Your Digital Work Room

When creating a space for proofing and color correcting images, there is one element that should be kept in mind above all and that is light: ambient, reflected, and what your lamps are emitting.  Everything from a window or desk lamp to the color of your shirt can affect the perception of prints, transparencies, or even your monitor.  We realize that not everyone has a room dedicated to digital imaging and some of the following tips may not be practical for you.  The more tips you can apply in your Digital Work Room, the more neutral and stable your physical work environment will be.

It is important to understand what light temperature is and how it is measured.  A unit known as Kelvin (K) is often used to describe visible light.  The smaller the wavelength of visible light, the higher it is on the Kelvin scale.  Light low on the Kelvin scale is warm (red), and light high on the Kelvin scale is cool (blue). Most day light correct lamps are fluorescent tubes emitting light at 5000 degrees Kelvin.  Regular fluorescent lamps fall in the 4000 K range, tungsten or incandescent lamps are around 3000 K and candle light is about 2000 K.  Day light correct lights are not the same temperature as day light which fluctuates throughout the day.  If you ignore weather, geographic location, etc., natural light can vary from 2000 degrees Kelvin, to over 5600 degrees Kelvin.  It is best to eliminate all natural light when setting up your Digital Work Room and replace it with 5000 degree Kelvin lamps. This will keep the light in your Digital Work Room consistent.  The color of an image viewed in natural light will look very different at 8:00 am than it will at 1:00 pm.

The Kelvin scale does not exclude certain wave lengths of light.  It is measuring a balance of combined light to create a neutral white at 5000 degrees Kelvin.  When light reflects off an object, such as a wall, the light temperature can change.  The color of an object is expressed by that object absorbing certain wave lengths of light and reflecting others.  If the wall color in your Digital Work Room is red, the light reflecting off the walls will be very low on the Kelvin scale and vice versa if your wall color is blue.  This means you should carefully select the wall color in your Digital Work Room.  Bright white is likely to increase glare and could create an uncomfortable room to be in for any amount of time.  A neutral off white with a gray hue and low sheen is a good selection.

Just like walls, your shirt will reflect light.  You may want to change out of a neon colored shirt or think twice before slipping into your favorite crimson red top if you are planning to do color work at your computer.  We are not saying go buy a white lab coat or only wear a shirt that is zone 5, 18% gray.  Just use common sense since your shirt will probably be directly in front of your monitor and several inches away from it.

A monitor hood is a great tool for reducing glare on your monitor.  Hoods can be purchased or you can build your own fairly easily.  The hood shades the monitor on the top and both sides.  If you decide to build your own, make sure you construct it out of a flat black or neutral gray material.

If you color correct images based off prints or transparencies, be sure you illuminate the originals properly.  For the ultimate in print proofing you can purchase a viewing booth.  In most cases the lighting in your Digital Work Room is adequate as long as the back of the print is protected so light doesn’t shine through.  In the case of transparencies, a 5000 K light table and a good loupe are fine.