Studio Display/Pro Display XDR reference modes

I can read on dozens of sites how to switch reference modes on these displays, and I have no trouble doing so on my Studio Display.

But… when should I, and why should I?

The only words I have found on the subject (I forget where now) said “A photo made to look good in Photography (P3-D65) mode will almost certainly look good in Apple Display (P3-600 Nits) mode, where the reverse is less likely to be true.” Anecdotally, this seems to hold true.

Now I want to produce a photo book using Affinity Publisher. Should I use Design & Print (P3-D50) mode? If so, why? If not, why not? I asked my brother who is a very experienced graphic designer and he says he regularly gets print work from (reputable) printers that “perfectly matches my display*” and he has been doing this on 27" iMacs for years. He says the iMac colour accuracy has always been very good. When I asked him about the reference modes he shrugged his shoulders.

It seems like Apple have a reason for providing them, but it sure would be nice if they did more than hint at their use.

*He does know that transmissive and reflective colour cannot be the same, but made reference to “red being red, and not orange” and similar examples.

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I have more than once tried to investigate and understand the information, settings, and files contained in the ColorSync Utility without much success. Your post is helpful, and I hope to hear more from you and your brother with your photography and graphic design backgrounds.

For Design & Print, it will change the white point on the display to D50, which more closely matches the white point used in the printing process. It’s marginally useful, but like your brother said, unless your needs are critical, it’s not going to make a huge difference.

As far as the photography one: all that mode does is limit the brightness of the display. I think the white point remains the same as normal at D65 (somebody can correct me if I’m wrong), but it will force your display to run at 100 nits (or maybe 200). This basically means that you’re editing entirely within the normal SDR brightness range, with a white point appropriate for screen based use. This is only a useful editing mode if you are not editing photos for HDR applications.

Here’s Apple’s documentation on each mode, which I think does a decent job also explaining when you should use it. Whenever they say “controlled viewing environments,” that typically means the screen brightness is fixed to one brightness point, and your room should be optimized for editing in that range (as many pro studios would be).

For general usage, you really don’t need to use any of these. The photo mode will help a little if you plan on printing your images in SDR. The graphic design space will help a little if you’re working in colour critical applications. The film reference modes are useful for similar colour spaces. But if you’re working in any of these modes and you’re very concerned about accuracy, you also need to get your monitor calibrated — either by a pro or with a tool like the Spyder.


Thanks. I had seen that Apple page, but it just says “use this for X” and not why I should and why I might not; questions you have more usefully answered.

From what you’ve said, I’m thinking that using the Photography mode is perhaps useful in more closely representing what most viewers will see on Flickr (where I publish my images). Furthermore, the words I included in my original post about looking good in that mode will also look good in the bright mode seem to still ring true.

Then for print, I should probably just stick to the bright mode but also make sure I do a cheap test print before I commit to an expensive book! Colour management seems to be like audio recording level control — there are so many places you can do it and knowing where and when and how they interact can be a challenge!

Yeah. Photography mode is going to be much more useful for print or professional applications than Flickr. Most people will view your work on screens that are brighter than 100 or 200 nits.

FWIW, I don’t use any of these modes regularly and I get paid to take photos, design print stuff, and design digital apps and websites.

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