Thursday, December 6, 2012

Photographing Art & the Color Separation Guide

This past week, I've been in the studio creating a pastel demonstration for The Artist's Magazine.  In the process, I used a tool I've not used before.  It's called a Kodak Q-13 Color Separation Guide.  (Mine's by Tiffen.)  But it wasn't for me - it's for the magazine's art director.

If you've ever tried to photograph and print your artwork, you know how hard it is to get the print to look like the original.  Although today's home computers and printers do a reasonable job, the color is usually somewhat off.  Too cool, too warm, too orange, too blue are some of the things I've run into.  Unfortunately, calibrating your monitor and printer require special equipment, and your home printer doesn't offer much in the way of adjustments that can be made.

The equipment used by magazines, however, is much more sophisticated.  There are many adjustments possible, and with a trained professional at the helm, wonders can be worked.

But the art director needs a reference to go by.  How does he know that his tweaks will get that delicately-nuanced passage of water you worked so hard on looking just right?

Well, you have to include a standard color bar in the photo.  This is where the Q-13 comes in.

I got mine from  (Or you can get the Q-14, which is longer.)  Here's what the item blurb says:

Separation Guides are used as the set up guide to calibrate several digital color print systems. In addition, they help photographers compare the color of the subject with known printing colors. They also help Graphic Arts camera operators identify separation negatives and positives for color reproduction processes.

By comparing the color bar in the image with an actual one, the art director can tell how to tweak the image or the printing system.  If that dark red square on the bar looks too pale or too cool, he can make an adjustment so that in the printed image, the square looks right.  And if all the colored squares look right, the printed image will look right, too.

I've never used one before, and I have to give credit to the magazine's art director for getting all my past images looking the way they should.

By the way, I'd love to show you the finished painting, but you'll have to be satisfied with the snippet above until next September when the article comes out.


Kathy Johnson said...

Thanks for the information Michael. I was a graphic designer for many years and the color charts used to be very expensive--several hundred dollars. I'm so glad to know that you can find them at a reasonable cost now. I'm going to order one today.

Helen Opie said...

What a helpful tip! I make booklets from some of my sketch journals, and when they are small enough, I simply give them the book to scan, but there are times I'd like to used paintings in the book also, and this will enable me to do so and with excellent colour fidelity.

I knew about them, but hadn't put one + one together. Thanks for that!