sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB: Which to Use and Why?

Have you ever been confused about which color space you should use and wondered what the differences are? This video will help you understand, and most importantly, choose the correct one. 

When you're working in software such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, you may have seen different color profile options you can choose (also known as working spaces or color spaces). In fact, when you create a new document in Photoshop or click Edit > Color Settings > Working Spaces > RGB, there are actually 16 options you can choose from. However, the three most common choices are:

  1. sRGB
  2. Adobe RGB (1998)
  3. ProPhoto RGB

However, which one you choose will depend on a number of variables and understanding those options is vital in order to get the best color representation of your image for the eyes of your viewers. In this video by Phlearn, Aaron Nace walks you through the three main color profiles and breaks down their nuances and which might be most suitable for you, depending on your circumstances. 

An example of what you'll learn through this video is that it's best for you to use sRGB if you're planning on uploading your images to social media or online apps. That's because apps and internet browsers use the sRGB color profile as their default setting, and using other color profiles could compromise the true representation of your image as you wish to show it. 

This is a very helpful video, as it clearly allows you to get your head around which color space you should use in any given situation. What about you? Which color space do you prefer and what has been your experience tinkering with different options? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

Log in or register to post comments

Using 16 bit per channel reduces quantization errors in process and a 8 bit display can show a large part of adobe 1998 if its capable of it. Most pro printers have a larger colour space/ability to print more than SRGB so using SRGB could result in a poor image print

I will still contend a 8bit source can supply to a monitor more than SRGB as long as the monitor and can display it. The display signalling is relevant and the prophoto space is likely to be bigger than a 8 bit capabilities. Monitor profiles have a lot to do with the non linear response across the 256 shades of the channel or 1024 of 10 bit monitors. Often in cheaper monitors or on laptops these number of shades can be reduced due to software colour adjustments. In higher end monitors the adjustments normally in colour calibration are applied within the monitor itself (LLT) The worse the monitor the more the monitor profile has to push or pull the sign to get a linear response. I use a NEC Spectraview which has 10bit LLT with a 8 bit input (had it for 10 years) and is very capable of showing more than SRGB and banding in adobe 1998 has never been a problem.

My short way:
ProPhoto ? Over-kill , not all of its colors are even recognizable by human eye.
Adobe RGB: Using this when working on a photo.
sRGB: Web export.
+ 16 bit and saving as TIFF

If they are not recognizable, then they are not colors ;-)

What's your target? Web? Print? Now you know what colorspace you need to work in...

Does it make sense to edit in ProPhoto RGB when your monitor can display only about 70% of Adobe RGB?

There is the file profile and then there is your monitor profile which the file is interpreted through. In my view using Prophoto is a bad Idea and im using a 100% adobe 1998 screen...

It depends on your target. Are your images only going to be viewed on your monitor or other screen? Then ProPhoto may not make since? Is there a possibility that your images may be viewed in other targets? Say, printed?

Once data is gone it's gone. If your photos may be destined for different or a variety of targets then editing and saving your files in ProPhoto is the way to go. Then you can export to various targets in whatever color space the intended target requires.

ProPhoto RGB contains more colors, it also contains all the colors contained in the other profiles.
As your images can be used on different supports (print, offset, web, monitor, etc.) I think that it is better to edit the images using the largest color profile (ProPhoto RGB), and then to export the images using the color profiles fitting better the final use.

Makes sense. Thanks. My workflow is: editing RAW in Lightroom then sending my photos to Photoshop and do some more editing, than I save them back to Lightroom and export from there. Question: Because Lightroom works only in ProPhoto RGB, is it better to edit the photos in Adobe RGB when editing in Photoshop and export the photos from Photoshop instead of sending them back to Lightroom?

I think Lightroom is always in ProPhoto RGB and can't be changed. But what you say makes sense. If I work on an image in Photoshop in aRGB it should look the same when I bring it back to Lightroom. Because aRGB is "contained" in Pro Photo RGB which is what Lightroom uses. But working in Photoshop using aRGB is beneficial for me because my monitor can't display ProPhoto RGB. Right?

You're correct, LR's only color space when developing is ProPhoto. Workflows vary, but I do global edits in LR then move to PS, finish editing in ProPhoto. I save the layered file (either TFF or PSD) and it saves to the LR catalog from which I can access it later if need be. That's where my finished edits live forever; right next to the raw file. Later, if I want to do some more edits in PS, I just locate the file in LR > right click > Edit in Photoshop > select edit original. I can then either take up where I left off or amend and change edits. It's all a layered file. But the key is to KEEP it all in ProPhoto.

I export from PS by flattening the file > convert to whatever color space needed for the intended target > Save as or Export.

The idea is to keep your processed "master" file with the largest color space available and convert it as needed. It's less about editing and more about the intended target.

A good read to explain why, generally, processing in ProPhoto is the way to go:

If you don't mind doing a lot of reading and really getting into the minutia this site is great:

Andrew Rodney is quite possibly the best source for all things color, color spaces, and general color management.

"Lightroom can display in any profile you like."

As I understand it, Lightroom ONLY displays in ProPhoto in the Develop module. You can proof in an approximation of other color spaces, but you're always working in ProPhoto. The reason Lightroom uses ONLY ProPhoto in the Develop Module is to retain as much data as possible. You can export from LR in different color spaces, but when in LR's Develop Module, it's ProPhoto. The previews and most other areas are displayed in aRGB. can provide more information:

The idea is to retain as much data as possible and then export to the color space your intended target requires.

Here is a good rundown of why a ProPhoto working space is advantageous in most circumstances:

You also said, "So LR doesn't really "work" in ProPhoto." Which like most of everything else you've said is just flat out wrong.

"My workflow is: editing RAW in Lightroom then sending my photos to Photoshop and do some more editing, than I save them back to Lightroom and export from there. Question: Because Lightroom works only in ProPhoto RGB, is it better to edit the photos in Adobe RGB when editing in Photoshop and export the photos from Photoshop instead of sending them back to Lightroom?"

In my view, it's best to keep everything in ProPhoto. When you've completed your PS edits, just save it and it will be indicated in your LR catalog. You can open it up from there. This would be the home of your final "developed" images.You would then convert it to whatever color space is needed for the intended target. That way you have ALL the data available to be able to accommodate whatever target you may need.

Your workflow is similar to mine. Dump images into LR > global edits as needed in LR > Send to PS to finish edits > save layered TFF in ProPhoto. I then move on to the next image.

That way I have all master "developed" images accessible from my LR catalog. If I'm going to provide a given image to a client for printing I'll open up the developed file from my LR catalog in PS > flatten it > convert it to aRGB (or whatever color space is required by the printer)> save it as a separate file> hand off to client.

If I'm going to use it as a web image/social, etc.I do the same thing but convert it to sRGB. But I always retain the master developed file in ProPhoto to retain ALL of the data because once data is gone it's gone forever.

"It is a mistake to edit with a colour range where we can't see the colours"
Sorry Lee, but this is one of the biggest foolishness (sorry if it offends but I don't find a softer word) that I have heard in all my life of graphic design and color correction…
No, it is not a mistake. You are the one mistaking here. Apparently your experience with the print industry, and its necessities, is close to zero if you think that sRGB is the best profile to use (I am hearing all my friends color correctors and typographers laughing out loud in the background…)

"I much prefer to work / edit in the colour space for intended use"
The point is that very often there is not only ONE use for ONE image, they could be several. Several uses, several supports/materials, several printing methods, etc. and the sRGB profile is not the most adapted profile to obtain the best results on a wide range of uses.

If like me you had 45 years of experience with color correction for hexachrome (discontinued process today), cmyk and rgb prints, and uses for one single image going from pad printing, to serigraphy, to billboard, to magazines, to packaging, to fine art, etc. you would have a different vision of what profiles to use and how to use these profiles, and you would understand that it is always better to have the more possible colors in your original, so ProPhoto RGB …
You can convert from ProPhoto RGB to sRGB and you will get a sRGB image
You can also convert from sRGB to ProPhoto RGB, but the result will be a a ProPhoto RGB with only the sRGB colors, so no more than your original sRGB

I won't be as harsh as you :) But one thing that people seem to not realize is that editing in sRGB, you actually throw out data that you can see; most notably color transitions and gradations. By editing in ProPhoto, you can better retain those transitions and gradations that will absolutely be visible in an sRGB color space.

"As your images can be used on different supports (print, offset, web, monitor, etc.) I think that it is better to edit the images using the largest color profile (ProPhoto RGB), and then to export the images using the color profiles fitting better the final use."

This. The old adage with a different twist; it's better to have the data and not need it than to need the data and not have it.

General rule of thumb is to edit/process in the largest color space available. Save layered .tff "finished" files in the largest color space available. Then export to the color space needed for whatever the intended target is.

For example, after I've edited and saved a layered .tff "master" file in ProPhoto, if I decide I'm going to use it on the web, I'll open it, flatten it, convert to sRGB, save as either .jpg or .png, and then upload it to where ever.

If I decide to print it, I'll open the layered .tff "master" file, flatten it, convert to aRGB (the printer I use prefers aRGB), and then save it as a separate file to deliver to the printer.

The idea being that as far as data is concerned it's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

All of my edited keepers are saved as layered .tff in the ProPhoto color space and stored away for safekeeping.

I get teh idea of editing in the largest space. However, as mentioned a few times in the comments, if your monitor doesn't display that color space then are you really editing in that space? How many are using monitors that are even AdobeRGB let alone Profoto so how could I see the full color space if my monitor doesn't display it. Seems to me the colors are getting shifted to work in the color space my monitor. I am far from being any type of expert but it seems pretty simple to me but I guess I am missing something.

You're missing something. That something is that it's not only about the device on which you're editing. It has more to do with the intended target. By converting to sRGB and then editing and saving, you're throwing a bunch of data away that you can never get back (unless you want to start from scratch again on a raw file). Editing in the largest color space available--ProPhoto--retains the data.

You can then convert to the intended target whether it's for web, print, lab, etc.

If you're positive that your images will never be printed or viewed on anything other than your monitor, then it's not a big deal.

"Daniel, no one is saying that we need to convert everything to sRGB"

I didn't claim that.

"So when processing a RAW file, we must be sure what we're processing and for that we need to see what we're doing. It we can't see the ProPhoto colourspace then who knows what surprises are further down the line."

That's why we have proofing. If you're processing in ProPhoto and your colors change dramatically when converting, then you need to revisit how you post process.

"Depending on the project, I will set my RAW processing software (C-1 for me) to softproof the appropriate colourspace and for now that will be either aRGB or sRGB. (Partly because of the intended use and partly because of what my CG2420 Eizo monitor can dleiver)."

Again, it's not so much about the space in which you're editing. It's the TARGET.

"If I'm delivering for CMYK printing then I'd initially softproof in aRGB with C-1 (because that's my biggest option) and I'd softproof in Photoshop for fine tuning with the profile supplied to me by my printing company for their workflow to be sure that the conversion wasn't going to bring up surprises, (and there can be some big ones sometimes)."

I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of how it works. Whether your target is sRGB or aRGB, those two color spaces are contained inside of the ProPhoto space--sort of. If you are working within a properly managed workflow you should see little if any visual difference when converting from ProPhoto to sRGB or aRGB. If you do, then you may want to revisit how you're doing your processing.

.At the end of the day, do what works best for you. I just feel that as a best practice, hanging on to all the data your sensor captured is best.

If I know the image I work on is going to be used mostly for web and maybe some smaller prints, my monitor can display 70% of aRGB a has a bit depth of 6-bit, is it ok to set up Lightroom external editing for aRGB 8-bit? After reading all these comments I think it is. What do you think?

Great comments here. I think I got it now. Edit in ProPhoto RGB, proof for the color space you need to export in and correct color in proof if needed.

that's pretty much my workflow

Exactly right.

Very good article more people should heed this advise, but most shooters that use jpeg either can't PP or they just deliver down and dirty images to clients. Its easy to let the camera process the files and then with a minor tweaking you grade them with the same brightness and your done. I find both ways acceptable depending as you say what your client is paying for and what they expect. I only shoot RAW no matter what!

the irony is that when so many people shoot in jpeg and export straight out of the camera, they then boast that they don't ruin their images by processing in post...go figure.....

Sadly I suspect that you actually believe the nonsense you're spouting.

You really need to revisit your understanding of this whole thing. I highly recommend that you visit Andrew Rodney's site: .

In particular, you should watch a couple of videos of his. The first one: sRGB Urban Legends Part 1:

The second one is called sRGB Legends Part 2:

Spend about half an hour watching them. They, in fairly good detail, spell out exactly why what you're saying is complete and utter nonsense.

Hopefully others in these comments that may buy into your nonsense will go to the links too.

Just a quick thought, you didn't watch the vids, did you? Or you just skimmed through? Either way, you didn't grasp what was being said.

You said: "It is a mistake to edit with a colour range where we can't see the colours we're working with and ProPhoto is too big for monitors and too big for some of our vision.

So we work in sRGB or aRGB, depending on the monitor we have."

That statement is utter rubbish.

Hopefully, others in these comments who may tempted to fall for your rubbish will check out the vids and thus know better.

I'm not being rude, you're being obstinate. The point is that generally speaking, it's best to work in the largest color space available when editing no matter what monitor you have or your output target is.

When another poster said: "I think that it is better to edit the images using the largest color profile (ProPhoto RGB), and then to export the images using the color profiles fitting better the final use."

Your reply was: "It is a mistake to edit with a colour range where we can't see the colours we're working with and ProPhoto is too big for monitors and too big for some of our vision.

So we work in sRGB or aRGB, depending on the monitor we have.

But we should also consider the end use. How many people who work in aRGB for an sRGB use will double check each and every file after conversion to be sure things are what we expect.

I much prefer to work / edit in the colourspace for intended use and so I retouch and adjust with those limitations to squeeze the best I can within those parameters."

Which is just philosophically goofy. The reason it's goofy is pointed out in the vids I linked to.

If you choose to work in a smaller color space for whatever reason, more power to you. That's your choice, but the reasons you claimed above are simple fallacies that do a disservice by spreading misinformation.

As far as other readers, rather than take my word for it or your word for it, I would suggest that they read this: along with the comments. Pay special attention to the comments by Spenser Cox, Iliah Borg, and Andrew Rodney, and then visit this site: and watch the two videos, sRGB legends part 1 and part 2. Though the vids are heavily weighted towards issues regarding sRGB, they provide useful understanding about color spaces in general and why not working in the largest color space available is actually needlessly clipping colors. They also demonstrate actual measured delta E differences in colors that absolutely support that premise. In other words, he uses science and actual measurable metrics to support his claim.

Nice conversations here, only one comment from me. Why the hell should I work in any other workspace in Photoshop, then ProPhoto rgb, if LR works only in ProPhoto?? (okay, Melissa rgb, as far as I know, Prophoto with kind of srgb gamma curve)
If somebody works with these two software together, I think, no sense to convert photos there-and-back. If the gamut doesn't limit the colors, only the monitor and your eyes will, and that is the best way IMHO. But don't want to cut the colors in the beginning...

Adobe rgb gamut was developped for the human eye's gamut, okay, but if so, why is ProPhoto rgb exists? :-) So... I just work in the biggest gamut I can, no limits there. At the end, I just profile my photos for the target, softproof, if needed and that's it. Not so complicated I think. :-)

Thanks for a great article! I read it all, and most comments. I have a question. I now understand editing in the larger color spaces. I have been doing that, but no one could ever give me an answer other than "its a bigger color space" :| I am very much a "Why" person - if I was printing, and sharing to web in SRGB WHY am I shooting in ARGB? I felt I had no need to shoot and edit in ARGB if everything I ever did with the photo needed it converted to SRGB -and I was NEVER going to use and ARGB file. (maybe future use, but I didnt forsee that)

Thoughts from these comments:

Re: First experiment for this comment was essentially this: You won't see much of a difference if viewing a ProPhoto and SRGB image in PS on an SRGB monitor. (makes sense)

here is the catch(same comment string):

"On the other hand, if you perform this same experiment on a wide-gamut monitor, and your photo has enough color saturation, you might notice huge differences between the two Photoshop documents. The ProPhoto document would contain more saturated colors – those outside the sRGB space, but that your monitor can still display. The sRGB document would clip all the colors to sRGB and lose saturation in the process. "

This is what I am scared of - I have a wide gamut BenQ ARGB monitor (has 100% SRGB mode and 99% ARGB Mode,both calibrated) Sorry not on the level of ProPhoto yet, I read your comments regarding ARGB but bear with me, its all I have to work with right now and this was my "fancy thing" (stepping up from SRGB)

Back to the FEAR:

ARGB is more saturated/red skin tones on my monitor than SrGB, naturally.

*If I edit on an ARGB monitor I'm editing to look good on the ARGB monitor.  (removing red skin tones, excessive saturation, etc) But if I edit this photo to look on an ARGB, then switch to the SRGB mode, SRGB looks green and desaturated (because I took out all the red that seemed to appear in ARGB mode)

My audience and most of the average world can only see SRGB likley, so to them it likely looks dull and desaturated, correct?

Or even  "converting to sRGB" ill see a huge difference?

– the only way I see to fix this if I want to use my "fancy new, expensive, ARGB monitor mode" I would have to have an ARGB edited copy that looks good on my ARGB monitor mode, and then another copy that I have to touch up add red and saturation back in) for Web/SRGB, and most average persons monitor - or else my clients are going to be like WOW we look like hulk!- sort of like I am having to soft proof for clients/ web/rest of world.

And if I have no other use for the ARGB version, (again, not that advanced yet, forgive me) other than it looking good on MY monitor, is there a point? ( I don’t yet print in ARGB, most labs I have found request SRGB, ill start that adventure after I nail this first one down )

It sounds like, while I will edit in Adobe RGB, ( to preserve the color range in my photo and not clip them and have them be gone forever) I should keep my monitor set to SRGB so it’s a "what you see is (closely) to what you get for my SRGB printers and web viewing/client viewing) But my image still retain their color profile integrity if I want to print in ARGB later down the road.

Then I am not removing all the red that appears in my adobe RGB mode on my monitor, then it looking wonky/green to everyone else on their SRGB screens because I removed all the access red I see on my screen. Make sense? thoughts?

Thanks again for the great article, already sending it off to friends with whom I have had this same conversation.

More comments