What happens when retouch an AdobeRGB image in a monitor that only displays sRGB?

I normally work on AdobeRGB mode and on a monitor that displays this color space. However, I am going to be using an sRGB monitor for a couple of months and I am wondering if this might be a problem. I understand I would be seeing it differently when looking at it in the sRGB monitor, but if I keep retouching in Photoshop in AdobeRGB color space and export it as such, would it make any difference to the final output?


Adobe RGB image in a monitor that only displays sRGB?

I'm not sure if here lies a misconception.

A monitor does not only displays sRGB or Adobe 1998, they display a percentage of them. If a monitor displays 100% sRGB color space it will display a percentage of the other (70%-80% ish. I'm not sure at the moment). I am sure you have seen the typical graph using two triangles on top of each other.

The point is what does it mean?

I will try to simulate the differences.

Here is a typical example vendors use on a website to "wow" you.

"Here is a comparison between our (Put name here) and another using standard technology (let's say sRGB)"

And you can think: "Oh, I see that B has vivid colors, and A has dull ones. Take my money, I want B"

enter image description here

Well, probably B has a smaller color space.

What it means is that you reach the peak of saturation faster, therefore you see images more vivid faster. A higher Color Space means that where the other has peaked, you are still on your way.

Imagine that you have a photo with vivid colors (I should use a green or cyan photo, but this one illustrates more the point I want to make.

enter image description here

On a monitor with smaller color space, you probably stop seeing differences in data (detail) let's say between the red lines. But in a wider color space, you can see details further. Imagine the green lines.

(In a real-life, having two monitors present, yes, a higher color space probably will look more vivid, because additional factors, like the overall power of the light, the contrast, etc.)

The peak of saturation?

It is easier to understand with normal contrast.

enter image description here

I obviously cheated on the previous image, I grayed it.

Here I am not. I have pure white and pure black on both sides. But on the left, a more contrasted one (brightness contrast), I peaked the black, and from one point I have only black (orange circle) but on the other side, I have smaller zones of black because I still have differences. The same as white.

This is the same with saturation. There is a point where I can not see differences in the saturation of the colors, mainly on greens and cyan.

would it make any difference to the final output?

No. A final file will be the same, a final file. Imagine that you turn off your monitor when exporting. The file will be the same.

The question in reality is:

Am I previewing accurately the final output on my monitor?

The answer depends on a lot of factors.

  • Are you really calibrating your equipment?

  • Are you using your files for print or for electronic devices?

  • Are these outputs really calibrated?

  • Do you need a lot of detail on all the images?

  • Does the final viewer care?

  • What are the real characteristics of the monitor you are using?

I would say. Some fictitious numbers:

  • 90% of the population of the planet, they will not care.
  • 9% like to think they care.
  • .999% rally care.
  • .0001% will really know the difference. You and probably your workmates.

What is your target audience?

The only real way to know is actually immersing in the workflow comparing the two monitors, calibrating them, and comparing them to a calibrated print if necessary.

If the output is for the web, you are fine.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/es/photos/antelope-canyon-arenisca-ca%C3%B1%C3%B3n-1128815/


If you ask such question, I presume you know the basics of colour management. Your concern is well founded. But there is not much real danger for your type of work (retouching).

Let's state the obvious first: the wider-gamut AdobeRGB monitor will benefit you only for wider-gamut images. (Assuming other things equal, particularly the overall monitor quality). Images that don't have very saturated colours should look identically on both if the display colour profile is set correctly.1

Now, there are several scenarios and pitfalls you may encounter.

  • If you just swap the monitor (~AdobeRGB to ~sRGB, or more accurately wide gamut to standard gamut) and leave all the colur settings unchanged, you'll get wrong colours all across the board (mostly desaturated and probably shifted), but this may be OK or even beneficial for your purposes. See below.

    This may be somewhat unlikely with modern OS though, which will probably detect the monitor change and will reset or change the monitor profile. You'll need to double check it in the OS settings in any case.

  • If you properly recalibrate the system for your replacement monitor (even if just by assigning the most appropriate 'stock' monitor profile), you'll get more or less accurate colours within the narrower sRGB range, but will lose details in the saturated regions.

The main thing to remember is that if you preserve your original workspace profile (AdobeRGB), and don't convert your images, you won't damage them just by working with them on a different monitor. You will have less abilities to do the work well, like having a blunt tool, but you will not destroy colours (which is easy to do if you mismanage colour profiles). So, rule #1: don't convert colour profiles of the images in your situation. Just accept the images may look a bit different in one or another way.

So: the problem arises only if you want to retouch areas of highly saturated detail. In the second ('proper') scenario, you just won't see all the detail that you would see with your better monitor, and thus may make wrong decisions. Alas, but this is a limitation of your tool. But again, when you know the limitations of your tools, you just work around them. For example, by leaving such saturated areas (or whole images) alone.

But one of the work-arounds is the first scenario. Basically, you linearly compress the wider range of colours onto the narrower range of the new monitor. Everything gets desaturated, but you reveal the most saturated areas: now they fit into the narrow gamut. This is not too dissimilar to opening a hi-res image on a physically smaller display: you may need to look harder, but you get the same number of pixels (no loss of resolution!) and so ultimately have all the same information.2

This is a compromise for sure, and an uncomfortable one: you get all the wrong colours after all. But it may be appropriate for your task.

You can ensure this situation in several ways.

  • As mentioned above, ensure that you have your old monitor profile set up in the OS, despite the monitor change. This is a 'permanent' fix, but the more reliable and less confusing one.
    • To view photos in their 'real' (albeit possibly truncated) colours, use viewing software that does colour management independently of the OS and thus has independent settings for the monitor profile, such as ACDSee.

Other methods assume you have a proper colour profile for the new monitor.

  • In Photoshop's Color Settings (somewhere in the advanced controls) there is an option to 'Desaturate monitor colors' by a certain percent. You can use it to (roughly) the same effect. Just don't forget to switch it off later.
  • You can forcibly assign an sRGB profile to the image you are working on. (Not 'Convert' but 'Assign'!) This will likewise shift colours without actually losing any information. But! Don't forget to assign it back to the original profile (presumably AdobeRGB) before saving the image. This way is contrary to rule #1 above, exactly because it's easy to forget this, but it's a work-around after all.

Again, you only need to do such things when working with images that may pose a problem, i.e. when you need to edit highly saturated areas. After all, black & white images should look identically (AdobeRGB and sRGB have the same grey curve).

1 Note that the practical colour reproduction difficulties often lie not in the most saturated primaries (brilliant red, green or blue) but in their mixes when one of the primaries should go out of range (either below zero or above max). The dark saturated colours are particularly vulnerable. So don't assume that only the most brilliant saturated colours are affected.

2 In this analogy, the 'proper' colour management is to zoom the image in so that the physical size remains the same, but the area near the edges disappears. The real colour management is a bit more complicated: it usually tries to 'distort' the image near the edges so as to fit as much as possible: unlike geometry, such distortion is often preferable to losses.


Many images in Adobe RGB have little if any colors that exceed sRGB. There is a really simple way to check if these colors exist and where on the image they are located using Photoshop.

  1. Under Edit->Color Settings select the option to desaturate the monitor. Set the desaturation percentage to 20%.

  2. Then, with the Adobe RGB image displayed, select soft proof then select sRGB as the target profile.

  3. Toggle the Preview box on and off. If all the colors are within the sRGB gamut you won't see any change at all. If a portion exceeds sRGB that portion will be very apparent. Zoom in on that section to get a feel for what is being affected and how much.

Reset the desaturation option to return the display to normal.

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