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're going to explain what ICM files and color profiles are, why they matter, and how to install a color profile in Windows 10. If we made you curious enough to learn more, don't hesitate to read on.
What is an ICM file or 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.
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.
In this section's title, we also mentioned ICM files and you're probably wondering why. The answer is this: in Windows, color profiles are stored in files that end with the ".ICM" extension. When you're installing a new color profile, or driver if you wish, for your monitor, that's what you should have: an ICM file. Why this seemingly odd name? ICM comes from Image Color Management, which is a shorter way of saying that it's Windows' component that handles color management.
It's also worth noting that sometimes, color profiles can also be stored as ICC files (ICC comes from International Color Consortium). They're the same as ICM files and you can change their extension to either one. Windows 10 treats both ICM and ICC files the same.
Now you should have a basic idea of what color profiles and ICM files 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 that 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 on our computer is an ASUS ROG Strix XG32VQ.
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 ASUS' support website and typed XG32VQ (the model of the monitor) in the search field. The search yielded several versions of this monitor, so we picked the one we have.
We downloaded the latest driver file, which came in the form of a ZIP 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 should find a file with the extension ".icm" or ".icc".
Once you have downloaded and extracted your color profile, it's time to apply it. Let's see how to do that:
How to install a color profile in Windows 10, using the right-click menu
In Windows 10, installing a color profile can be very easy. All you have to do is open the folder where you unpacked the color profile, right-click or tap and hold on the ICM file inside, and then choose Install Profile in the contextual menu.
That's it! However, if you can't install the color profile for your monitor using this way, there's another one that's longer but always works. If you find yourself in this situation, follow the steps from the next section.
How to install a color profile in Windows 10, using Color Management
In Windows 10, use the search field on your taskbar to enter the words "color management". Then, from the list of results, click or tap on the Color Management shortcut.
Then, the Color Management window shows up and you should see something like this:
On the top area of the Color Management window, make sure that you select the Devices tab. Then, 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.
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, the Add button might be greyed out and 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.
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.
Select the file and click or tap Add.
You may notice that the colors on your screen change as the new profile takes effect. Click or tap Close and you are done.
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.
Did you install the correct color profile ICM file for your monitor?
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 fairly easy to follow and it will definitely help when working with image and video editing applications and also when gaming.