Color profiles, also known as ICC or ICM files, contain a collection of settings that help calibrate how colors appear on your monitor. You can install them on your Windows PC or Mac to help get more accurate colors.

While color profiles are often used for displays, you can also find and install color profiles for a printer to help it print more accurate colors.

Color Calibration 101

Not all computer monitors look identical. Different monitors may even have slightly different colors depending on the graphics card in the computer they’re connected to. But, for professional photographers, and graphics designers, accurate colors are very important.

RELATED: How to Calibrate Your Monitor on Windows or Mac

In addition to modifying your display’s colors using its on-screen display—that is, the buttons and overlay on the monitor itself that allow you to adjust color settings—it may be helpful to install a color profile. These are sometimes provided by the monitor’s manufacturer, and custom color profile files are often available on hobbyist websites that promise better color calibration than the manufacturer settings.

You’ll see both ICC and ICM files. ICC stands for International Color Consortium and originated at Apple, and ICM stands for Image Color Management and originated on Windows. These files are basically identical, and you can install .ICC or .iCM files on either Windows or macOS.

A serious professional will want dedicated display calibration hardware for the most accuracy possible. For everyone else, installing an ICC file can help you make your display’s colors more accurate without needing any specialized hardware.

If you’re happy with your display’s colors, there’s no need to do this. If something seems off or you’re working with photography and graphic design and you need more accuracy, this can help.

How to Find a Color Profile

There are two places you’ll find color profiles online. First, you may find an ICC or ICM file on the display manufacturer’s website. Head to the download page for your specific display model on its manufacturer’s website. You may see a .ICC or .ICM file provided for download. You may also see a larger monitor driver package or a .zip file. If you download and extract that package, you may find a .ICC or .ICM file inside. Not all manufacturers will provide these files.

You can also find them on enthusiast websites. Performing a web search for the model name and number of your monitor along with “ICC” or “ICM” or “color profile” may find you a profile. For example, TFT Central maintains a database of ICC files for different displays. The database stresses that these ICC profiles should be used along with the OSD settings displayed on the page, which you need to set with your monitor’s buttons. It also stresses that these are starting points if you’re looking for perfectly accurate colors, as your display may look a little different depending on your graphics card.

How to Install a Color Profile on Windows

Once you have an ICC or ICM file, you can install it in Windows. On Windows 7, 8, or 10, open the Start menu, search for “Color Management”, and launch the Color Management shortcut.

Select the device you want to calibrate from the “Device” box if you have multiple displays connected to your PC. If you don’t, it should automatically select your one and only display. If you need help identifying which display is which, click “Identify monitors” and numbers will appear on all you displays.

(If you want to install a color profile for a printer, select a printer instead of a display from the “Device” box here. The rest of the process is identical.)

Check the “Use my settings for this device” checkbox under the device name.

Click the “Add” button to add a new color profile. If this button is grayed out, you need to enable the checkbox above.

You’ll see a list of color profiles installed on your system. To install a new ICC or ICM file, click the “Browse” button, browse to the ICC or ICM file you want to install, and double-click it.

The color on your monitor will change as soon as you start using the new profile.

You will see the color profile you installed appear in the list of profiles associated with the device. If you have multiple profiles installed, select the one you want to use in the list and click “Set as Default Profile” to make it the default.

(If you installed a color profile for a printer, you’ll be able to choose it in the print dialog.)

How to Undo Your Changes on Windows

If you don’t like how the changes affected your colors, you can quickly undo them. Just click the “Profiles” button at the bottom-right corner of this window and select “Reset my settings to the system defaults”.

How to Install a Color Profile on a Mac

You can install color profiles using the ColorSync Utility on a Mac. To launch it, press Command+Space to open Spotlight search, type “ColorSync”, and press Enter. You’ll also find it at Finder > Applications > Utilities > ColorSync Utility.

Click the “Devices” icon at the top of the ColorSync Utility window. Expand the “Displays” section and select the display you want to associate a profile with.

(If you want to associate a profile with a printer, expand the “Printers” section and select the printer instead.)

Click the down arrow to the right of “Current Profile” and select “Other”.

Browse to the color profile file you downloaded and double-click it. Your changes will take effect immediately.

How to Undo Your Changes on a Mac

To undo your changes, just click the down arrow to the right of your display or printer and select “Set to Factory”. The display or printer’s colors will be restored to their factory-default settings.

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Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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