Color space

A mathematical model of color.
Rgb And Cmyk Comparison

A color space is a specific organization of colors. In combination with physical device profiling, it allows for reproducible representations of color, in both analog and digital representations. A color space may be arbitrary, with particular colors assigned to a set of physical color swatches and corresponding assigned color names or numbers such as with the Pantone collection, or structured mathematically as with the NCS System, Adobe RGB, and sRGB. A "color model" is an abstract mathematical model describing the way colors can be represented as tuples of numbers (e.g. triples in RGB or quadruples in CMYK); however, a color model with no associated mapping function to an absolute color space is a more or less arbitrary color system with no connection to any globally understood system of color interpretation. Adding a specific mapping function between a color model and a reference color space establishes within the reference color space a definite "footprint", known as a gamut, and for a given color model this defines a color space. For example, Adobe RGB and sRGB are two different absolute color spaces, both based on the RGB color model. When defining a color space, the usual reference standard is the CIELAB or CIEXYZ color spaces, which were specifically designed to encompass all colors the average human can see.

Since "color space" identifies a particular combination of the color model and the mapping function, the word is often used informally to identify a color model. However, even though identifying a color space automatically identifies the associated color model, such a usage is incorrect in a strict sense. For example, although several specific color spaces are based on the RGB color model, there is no such thing as the singular RGB color space.


Colors can be created in printing with color spaces based on the CMYK color model, using the subtractive primary colors of pigment (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). To create a three-dimensional representation of a given color space, we can assign the amount of magenta color to the representation's X-axis, the amount of cyan to its Y axis, and the amount of yellow to its Z axis. The resulting 3-D space provides a unique position for every possible color that can be created by combining those three pigments.

Colors can be created on computer monitors with color spaces based on the RGB color model, using the additive primary colors (red, green, and blue). A three-dimensional representation would assign each of the three colors to the X, Y, and Z axes. Note that colors generated on a given monitor will be limited by the reproduction medium, such as the phosphor (in a CRT monitor) or filters and backlight (LCD monitor).

Another way of creating colors on a monitor is with an HSL or HSV color space, based on hue, saturation, brightness (value/brightness). With such a space, the variables are assigned to cylindrical coordinates.

Many color spaces can be represented as three-dimensional values in this manner, but some have more or fewer dimensions, and some, such as Pantone, cannot be represented in this way at all.

Key Terms

adobe rgb
color model
color space
rgb color model
three dimensional representation

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Color space
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