A Computer Darkroom Preview

So, the public beta period for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 is now complete and the final version is ready for immediate download from Adobe's servers. However, before slapping down their $'s there will be many photographers scouring Adobe's publicity material and reviews for information on whether their "must have" feature has been included, or not. For example, support for CMYK files has been a popular request as far back as the first public beta in early 2006. Unfortunately, it's not included this time. I know, I can hear the rants already - what, no CMYK support, call this a professional application...


They are, or are they?

Well, the official line is that Adobe are serious, we still can't directly import CMYK files into Lightroom. However, there is a backdoor way. Actually, the backdoor existed in Lightroom 1.x, but it was difficult to to implement, had a tendency to break easily, and wasn't Windows friendly. I am not even sure that it was widely known about; I certainly don't recall anyone discussing it. So, how does the backdoor work in Lightroom 2.0 and what are the limitations?

I will address the limitations later, for now we will look at the how. But first, have you've read the story of the Trojan Horse? No, then humour me and do so now.

Yes, the secret to getting your CMYK files into Lightroom is to use a Trojan Horse or more accurately an RGB file with the same filename and extension as the original. The following illustrated tutorial explains the approach that I use. It makes use of Adobe Photoshop and the Bridge to convert a copy of the file from CMYK mode to RGB, and finishes off by using a context menu command in Lightroom's new Volume Browser. While not ideal it's still better than nothing.

8th June 2010 with the Introduction of Lightroom 3, Adobe now provide the directly import CMYK files.

Step 1 - Creating the RGB files

If you have been using Adobe Photoshop and the Bridge then this step should be fairly easy to follow. In so far as it makes use of Russell Brown's (Dr Brown) Image Processor to convert your CMYK files to RGB TIFFs it also requires minimal user input. Since Image Processor is installed along with Photoshop and Bridge, there's no need to go hunting it down. That said, Russell's site is always worth checking out.

Tip: if you prefer to save your CMYK files as PSD or JPEG, then feel free to adopt the same file type for the RGB versions. The important thing to remember is that the file type for the Trojan files should be the same as the original CMYK files. I also recommend that you have the appropriate ICC profile embedded into your CMYK files.

To keep the tutorial as short and simple as possible I have assumed that you already know how to create simple Photoshop Actions. So, let's begin...

  • Launch Adobe Photoshop.

  • If you don't already have a Photoshop Action for converting a CMYK mode file to RGB then create one now. The choice of bit depth and color space are not important, but to keep things simple and fast use 8-bit RGB and sRGB.

  • Now launch Adobe Bridge.


Figure 1 - Adobe Bridge CS3

  • With  Adobe Bridge open, navigate to the folder that contains your CMYK files. Also, if your CMYK files are spread across multiple folders you will need to repeat the following steps for each. In the example shown in figure 1 above the CMYK files are stored in a subfolder of Processed CMYK Images named TIFF.

  • Select all of the files within the folder or subfolder (Cmd/Ctrl+A).

  • Choose Tools>Photoshop>Image Processor from the Bridge Tools menu (figure 2 below).



Figure 2 - selecting Image Processor in Adobe Bridge

When Image Processor opens it will likely to be configured as per the last time it was used. Therefore, you will need to reconfigure it so that the processed files meet the specifications outlined above. In the following example (figure 3) you will see that I have highlighted the processing steps that need to be configured. Also, as mentioned above I am assuming that the Photoshop Action required for converting from CMYK to RGB has already been saved.

  • At 1 - this step can be ignored if you already have the CMYK to RGB conversion Action.

  • At 2 - you will need to create the folder into which Image Processor will save your newly created RGB files. For fun I've called it Trojans, feel free to copy my example.

  • At 3 - choose the file type that matches with your CMYK files. In this example, I have chosen to save the files as TIFF and resized them to 500 pixel maximum. Resizing isn't really necessary, but it helps speed up the import process, especially when there are lots of files to be brought into Lightroom.

  • At 4 - check the box labelled Run Action and choose the Action you created earlier for converting the files. Also, check the box labelled Include ICC Profile.

  • Click the Run button and sit wait whilst Photoshop automatically creates copies of your CMYK files then converts them to RGB mode.

Tip: Photoshop will stop and request user input when it tries to convert a layered CMYK file. Since it's actually creating RGB copy it's OK to flatten it.


Figure 3 - configuring Image Processor

Step 2 - Importing the Trojan files

After a few minutes Image Processor will complete the conversion process. It's now time to import the new RGB files into Lightroom. However, before describing the already familiar import process I thought I would draw your attention to a changes in the Folder panel. The Volume Browser is new to Lightroom 2.0. In fact, it's so new that even users familiar with  the public beta for Lightroom 2.0 will be surprised by the change from the old and pretty lame folder panel.


Figure 4 - Lightroom 2.0 Folder Browser panel

The most obvious change can be seen in the green bordered areas in figure 4 above. Notice that each disk volume is displayed separately and in alphabetical order. When a volume is on-line and available for use the LED will be green. When a volume is off-line the LED and header text will be black (see figure 5 below). Additional information such as available disk space and photo count are also available via a volume name context menu. The folder panel context menu also has new options (figure 8 below). It's one of the new commands (Update Folder Location...) listed in the folder panel context menu that we use to import the CMYK files.


Figure 5 - Volume status indicators on new Folder panel

OK, so now we know a little about the new Volume Browser it's time to put it to use. We must first import the RGB Trojan files. This should be easy enough, especially since the process has changed little since Lightroom 1.4.

  • Supported files can imported via the File menu command, i.e. Import Photos From Disk... (Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+I) or by pressing the Import button located at the bottom of the left panel track.

  • The Import Photos or Lightroom Catalog dialog (figure 6) should open.

  • Navigate to the subfolder containing the RGB Trojan files. This is the subfolder that Image Processor saved the converted files to earlier (example shows Trojans>TIFF).

  • Click Choose button.


Figure 6 - from Trojan folder select TIFF subfolder

  • Ensure that the File Handling options in the Import Photos panel are set so that the originals are not moved or renamed on import.

  • It's probably best that you don't apply any Develop Settings to the files on import, but adding your standard Metadata is advisable. It might also be useful to add a keyword to indicate that the file is CMYK.

  • Click the Import button.


Figure 7 - Lightroom Import Photos dialog


Figure 8 - Trojan files successfully  imported into Lightroom catalog

Figure 8 above shows that the Trojan TIFF files have been imported onto my Desktop, although the actual location doesn't really matter. Again, do not to edit the files, change their names, etc.

So, now we have finally arrived, your Trojan Horse is inside the city of Troy (the Lightroom Catalog), but don't begin the celebrations just yet. Next step is to import the actual CYMK files. Hmm, but we can't I hear you say. Remember the new folder panel context menu command I mentioned earlier?

  • Right mouse button click the folder containing the Trojan files and choose Update Folder Location...

  • The Select New Location dialog will open (figure 10).

  • Navigate to the folder containing your CMYK files (remember to select the folder, not the files).

  • Click Choose button.


Figure 9 - Updating the Folder Location


Figure 10 - Select New Location dialog

Lightroom will take a few moments to churn through the files updating the location links. Assuming that you didn't make any mistakes along the way, change files names or worse, the CMYK files should now be safe inside your Lightroom catalog. Figure 11 below shows how my Folder panel looks after the CMYK files have been imported. At this point you should run the the Render 1:1 Preview command found under the Library>Previews menu in the Library module. Lightroom will use the built in Adobe Color Engine (ACE) to create the full-size RGB previews used within the Library  module. The key point here is that just like Photoshop, Lightroom can only display RGB previews, the accuracy of which is dependent upon the correct CMYK profile being embedded with the original file. If the ICC profile is not embedded into the original CMYK file Lightroom will assume Adobe SWOP V2.0.


Figure 11 - Lightroom Library modules displaying previews for CMYK files

You may be asking - are these for real CMYK files?

Yep, check for yourself - select one and choose Edit in Photoshop (Cmd/Ctrl+E) then choose Edit Original.


Figure 12 - Edit in Photoshop dialog

The original CMYK will open into Photoshop. Furthermore, you can make adjustments to the original  CMYK file in Photoshop, apply layers, crop, etc then save the edited CMYK file back into Lightroom (Yes, you read right). It is even possible to export the Photoshop edited CMYK file from Lightroom, but you must set the Format (file type) to Original (see figure 13 below).


Figure 13 - Exporting edited files as CMYK

Are you happy?

Are you celebrating?

Now, for the next trick. Notice that the Edit in Photoshop dialog in Figure 12 above allowed the selection of a copy or even a copy with Lightroom adjustments? You did, then try switching to the Develop module.


Figure 14 - CMYK file displayed in Develop module

There you go, your CMYK file is available for editing in the Develop module (Figure 14), just like it would be if it was an RGB file. Lightroom has again used ACE to render the RGB preview from the CMYK file. Also, note that all of the Lightroom develop adjustment controls are active. This means that you can edit the file as if the original had been RGB. If you apply an adjustment using the Develop module controls then choose Edit in Photoshop Copy with Lightroom Adjustments an RGB copy TIFF/PSD is created, which is then opened into Photoshop. Any further adjustments in Photoshop will be applied to this RGB copy, thus leaving the CMYK original untouched.

Final Thoughts

As suggested by my opening remarks, a lot of folk have expressed a strong desire to have CMYK support within Lightroom, some have also been extremely vocal in their criticism of Adobe for not including it. To date, both groups have stated that the primary reason is to allow them to manage their CMYK assets within Lightroom, which is probably not an unreasonable request. Obviously, I don't know why CMYK support has not been included in Lightroom 2.0, but this tutorial demonstrates that some of the infrastructure required to facilitate the management of your CMYK files is already present. It also shows that develop adjustments of these files is supported. Anything else? Yes...

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