When I visited the Crayola Factory in Easton, Pa., with my five-year-old daughter, I had an epiphany about color space. Back when I was in kindergarten, crayons came in boxes of eight colors. Nowadays, 64 colors is average. I knew all that, but what I didn’t realize was that Binney & Smith (Crayola) makes hundreds of different colors. The typical set includes all of the hues kids need to make refrigerator-ready artwork. But it’s possible to assemble a 64-piece set that includes some colors that aren’t found in the standard box. And that’s where color space comes in.
Color space describes a range, or gamut, of colors that a particular digital device provides. All digital cameras can capture images in standard RGB color space (abbreviated sRGB). Some cameras offer Adobe RGB (1998) as an addition. Standard RGB was defined by Microsoft and HP and popularized as a standard to assure that colors would appear properly when viewed on a typical computer monitor.
sRGB therefore allows us to distribute images with a reasonable level of confidence that they’ll look right—even when we don’t know anything about the monitor that will be used to display them. Adobe RGB was constructed to include the additional colors that can be printed with inkjet and other printers using CMYK inks—even though it uses only the three primary colors.