Closeup of a monitor being color-calibrated.
Proxima Studio/

If you’ve shopped for monitors, laptopssmartphones, or printers, you’ve likely seen retailers promoting the width of their products’ color gamuts. So what is a color gamut, and how does its size affect display or print quality?

Defining the Color Range

In order to understand the color gamut, you have to know that devices that capture, display, or print colors can only reproduce or represent a fraction of colors out of the visible spectrum. And even this fraction varies between devices and color spaces. So the color gamut is established to make each device’s range of colors clear. This helps quantify the color capabilities of a device.

When a color space or a device can’t represent a color, it’s called out of gamut. For example, the pure red color can be represented in the RGB color space, so it’s a part of RGB’s color gamut. But it can’t be expressed in the CMYK color space, so it’s out of gamut in that color space.

The most common method to represent the color gamut is as an area in a CIE xy chromaticity diagram that shows all the colors the average human can see. A triangle inside the horseshoe-like shape indicates the color gamut of a device or color space.

Chromaticity diagram

The chromaticity diagrams can seem misleading as you can obviously see the colors outside the gamut of the indicated color space or device. But the colors shown in the chromaticity diagram are just the representation of all the colors in the visible spectrum, not the actual colors. And, it’s an easy way to compare the size of different color gamuts.

What Is Wide Color Gamut?

Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Wide color gamut is a term used to describe devices and color spaces that can reproduce more colors than the sRGB color space. Wide color gamut displays are increasingly becoming common. For example, most modern Apple devices, from iPhones to MacBooks, have wide color gamut displays. In addition, many TVs and monitors also have a wide color gamut.

As a consumer, the important thing to remember about wide color gamut displays is that they offer lifelike colors and better color accuracy than standard gamut displays. So you are essentially getting more vivid images.

Color Space vs. Color Gamut vs. Color Profile

Color space and color gamut are two crucial elements of the modern color theory. But they can be confusing as they are sometimes used interchangeably. However, while they are related, they aren’t exactly the same.

While the color space defines the colors in a specific subset of a color model, the color gamut is the range of colors supported by a device. That said, you can use the color gamut to describe the range of colors in a color space.

So a device can support one or more color spaces, but its color gamut may not necessarily be the same as the gamut of the color spaces supported by it. For example, your TV can support DCI-P3 color space, but its native color gamut can only cover 90% of the DCI-P3 color space. So 10% of the colors in the DCI-P3 color space are out of the gamut for the TV.

A color profile is another related term to color spaces. It provides a standardized way of displaying a color across devices. There are two main types of color profiles—source (input) and destination (output). They include data about their respective color spaces, which is used to reconcile the colors if the two devices have different color spaces.

Suppose a display doesn’t have the capability to produce some colors of a scanned image. In that case, it uses the color profile associated with that image to approximate those colors as per its capabilities.

Color profiles are also called ICC profiles as they are developed as per the specifications set by International Color Consortium (ICC).

Since common color profiles offer information about specific color spaces, they share the name of the color space. This is why you will find both the sRGB color profile and sRGB color space. Similarly, there is a DCI-P3 color profile and color space.

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Why Does Color Gamut Matter?

Color gamut is an important aspect of picture quality because it tells you how many colors a device can display or a printer can print. A wide color gamut device will offer richer and more lifelike colors than standard gamut devices. So as a consumer, if you want vibrant pictures and vivid colors, it’s important to get wide color gamut devices.

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Gaurav Shukla is a technology journalist with over a decade’s experience reporting and writing about consumer technology. His work has appeared in Android Police, XDA Developers, and NDTV Gadgets 360.
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