UPDIG Digital Image Submission Guidelines

Fine Art Reproduction — What Museums Need

Creating and preparing digital reproductions of artworks not only requires the careful attention to details already presented, but also poses significant additional challenges. Unlike typical photo reproduction, the colors within digital files of artworks should not be subjected to interpretation or individual preference. The reproduction must produce the same perceived color (within physical limitations) as the original artwork. To help achieve this goal, it is particularly important to implement the section of the UPDIG guidelines that concerns preserving embedded profiles and calibrating your monitor.

An ICC color-managed workflow is essential for proper color handling. This workflow is based on colorimetric matching. In fine-art reproduction, appearance matching must also be considered as a further refinement to the ICC workflow. Practically, this means the image must be considered as a whole and within the context in which it will be viewed. Some appearance matching issues to consider include:

  1. When comparing a soft proof to the original art, match the white point in both viewing conditions. If viewing the artwork in a booth with 5000K lighting, then the monitor displaying the screen image should also be calibrated to a 5000K white point. Otherwise, the mismatch will invalidate any evaluations of color, because your eyes cannot chromatically adapt to both white points simultaneously.

    For more detail, please refer to ISO/DIS 12646:2002 (Graphic technology — displays for color proofing — characteristics and viewing conditions) and ISO 3664:2000 (Viewing conditions — Graphic technology and photography).

  2. When comparing a soft proof to a hard-copy proof, a white border of at least 1 inch the must surround the soft proof.

  3. Do not compare individual colors in isolation, since they may need to be different colorimetric colors in order to produce the same color appearance within the context of the whole image.

  4. View the reproduction at an appropriate viewing distance. If it is to be printed on an 8½x11-inch page and the original art is much larger, if viewed together they must not be side-by-side, but rather each should be viewed at its natural viewing distance.

For art reproduction, RAW and DNG formats are not recommended as submission formats, since the image will need different rendering, depending on the final output, in order to maintain consistent color appearance. The only way to fully control this is by providing a rendered image tagged with an ICC profile.

Imaging Workflow

Image Capture. The only way to control digital captures for art reproduction is with professional equipment. Consumer-grade cameras and scanners introduce image processing intended to create preferred color for typical photography. This type of processing is counter-productive when the goal is appearance matching.

For two-dimensional art, first perform flat-fielding to compensate for lens falloff and uneven lighting. For 3-dimensional art, flat fielding is only necessary while capturing the calibration target. Next, calibrate the camera's color. There are several solutions available for performing camera calibration. Depending on the art being photographed, some solutions may work better than others, so try multiple solutions to find the one(s) that work(s) best for different art media.

The most common reason for a camera calibration to fail is metamerism. Because cameras see color differently than people, different artists' materials (oil paint, watercolor, silver-gelatin photographs, chalk, etc.) can appear to have the same color yet photograph differently. The more widely the spectral nature of the materials photographed differ from the materials in the calibration target (such as a GretagMacbeth Digital ColorChecker SG), the more likely there will be color errors. Making a custom target out of the same materials you are photographing can alleviate this problem, although this is very difficult to do properly.

Scanning. Scanning transparencies is more straightforward than digital capture. Use one of the excellent, available software solutions to characterize (profile) your scanner. It is also very important to consider whether a transparency accurately represents the art. Transparencies have greater limitations in color fidelity when compared to what is possible with digital captures and generally require more color-editing effort.

Printing. Characterize your printer by creating an ICC profile, and apply that profile in your printing workflow. Affordable consultants can help with this.

File Standards. Images extracted from the internet and video are unacceptable for art reproduction. Most images from these sources contain insufficient resolution or color gamut to produce quality reproductions, lack proper color management information and could have copyright problems.

Applying these best practices should produce digital files that meet the general specifications outlined in these documents, although it can be problematic to modify existing files to meet these standards. Such practices as resampling, color-space conversions (changing the color gamut), color mode conversions (between RGB and CMYK) and file format conversion (e.g., low-quality JPEG to TIFF) may cause more harm than good. Unless you have the experience to understand the consequences of each adjustment, leave an image as it is. The best workflow is one that conforms to these standards from the initial image capture.

File delivery

Outbound. When supplying images, it is also important to conform to the guidelines in this document. Ideally, provide a guide print along with a ReadMe file to instruct printers in correct color handling. As online delivery systems for press-ready files continue to proliferate, it will not always be possible or cost-effective to deliver guide prints. For this reason, printers who have adopted an ICC workflow should be favored.

Inbound. To receive images from outside sources, ask the provider for image files that conform to the guidelines in this document. Sample request language follows:

File Request Template

Please provide digital files as follows:
Resolution:400 pixels per inch
Size:12 inches long dimension
Color Space:Adobe RGB (1998)
File Format:TIFF or high-quality JPEG
ICC Profile:Embedded


  • When viewed under standard prepress conditions — 5000K illumination of the artwork and 5000K monitor white point — the digital file's appearance should match the original work.

  • You may sharpen the image to compensate for loss of detail during capture, but do not apply output sharpening, which will vary based on a particular press and reproduction size.

  • The artworks should be photographed unframed and unmatted.

  • Please provide information to link digital file names to the works of art.

  • The production of these files should follow best practices in color management: The camera should be profiled and that profile assigned to the original capture. Then convert that file to Adobe RGB (1998) color space and embed that profile.

Files submitted as above allow for extracting details and making moderate-size reproductions without up-sampling.

For more detailed information regarding digital imaging best practices see the UPDIG Guidelines