How To Calibrate Your Monitor

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Whenever you open, select, or edit the digital images you’ve shot, or creatively correct or enhance them using post-production software such as Photoshop or Lightroom, you are relying on a display device—a monitor connected to or built into your computer, tablet, or smartphone—to show you an accurate representation of the colors, color saturation, monochrome tonality, contrast and other characteristics of the images captured by your camera. If what you see on the monitor does not match what the camera captured, the prints made from these files will never look quite as you had envisioned them—the color balance may be off, certain colors may be washed out or overly intense, or the pictures may have an overall color cast. That’s why photographers who are serious about creative image control, maintaining an efficient workflow and minimizing frustration always make sure their monitors are correctly calibrated. These days, that’s easy to do, and the hardware and software required is intuitive and very affordable.


There are ways of getting a poorly calibrated monitor closer to the mark using apps included in various post-production software programs or by downloading them from the Internet, but all these methods are time-consuming and none of them provides the degree of accuracy or consistency of true calibration. By far, the best way to calibrate your monitor, and keep it accurate by recalibrating it at regular intervals, is to acquire a good monitor-calibration tool. This usually comprises a package that includes calibration software to install on your computer, a calibration device (essentially a precision colorimeter) that plugs into the USB port and reads directly from the monitor screen, and simple step-by-step instructions. All the devices mentioned in this article can be used to calibrate multiple display types, are Mac/PC compatible, and detect changes in the ambient light viewing conditions for the most consistent results.

Monitor Calibration by the Numbers

The basic procedure for using one of the current generation of monitor-calibration tools couldn't be simpler, although the more advanced models also offer a range of step-up features that are explained in their manuals. Here’s the basic drill.

1. Install the included software on your computer (most will run on older PCs and Macs, but check the system requirements if your computer is more than 5 years old.)

2. Turn on your monitor and let it warm up for 30 minutes, to stabilize it.

3. Connect the screen-reading device (calibration colorimeter) to your computer by plugging it into the USB port and hang, attach or point it at the monitor screen as indicated in the manual.

4. Start the program and follow the prompts. You may be asked to adjust your monitor’s screen resolution or other parameters to certain standard values when possible. Typical recommended starting points: Luminance, 120; Gamma, 2.2 for PCs, 1.8 for Macs; color temperature, 6500K; Color display, 24-bit, etc.

5. Active calibration. As the program runs, the monitor screen will display a sequence of patterns that includes colors, color scales, brightness and grayscale targets, which are used to calculate an ICC profile and save it to your computer. A light in the calibration device will typically flash as each calibration is being calculated, and will stop flashing when calibration is completed. A graphic screen display will track the scan’s progress.

6. Name the completed file, indicating it’s for the monitor you’ve just calibrated and, depending on your computer, your software and how you like to work, either store it in a convenient place so you can locate and activate it when viewing images, or set it as a default so it will automatically activate every time you use the monitor for image evaluation.

7. Recalibrate regularly. Color accuracy fanatics do it daily or weekly, but monthly calibrations are recommended, especially if you have an older monitor. Most systems will display a warning when it’s time to recalibrate, and recalibration may be faster if you activate the saved profile and use it as the starting point.  

Color calibration hardware/software packages are available in a wide variety of configurations and sizes, and at prices ranging from around $100 to well over $1,000 for commercial systems. Here are four popular examples that will meet the needs of most creative enthusiasts and professional photographers. We’ve included two broad spectrum entry-level models, and two more advanced models that provide step-up features for greater flexibility and control. Check the full product listings for additional features and complete system requirements.

Broad-Spectrum Display Calibration Systems

Datacolor Spyder4Pro: Featuring a single, patented full spectrum 7-color sensor covering both wide-gamut and normal-gamut displays, it works with monitors, laptops, iPads and iPhones, provides automated color and brightness calibration and adapts to ambient-light conditions to give accurate readings. The ReCal Assistant feature makes recalibration easier and faster. System requirements: Monitor with a minimum of 1024 x 768 resolution, 24-bit video card, powered USB port.

X-Rite ColorMunki Display: Ergonomic and multifunctional, it calibrates LED and wide gamut LCD screens and can be used to profile projectors as well as monitors. It’s also spectrally calibrated, making it field-upgradeable to support future technologies, features easy and advanced calibration modes, flare correction, a rotating diffuser arm and a standard ¼"-20 tripod socket. Before-and-after images load instantly and there’s an automatic reminder when it’s time to recalibrate. System requirements: Monitor with 1024 x 768 or higher display, 16-bit minimum video card, powered USB port, DVD-ROM drive and Internet connection for software updates.

Advanced Display Calibration Systems

Datacolor Spyder4Elite: Configured like the Spyder4Pro, it provides all the same features but adds an impressive range of step-up capabilities including color analysis and display comparisons, by plotting uniformity, tone response, front projector calibration capability, StudioMatch for fine-tuning of studio displays and an unlimited choice of gamma, white point, white and black luminance, and iterative gray-balance settings. It also includes presets for video standards and calibrates to pro workflow targets. System requirements: Monitor with at least 1024 x 768 resolution (1024 x 600 netbook option) or front-projector RTF, 24-bit video card, powered USB port.

X-Rite i1Display Pro: With its cutting-edge i1Display Profiler software, it can calibrate and profile all current display and projector technologies including LED and wide-gamut LCDs and, like the ColorMunki, it’s spectrally calibrated and field-upgradeable to support future displays. Advanced features include ambient-light measurement, Automatic Display Control (ADC), user-defined pass/fail tolerance testing, a 5-times-faster speed than previous units, virtually infinite control of white point, luminance, contrast ratio, gamma and more, and the ability to create unique patch sets in 3 sizes for precision profiling. PANTONE Color Manager software is part of the package. System requirements: 1GB of RAM, 2GB of disk space, minimum monitor resolution of 1024 x 600, and a powered USB port. Dual display requires 2 video cards or a dual-head video card.

All these color management tools are the latest offerings from companies with long-term experience in monitor calibration, and any one of them will go a long way in assuring that what you see is indeed what you’ll get, in the final print.

For more information, speak with a B&H sales professional at the B&H SuperStore, over the phone at 1-800-606-6969 or via Live Chat.

12 Comments

Hello,

I have an old Lacie 324 monitor (used to be my dad's monitor for movie color correction). It's advertised as a wide gamut, 10 bit, 96% of adobe rgb color space , so it should be not that bad, even if it's from 2007. I have calibrated it with Pantone huey pro (the only colorimeter I have at home) with the huey pro software but the colors look anything but good. It looks not as better than a normal monitor and the colors, especially the reds/orange, look way over saturated and and the reds are more orangish than a deep red. The white balance is messed up as well since the white is yellowish, definetely too warm. 

I've tried the same colorimeter with the same software on other monitors and it makes them with a very warm white balance as well, but the Lacie 324 monitor that I use actually looks better with this calibration than without.

What should I do to improve the color accuracy of my monitor? Should I try a different software, a different colorimeter or do you think the problem is just the monitor?

Thank you really much in advance. 

The Pantone Huey Pro is actually pretty ancient. It was originally a Gretag Macbeth product that X-rite continued when they bought them out. It was really designed late in the CRT era. It hasn't been updated in years and X-Rite no longer supports it, and it doesn't do a very good job with LCD and LED  backlighting monitors. The filters used in that colorimeter just aren't designed for the same range and the dyes in these filters have most likely shifted in color or faded enough that calibrations will be off, which is normal after an extended time period. So given all this , I’d recommend upgrading to a newer X-Rite product, the i1Display Pro. This was the first colorometer/spectrophotometer from X-Rite that was specifically designed for use with contemporary LCD and LED monitors. The i1Display Pro has the ability to measure the ambient light and adjust the calibration appropriately with Ambient Light Smart Control. It's also spectrally calibrated, which makes it field-upgradeable to support future display technologies. The included i1Profiler color management software gives the user more control and flexibility. It has both 'Basic' and 'Advanced' modes, so you can choose which one is best for you. Basic mode offers a wizard-driven interface with predefined options for the quickest path to professional on-screen color. ‘Advanced” allows you to add custom values to white point, gamma, lumninance, etc. With Multiple Display and Workgroup Matching you can re-use profile settings on multiple displays connected to the same computer or to multiple computers within a workgroup.

I have an older Mac Pro that has a Nvidia geoforce gt 120 512 Mb video card. I don't think it is even 16bit color. Will any of these monitor calibration tools work for my computer. I had an older spyder but it quit working when I upgraded my OS. I need a new calibration tool.Thank you.Alan

You must have the MacPro4,1 Early 2009 Mac Pro. If you have not done it already, you will need to upgrade the driver  for the NVIDIA GT 120. This will give the GPU 32-bit color support. So there will be no compatibility issues using an X-Rite or Spyder5 calibrating application. If you have an inkjet printer, especially a pro level model with 8+ inks, and are serious about the quality of your prints,  then I recommend the ColorMunki Photo.  You can calibrate your monitor and also create custom paper profiles for your printer. It is a quick, easy, and an intuitive way for  display-to-print matching. The included software guides you through whichever profiling function you need. You can select "match my printer to my display" and it will walk you through the profiling process.  Or you can easily jump right to display, projector or printer profiling. The ICC profile ensures that you achieve consistently accurate color reproduction on your paper over a longer production period. This profile tells the printer which ink colors to mix in order to achieve a specific color on a particular print media corresponding to a specific surface. In other words, the profile ls created for the particular paper+printer model+ink color  combinationthat you are using. This is especially important when using paper from a manufacturer other than your printer’s. Every paper has a slightly different base tone so that for every type of paper you use you should select a different profile.

How effective are these calibration tools when your editing environment changes throughout the day? I have a 27" iMac next to a window with fluorescent overheads and I work on the iMac throughout the day with shoifting light sources. Will these tools (I'm particularly interested in the ColorMunki Photo) be of any benefit? If so, how? And if not, what options are there?

While the tools are very effective, they are only as effective as the way and conditions under which they are used.  Just as setting a Custom White Balance in a camera can yield accurate color in the environment in which the custom white balance was performed, if you change the lighting type, then the custom calibration is no longer as effective (though I will admit this is not a perfect analogy).  When using a spectrophotometer such as the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo Color Management Solution, the difference is the monitor you are calibrating is emitting color, not reflecting it as in the previous example.  One of the main benefit of the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo Color Management Solution for your stated needs is it has a built-in Ambient Light Measurement capability.  This feature allows the ColorMunki Photo (when attached to your computer) to analyze the ambient light level and reduce or increase the brightness of your monitor according to the current ambient lighting needs.   Ideally, as indicated by ColorMunki in the video on the link below titled “Ideal Viewing Conditions,” displays work best in low light, and it is best for light not to strike the screen directly.  If you are working in a room that has bright daylight and ambient lighting, I would recommend purchasing a lens hood, such as the Seaport i-Visor 27" iMac Shield Pro, B&H # SEIV1428, to darken the area around your monitor and reduce the amount of ambient lighting that interferes with your view of the screen.  I would then ensure that there are no lamps or windows that would cast light directly onto your monitor.  Using the monitor hood listed above, and calibrating your monitor and using the Ambient Lighting Sensor on the ColorMunki Photo Color Management Solution spectrophotometer should assist you with your listed ambient lighting conditions.

http://www.colormunki.com/colorknowledge/training?type=photo

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1220983-REG/seaport_iv1428_i_visor_27_imac_shield.html

As a photographer that shows most of my images online (Facebook, Instagram, etc), how important is it to me for a calibrated monitor? My concern is that with a calibrated monitor images will look great on my screen, but the vast majority of people viewing will not see the same thing as their monitors are using different color profiles and showing differently. 

It's crucial if you're printing work for clients. I personally don't print a ton right now, but I calibrate on a regular basis so that I know when I need to, I'll have good colour accuracy. As well you want to dim the light of your monitor when editing, especially for print. Since the light comes through the screen, the image will appear brighter than it acutally is, this means any prints you do order will come out dark. 

If you edit your work on your computer, or p[rint your own images, you will want a calibrated monitor regardless. Also, programs like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop have export-to-web options that will sharpen image and will adjust the viewable  color space for web viewing. Using a calibration tool like X-Rite’s i1Display Pro, which compensates for the ambient light in your computer location and takes in account of glare from your monitor, will definitely play a huge roll in  the quality and color accuracy of rendering your images, even when they are being viewed on-line.

I produce just the tone, color, softness,  or vibrancy of an image on screen, only to have prints made at our best local printing store returned with a dull, greenish tone. Suggestions for coordinating my onscreen image view with the printing process for accurate results are appreciated. Is a monitor calibration necessary?  I really like the results I get as seen on monitor... It's the translation at print that  shifts. I always request no enhancement, hoping I'll get the most accurate reproduction of the image created... JKM

Make sure to save images for printing in CMYK color, RGB will display well on monitors but prints horribly.

Calibrate your monitor.

Download the printer's color profile (note: there are profiles for each paper type)

When editing, use "preview with printer profile"

Final note: there is a huge difference between projected (on screen) and reflected (on paper, depends on a true color light source; fluorescent lights have a greenish cast)

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