What is and how to install a color profile for your monitor, in Windows

One of the most important elements when working with images, video and even when playing games, is color. Every monitor has a different color profile, rendering it slightly different from other displays. It's important to make sure that the colors your monitor displays are as close to reality as possible. That’s why you should always install a color profile that’s suited for your display. In this tutorial, we will explain what color profiles are, why they matter and how to install them on any computer with Windows. If we made you curious enough to learn more, don't hesitate to read on.

What is a color profile?

Color profiles are not easy to define, especially by people who don't work a lot with image and video editing or photography. Therefore we will try to summarise the best we can:

A color profile is a set of data which defines a device working with colors, and how this device displays colors. The color profiles communicate the color characteristics of the device you use, to the operating system. If the devices you use have correct color profiles associated with them, then you can be sure that the colors you see are as natural as possible.

Cameras, monitors, printers, scanners and so on, are all image devices that we use every day. And because each of these devices has its own way of managing colors, without the correct color profiles, the image you view on your monitor will look very different from what you see when you print it.

In order to make sure such differences occur less often and see the real colors used in an image, you need to install the color profiles for the devices that are working with colors on your computer. Printers and scanners install their color profiles together with their official drivers. That's why the only component you need to worry about is your monitor. People rarely install drivers for them and this translates into your monitor not using a correct color profile. Therefore, you get the differences in color we mentioned earlier.

For example, imagine that you have a really nice portrait photo of that special girl or guy in your life. And you want to look at it on your monitor. But, because you don’t have the correct color profile installed for your monitor, the photo looks completely different from reality. Your girlfriend has pale skin instead of red cheeks, her eyes are gray instead of blue and so on. It can be even worse if the photo is black and white. A wrong color profile used by your monitor can turn the grays to blacks or the other way around. The result will probably be a photo that looks like it was scanned from a newspaper: with no fine details and no smooth gradients.

Finally, installing the correct color profile can also be useful for gamers, who can be sure that they see the colors intended by game developers. A wrong color profile may hide your enemies in plain sight, simply because they are as gray as the walls behind them.

Now you should have a basic idea of what color profiles are and why they are useful. But, we’ve only scratched the surface on this subject so, if you want a more detailed information on color profiles and their importance, we highly recommend you to read this guide: Overview of Color Management.

How to find the appropriate color profile for your monitor

Generally, the best location to get a color profile, (assuming you don't have a color calibrator handy) is from the manufacturer of your monitor. Usually, these files are found on either a CD that came with your display or available for download from your manufacturer's support site. In our case, the monitor we used for our test computer is an LG Flatron IPS234. Another thing to remember is that, if you search for "color profile" and specify your monitor model, chances are you won't find anything useful. Color profiles are generally named as drivers by manufacturers. It is best to search for downloads available for your monitor model and then to download the driver available. We went to LG's support website and typed IPS234 in their search field.

Color Profile, Windows

The search yielded several versions of this monitor, so we picked the one we have.

Color Profile, Windows

We downloaded the latest driver file, which came in the form of an archive. Depending on the manufacturer, it can be a self-extracting archive with the extension ".exe", a ".zip" or ".rar" file. Extract the files inside the archive. You will find a file with the extension ".icm".

How to install a color profile in windows

Once you have downloaded and extracted your color profile, it's time to apply it.

In Windows 10, use Cortana’s search field from your taskbar to enter the words “color management”. Then, from the list of results, click or tap on the Color Management shortcut.

Color Profile, Windows

If you're using Windows 7, open the Start Menu or the Control Panel and search for "color management". Then, click on the Color Management shortcut.

Color Profile, Windows

In case you're using Windows 8.1, switch to the Start screen and start writing "color management". Then, click or tap the Color Management result.

Color Profile, Windows

Regardless of the operating system that you use, the Color Management window looks the same and offers the same options. To keep things simple, the screenshots we will use from now on are only from Windows 10.

Color Profile, Windows

In the Color Management window, look for the Devices tab and open it. In the Device drop-down box you have a list of devices installed on your computer, starting with your monitor(s). If you have multiple monitors, select the monitor for which you just downloaded the color profile. The Identify monitors button may come in handy here, as it shows your different displays and their number: display 1, display 2, etc.

Color Profile, Windows

After you have selected the correct display, click or tap on the Add button from the bottom left corner of the window. Note that if a color profile is already installed for the selected monitor, it can happen that the Add button is disabled. If that's the case, but you still want to replace the existing color profile with the one you've downloaded, make sure you check the box that says "Use my settings for this device". Then, you will be able to use the Add button.

Color Profile, Windows

The Associate Color Profile window is opened, where you can see a list with all the installed color profiles. These profiles can be installed and used by other devices, such as your printer or scanner, or by image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. Click or tap Browse and find the location of the color profile you just downloaded.

Color Profile, Windows

Select the file and click or tap Add.

Color Profile, Windows

You may notice that the colors on your screen change as the new profile takes effect. Click or tap Close and you are done.

Color Profile, Windows

If you have multiple monitors, you should repeat the procedure for each monitor and make sure that you download and install the color profiles that are specific to each.

Conclusion

We're pretty sure that some of our readers were not aware of the importance of color profiles and drivers for their desktop monitors. Hopefully, this tutorial has convinced you to install the appropriate color profiles for your display(s). As you can see, the procedure is not very complex and it will definitely help when working with image and video editing applications and also when gaming.