Color management tweak in Firefox 3

Guatemala: fonts -- detail snapshot

Spotted on Joi Ito's blog: quick and dirty directions on how to "hack" Firefox 3 into delivering richer, brighter colors more faithful to the original photograph (or graphic).


I think that the esoteric discussions about color are interesting, but for most people, the bottom line is, if you turn color profile support "on" on Firefox 3, many images will end up appearing much closer to the color of the original and less washed out. You do this by typing "about:config" in the address bar of Firefox 3. Click thru confirmation page and find: gfx.color_management.enabled. Double click that until it says "true". Then restart Firefox 3.

There are a number of monitor color calibration gadgets and software packages like Eye One Match which will allow you to calibrate your monitor (and camera and printer). If everyone actually did this, we'd all be seeing the same colors.

Downside: you void your warranty (browsers have warranties? who cares) and apparently this tweak causes a non-insignificant performance hit.

Whatever, I'm just thrilled that favorite snaps I shot, caressed lovingly in Photoshop, then uploaded to Flickr don't look so anemic anymore. Like "Daniela," above, an aging camioneta cooling her heels on a beach along the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Or these women from the Gaddi tribe in Northern India, at bottom, climbing a mountain to reach a shrine.

Source: DRIA. Gina at Lifehacker just blogged about it, too.

Gaddi ceremony, Kanyara village, Himachal Pradesh, India


  1. So the color profile may break extensions, and it will slow down rendering?

    Cool idea, but count me out (for now.)

  2. “a non-insignificant performance hit”

    Couldn’t you have just said significant? Hehehe.

    Interesting tweak tho, although I feel like my monitor displays images well enough to not deal with this hassle myself.

  3. I see no difference. At first I thought I saw one, but side-by-side comparisons yield nothing.

  4. To the people not seeing a difference: Have you set up or enabled any color management settings in your OS? Do the images you’re viewing have color profiles embedded in them?

    If you answered no to both, you definitely won’t see a difference. If you answered no to either, you probably won’t see a difference, or it will be very inconsistent.

  5. Actually, it does make a difference, but only if the images you’re viewing have a specific color space defined, probably created using a workflow that included color management with a calibrated monitor. The idea (for the web) is to make sure that the greens, reds, etc. that the photographer intended are seen by the viewer. Most stuff on the web is just saved using sRGB off of uncalibrated configurations and the colors are approximate, so you’re not really going to see a difference. That should change, as more cameras support Adobe RGB or ProPhoto, monitor calibration hardware drops in price, etc.

    Something you might notice? Clothing catalogs (LL Bean, Gap, whatever) are generally printed using a color-managed process. If the color space used used on the web site images are color managed and you’re using a browser that supports it and you have a calibrated monitor, you’re going to see the intended color. It might make it easier to avoid “geez, is that green a medium green or a greyish green?” when peering at an image.

    If you go to the ICC’s web site you can see an example (artificial) of how much of a difference color profile support can make. Right now, besides the advantages of high-quality print resolution, one big advantage quality photo books have over viewing on the web is the color fidelity – again, this stuff is the norm when publishing a book, catalog, etc.

  6. If the person posting their photos knew what they were doing, they probably converted their photos to sRGB before posting them. Enabling color management in Firefox will have no effect on these images because they’re already being displayed properly.

    It will only help in the cases where people post photos using the Adobe RGB or ProPhoto profiles & they appear washed out because the browser is assuming they’re sRGB images.

    Until color management support is much more widespread in the browser, most photographers will continue to convert to sRGB before posting their images online.

  7. For the sample photos posted here, FFox 3 definitely doesn’t show a rich color profile (compared to iCab and Safari) The performance hit isn’t worth it for me – I use FFox for compatibility purposes only – when I just want to enjoy some shots, I’ll turn back to iCab.

  8. I picked it up from Lifehacker, and I see a major difference. Surprisingly most of the differences I see are not in color photos, but in graphic details like page layouts, background colors, web ‘chrome’. Even the Facebook blue seems more saturated, a little deeper.

    I also noticed a slight performance slow-down as well but I can live with it.

  9. well I have just done it and …i can see no diff at all.

    Then I have V nice monitors adjusted correctly.

    puitting it back as was.

  10. didnt work for me. but looking at the before and after images from the comment above me its such a slight difference theres no point in changing it

  11. I tried it and side by side Safari rendered the images in the post with a slight but distinct edge in terms of contrast and colour saturation on a calibrated imac.

  12. I’m a photographer, and i feel it really made a massive difference to the images you displayed, i really need to calibrate my monitor properly, but having only switched to a mac a few weeks ago, i don’t really know how. defiantly a job for a rainy day! thanks for showing this tweak! =)

    imo if you’re not a photography nerd, doesn’t really make enough of a difference for average users to bother with. Unless your eye is trained to see the difference it would probably pass most users by.

  13. When I enabled it, I didn’t notice anything until after I restarted firefox. When I went to a sample page filled with pictures that define the color space, the pictures definitely looked great. However, there was an incredibly annoying side effect that all the white backgrounds on pages were a kind of tannish yellow, including boingboing and my own page. Maybe there’s something else I’m missing?

  14. The only thing I’ve really noticed a difference in, weirdly, is my Architecture for Humanity iGoogle background.

    But it does look really, really awesome and I haven’t noticed a performance slowdown, so… thanks for that I suppose.

  15. Well, YMMV. I see a whopping difference. I’m on a Macbook pro, and I guess the reason I chose those two particular pics is because I was there IRL, remember the hues and how much punch they delivered, remember seeing them in Aperture as being just as powerful, and then remember weeping when I viewed them in Firefox. I used sRGB profile in Aperture and everything, so I dunno.

    YMMV, this hack didn’t cause a perceptible performance hit for me as I’m on a pretty well-endowed li’l laptop; didn’t see anything break.

  16. The difference is substantial, but only on certain images. I did some experiments awhile back to figure out how to get accurate color in non-color-managed browsers; you can see the difference here:

    Safari respects color profiles; Firefox doesn’t unless you execute the hack described in this post. But photographers can ensure that users see somewhat more accurate colors by converting their images so sRGB.

  17. I see a whopping difference. I’m on a Macbook pro

    I really think that this is aimed at Macs because Mac gamma is so pallid. And don’t think that I didn’t notice how you slipped ‘well-endowed’ in there.

  18. Considerable difference on an (older) iMac. It’s like the non-GFX pictures (default) have the brightness pushed up 20 or 30 levels. Resulting in more detail in dark areas, less detail in bright areas (the sky), and yep, more anemic colors.

    Ever notice the vast differences in TV pictures at the store? (Even stores where they don’t ‘adjust’ colors to sell more expensive TVs?) It’s probably a good thing that we can’t see our pictures and websites on a lot of different machines or we’d probably be all heartbroken.

  19. More faithful my ass. That would require everyone who had accidentally embedded a colour profile in their image to have take the photo and processed it as faithfully as possible.

  20. Huh, weird, I develop ASP.NET software and have the latest version of Opera, FF and IE on my Vista station, I opened this page in all three and compared them carefully.

    The second image is absolutely identical in every visible way on all three browsers, but the first image varies greatly on all three.

    The contrast, colour balance and saturation are identical but the sharpness of the image varies considerably.

    In FF3 it looks blurred as if it’s had a smoothing filter applied to it. Lot’s of the finer detail is missing entirely such as the smaller pebbles on teh ground and the finer details in the clouds and the roof behind.

    In IE7 the first image is much sharper and the text on the carriage is jaggy looking as though the whole image had been sharpened. There is detail in rocks on the ground, in the sky and the roof of the building that you just can’t see at all in FF3.

    In Opera the first image is perfect, almost balanced between the two other browsers, nice and crisp, not muted at all and the detail is still all there.

  21. The only images that I particularly care about looking correct on the web are my own – and I make sure that they are in sRGB before I post them on the web. Problem solved.

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