Gamut, also known as color gamut, refers to the complete set of colors that can be represented or displayed on a particular device or under a specific set of conditions. In other words, it is the total range of colors that a device, such as a computer screen, smartphone or printer, is capable of producing or displaying.
Why is gamut important?
Imagine you are working on a poster design for a special event and you have chosen a specific color that you feel perfectly represents the essence of the event. However, when you send that design to print, the resulting colors are totally different from what you saw on your screen. This discrepancy may be the result of different gamuts between your monitor and the printer.
Different devices have different gamuts. For example, the gamut of colors that a television screen can display is not necessarily the same as that of a computer screen, digital camera or printer. This is one of the reasons why colors can vary significantly between devices.
What is Gamut Clipping?
Let’s imagine we are painting and we have a specific color palette. If we want to use a color that is not in our palette, we simply cannot use it. Similarly, when a device, such as a printer or a display, encounters a color outside its gamut, that color is clipped to the closest available color in its gamut. This process of adjusting a color to its closest available value is called gamut clipping.
The main problem with gamut clipping is that it can result in a loss of detail in images where colors are clustered near gamut boundaries. In photography, for example, this can happen with skin tones, skies or shadows.
What is Color Mapping?
While gamut clipping is a way of adjusting colors based on proximity, colormapping is a more complex and nuanced process. It involves transforming all colors from one gamut to another, preserving the relative relationships between colors, even if those colors change in the process.
There are different algorithms and methods for performing mapping. Some may prioritize color accuracy, while others may prioritize preserving luminance or contrast ratios. The choice of the appropriate mapping method may depend on the specific visual content and the output medium or device.
Why is Mapping and Gamut Clipping important?
Viewing images and videos on different devices is an everyday reality. A designer can create an image on a high-end monitor with a wide gamut, but that image could also be viewed on a cell phone, a tablet, a TV or be printed. Each of these devices and media may have a different gamut.
Without techniques like mapping and clipping, we would be faced with erratic and inconsistent visual representations. A brand logo could appear one color on one screen and a completely different color on another. Printed images could lose detail in critical areas. In short, the visual experience would be severely compromised.
The Role of Gamut in the Digital World
In graphic design, photography and video production, the concept of gamut is critical. Design professionals often work with different color spaces (mathematically defined sets of colors), such as sRGB, Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB, each of which has its own gamut.
- sRGB: This is the standard color space for the web and many devices, including televisions, monitors and cell phones. It has a smaller gamut compared to other color spaces.
- Adobe RGB: Has a wider gamut than sRGB, making it more suitable for professional printing and high-end photography.
- ProPhoto RGB: Has one of the widest gamuts and is mainly used by professional photographers who need the maximum variety of colors.
Limitations of a Gamut
Although the gamut defines the total range of colors a device can produce, it does not guarantee color accuracy. That is, two devices with the same gamut may still display a specific color slightly differently due to differences in calibration and other technical factors.
On the other hand, it is not always beneficial to work with a wide gamut. While a color space such as ProPhoto RGB may have a wider gamut, it is also easier to “go outside” the gamut of target devices such as printers or monitors. When a color is outside the gamut of a device, the device cannot represent that color, which can lead to unpredictable results or dull colors.