What Is Lab Color Space? And what should you know about it?   - Print Peppermint

What Is Lab Color Space? And what should you know about it?  


You might be familiar with RGB and CMYK. But what is lab color space? Whether you’re a graphic and color geek or a common man, we have answered this question simply. Anyone can understand it. Although it has some numbers and mathematical complexities, we are not going there today. Our main focus is to give you a basic idea of lab color space. 

So scroll down and see what we have for you. 

What is lab color space? 

Lab color space provides us a way to specify and quantify colors in the digital world that can be understood by our devices. This is a general function of any color space like RGB and CMYK. 

What makes lab color different from the rest is the fact that its color spectrum is very vast. This means it separates very close shades of colors that can be distinguished by the human eye. But it isn’t widely used and not a standard. However, it still has some important applications that we will discuss later.  


How lab color space specifies colors:

L, a, and b represent the 3 parameters or axis that this technique uses to separate out colors. Based on these 3 parameters (that we will talk about soon) software generates a number for that color. Each shade has a specific number and this is how your device can understand different colors. No different shades can have the same number. 

3 axis of lab color space: 

  • L is for lightness. It goes from 0 to 100
  • a is red to green. The negative axis is green and the positive is red. 
  • b goes from yellow to blue. Blue lies on the negative side and yellow on the positive one. 

Let’s understand this in depth. Lightness shows the contrast between black and grays in a picture. a and b are chromatic, they show each element in contrast to their respective colors. For example how yellow or blue is a specific element. This helps you to see if a specific element is more towards the red side or the green. 

If you see a picture in individual channels, you will only see that picture in regards to that axis colors. This is because the final picture is the result of all 3 combined. 

So wherever you move on the axis the picture will change accordingly.  It is a lot better if you go and try this in Photoshop. It will make everything very clear. 


Now, what are the benefits of using lab color space? Here we have discussed the 2 main advantages. 

  1. It is device independent and thus gives exact color: 

RGB and CMYK are device dependent but lab color space is not. Let’s understand this.

If you print an image in RGB there is a chance that the colors might be a little bit different. It depends upon the ink you’re using, the texture of the surface you’re printing on, and many other factors in the printing process.  This is because RBG works like this. 

Each color is a mixture of some percentage of red, blue, and green. And the same amount of each ink is used in the printing process. So texture affects a lot especially if you are printing on something else than paper. This is what device dependency is. 

In lab color space each color has a specific number. The device prints that number color instead of printing according to the amount of component colors. So despite the texture on which you’re printing, lab color space will give you the same color. 

  1. It is vast: 

Lab color space has every shade of every color that humans can and can’t see. Yes, you heard it right. And this makes it different from other color spaces.

If you look at the color space area of different color spaces you will see that the lab has the largest area. It means lab color space has more range of colors under its belt. 

What is lab color space used for? 

Lab color space is mostly used when we have to convert print into digital form or when we have to print on t-shirts, mugs, plastics, and on other random stuff. This is because we want the colors to be uniform everywhere and lab color space is the best color space for this purpose. 

An interesting use of lab color space: Photoshop uses lab color space as an intermediate platform for conversions. For example, whenever you convert an image from RGB to CMYK or vice versa, it is first converted in lab color then in the desired color space. 

How to access lab color space in Photoshop: 

This is a very simple 2 step process. 

  1. Change default color space to lab:  

The first step is to select lab color space. For this follow the simple steps that are mentioned below,

  • Open any image in Photoshop. 
  • Click the image option at the top of your screen. A small rectangular window will be opened. 
  • Select mode from that window. 
  • Now go for lab color space in the next window and you’re done with the 1st step. 
  1. Check l a b channels: 

The next step is to check the channels. Go to the channels panel, there you will see the 3 parameters that we have discussed. If you are unable to see the channels, open the windows option at the top and select lab channel. 

Then you will be able to see all the 3 parameters. 

History of the lab color space: 

Here’s a little background of the lab color space.  

In the 1900s Richard Hunter invented lab color space. In spite of its ability to eliminate small variations in colors and to maintain uniformity, it is never accepted as a standard.

Years later CIE introduced an updated version of the lab called CIElab. It is pronounced as c-lab but it is also just called lab as well or L*A*B*.

CIElab is license free and copyright so you can use it on any device. 

To sum it up:

In short, lab color space is a technique to quantify colors in different software. It has vast color options and each shade is specified with a certain number. L, a and b are 3 parameters of lab color space. L stands for lightness. A-axis is from red to green and b is from blue to yellow. 

The best thing about lab color space is that it is device independent. It eliminates every color variation in the printing process and leaves you with a synchronized design. 

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