitors, can be calibrated under another OS and then used in a fully color-managed workflow on Linux.

The popular Ubuntu Linux distribution added initial colour management in the 11.10 release (the "Oneiric Ocelot" release).[1]

Requirements for a color-managed workflow[edit]

  • Accurate device profiles obtained with source or output characterization software.
  • Correctly loaded video card LUTs (or monitor profiles that do not require LUT adjustments).
  • ICC-aware (color-managed) applications that are configured to use a correct monitor profile in their gamut conversions.

Software for input and output profiling[edit]

Linux software tools for device profiling include:

  • Argyll Color Management System (Argyll CMS) is a command line only collection of tools. Argyll CMS covers a wide range of needs from source or output characterization to monitor LUT loading and more. Argyll CMS is available as a package in Ubuntu, Debian, openSUSE (Build Service) and Fedora and as a generic x86 Linux binary installation from the web site, along with source code under the GPL. dispcalGUI is a GUI for the display calibration and profiling tools of Argyll CMS.
  • LPROF (or LCMS Profiler) is a GUI tool for producing profiles for cameras, scanners and monitors. LPROF was originally designed to demonstrate LittleCMS (LCMS) capabilities. In 2005, LPROF development was resumed by a new team, which produced its latest extended version of LPROF in 2006. LPROF remains the only fully GUI-based profiling tool for Linux.

As with any other OS platform, calibration and profiling requires:

  • to acquire through a source device (scanner, camera…) a color patch target that the profiling software will compare to the manufacturer-provided color values of the target.
  • or for output (monitor, printer), reading with a specific device (spectrophotometer, colorimeter or spectrocolorimeter) the value of color patches and comparing the measured color values against the values originally sent for output.

To produce a profile for a source device is usually simple with Argyll CMS or LPROF, provided the device is supported under Linux. Producing a profile for an output device can be more involved as not many spectrophotometers or colorimeters are currently supported under Linux.

Monitor calibration and profiling[edit]

General considerations[edit]

One of the critical pieces in any color managed workflow is the monitor. Because, at one step or another, handling and making color adaptation through imaging software is required for most images, the capability for the monitor to deliver colors as accurately as possible is important.

Monitor calibration on a computer is done preferably with a colorimeter and software that supports it. In most cases, a monitor profile created by the calibration software (whether it relies on a hardware device or on user input) includes both an accurate description of monitor output and instructions to the video card to change the colors it displays. Video card lookup table (LUT) adjustments are usually required to help the display reach the white point and gamma desired by the user.

Monitor calibration is, in that respect, different from calibration of other devices. A monitor profile created by calibration software (as opposed to the profiles supplied by monitor manufacturers) usually includes instructions to the video card that are stored in a special "vcgt" tag of the profile.

Video card LUT adjustments need to be loaded for a monitor to match the description in the profile. Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows 7 load LUT adjustments automatically, while Linux and older versions of Microsoft Windows require standalone LUT loaders. Although such loaders perform just as good a job when adjusting video card output as the operating system would, their existence tends to confuse many people with regards to the function these loaders perform.

Monitor calibration and profiling: Linux implementation[edit]

Device profiles[edit]

ICC profiles are cross-platform and can thus be created on other operating systems and used under Linux. Monitor profiles, however, require some additional attention. Since a monitor profile depends both on the monitor itself and on the video card, a monitor profile should only be used with the same monitor and video card with which it was created. The monitor settings should not be adjusted after creating the profile. In addition, since most calibration software use LUT adjustments during calibration, the corresponding LUTs must be loaded every time the X server is started (e.g. with every graphical login).

For users of certain colorimeters such as Spyder 2,[2] Spyder 3 or Xrite DTP-94 and Xrite DTP-92 that come in Monaco OPTIX and ColorEyes bundles, there is an option for calibrating their monitors on Linux. For native Linux monitor calibration, they would need to install Argyll Color Management System. Argyll CMS is a set of command-line utilities. Its dispcal[3] module will let you natively calibrate a monitor under Linux.

To avoid using command-line utilities, or if a colorimeter is unsupported by Argyll CMS, a profile created under Windows or Mac OS X can be used under Linux. Alternately, soon-to-be-released (at time of writing)[when?] versions of LPROF include a graphical monitor profiler with colorimeter support. Monica is a small fltk-based utility to create and load simple RGB-Gamma Monitorprofiles using xgamma. Normally the profile has to be created on the same machine with the same monitor settings.

Display-channel lookup tables[edit]

There are two approaches to loading display channel LUTs:

  1. Create a profile that does not modify video card LUTs and thus does not require LUTs be loaded later on. Ideally, this approach would rely on DDC-capable monitors—the internal monitor settings of which are set via calibration software. Unfortunately, monitors capable of making these adjustments through DDC are not common and are generally expensive. There is only one calibration software on Linux that can interact with a DDC monitor.[4] For mainstream monitors, a couple of options exist:
    • BasICColor software, which works with most colorimeters on the market, allows one to adjust display output via the monitor interface, and then to choose a "Profile, do not calibrate" option. By doing this, one can create a profile that does not require video card LUT adjustments.
    • For EyeOne devices, EyeOne Match allows the user to calibrate to "Native" gamma and white point targets, which results in the LUT adjustment curves displayed after the calibration as a simple, linear 1:1 mapping (a straight line from corner to corner).
    • Both BasICColor and EyeOne Match do not presently run under Linux but they are capable of creating a profile that does not require LUT adjustments.
  2. Use an LUT loader to actually load the LUT adjustments contained within the profile prepared during calibration. According to the documentation, these loaders do not modify the video card LUT by itself, but achieve the same type of adjustment by modifying the X server gamma ramp. Loaders are available for Linux distributions that use or XFree86—the two most popular X servers on Linux. Other X servers are not guaranteed to work with the currently available loaders. There are two LUT loaders available for Linux:
    • Xcalib is one such loader, and although it is a command-line utility, it is quite easy to use.
    • dispwin is a part of Argyll CMS.
    • If, for any reason, the LUT cannot be loaded, it is still recommended to go through the initial stages of calibration where a user is asked by calibration software to make some manual adjustments to the monitor, as this will often improve display linearity and also provide information on its colour temperature. This is especially recommended for CRT monitors.

Color-managed applications[edit]

In ICC-aware applications, it is important to make sure the correct profiles are assigned to devices, mainly to the monitor and the printer. Linux applications are currently unable to automatically detect display profiles, so the profiles must be applied manually in each program.

Although there is no designated place to store device profiles on Linux, /usr/share/color/icc/ has become a de facto standard, used by several applications.

Most applications running under WINE have not been fully tested for color accuracy. While 8-bpp programs can have some color resolution difficulties due to depth conversion errors, colors in higher-depth applications should be accurate, as long as those programs perform their gamut conversions based on the same monitor profile as that used for loading the LUT. The corresponding LUT adjustments do need to be loaded though.

A list of Linux color-managed applications[edit]

Linux colour-management tools[edit]

A colour profile file for a monitor will typically contain two parts:[6]

  • The vcgt/LUT part, which does white point correction, and is applied to the screen as a whole
  • The gamma+matrix part, which does gamma/hue/saturation correction, and has to be applied by individual colour managed programs like GIMP or Firefox

In a colour-managed setup, the vcgt/LUT part is typically loaded on login, while the filename of the colour profile .icc-file is stored in the X atom _ICC_PROFILE so that colour managed programs can load that as a default profile for applying gamma+matrix corrections. Some programs also let you override what profile is used for gamma+matrix corrections.

  • xcalib - xcalib is a tiny monitor calibration loader for XFree86 (or X.Org) and MS-Windows, which sets the monitor VCGT/LUT part of the color profile
  • xiccd - xiccd is a daemon that interacts with colord, and sets the _ICC_PROFILE X atom to the path of your colour profile, for program-specific gamma+matrix corrections. Note that Gnome and KDE already inform colord if you've set a profile in their settings (whereas Xfce has no built-in colord interaction).
  • dispwin – used to load both vcgt/LUT and _ICC_PROFILE atoms at once
  • LPROF, ICCv2-compliant Hardware Color Profiler for cameras, scanners and monitors. This is used to create color profile files for various devices using hardware calibration tools
  • ArgyllCMS – used to create color profile files for various devices using hardware calibration tools


Developer(s) Richard Hughes et al.
Stable release
1.3.1[7] / November 27, 2015; 20 months ago (2015-11-27)
Development status active
Written in C
Operating system Linux, FreeBSD
Type system daemon
color management
License GPLv2+

colord is a system daemon that makes it easy to manage, install and generate color profiles to accurately color manage input and output devices.

Colord provides a D-Bus API for system frameworks to query, e.g. "Get me the profiles for device $foo" or "Create a device and assign it profile $bar." Colord provides a persistent database backed store that is preserved across reboots, and it provides the session for a way to set system settings, for instance setting the display profile for all users and all sessions.

GNOME Color Manager and colord-kde are graphical tools for colord to be used in the GNOME and KDE desktop environments. Both act as a clients to colord.

colord supports the following subsystems:

See also[edit]

External links[edit]