Professional Calibration with an Unconventional Moniker
Imagine that I told you there was an all-in-one, USB device that could calibrate your monitor, create an ICC profile for your printer, and scan physical objects to determine their true color. Oh, and the price is under $500 -- and the software is really good.
Interested? Cool beans. It's called the ColorMunki Photo, and it's made by X-Rite. This is the part where you laugh at me and walk away. But really, I'm not kidding. The ColorMunki's name may be the first thing you notice, but it's the simplicity, functionality, and design of the device that stand out in the end.
The ColorMunki Photo comes with software for Mac OS X and Windows. Mac users will be able to install the software in a few scant minutes; Windows users should expect to block out a bit more time for installation, perhaps up to ten minutes.
The strength of the software is its ease of use. It walks you through every step of the calibration process; tutorial videos are included for every step of the way, to ensure that calibration occurs smoothly. When you run the application for the first time, you are greeted with an intro screen that details the nuts and bolts of using the software.
The main application has three main options - "Match My Printer to My Display," "Profile My Display," and "Profile My Printer." The first option simply integrates the latter two into one process.
The monitor profiling supports LCD monitors, notebook computer screens, and projectors. The LCD setting can also be used to profile CRTs. Profiling an LCD can be done in less than two minutes; projectors require more swatches to be displayed on the screen. The device comes with a zippered carrying case. This is required for calibrating displays, as it features a counter-weight "tail" that keeps the Munki in place on your LCD for calibration.
Projector calibration is an interesting task. Because of the nature of projectors, it should be executed in the exact lighting conditions in which the projector will be used. This requires an on-site calibration for the best accuracy, as real-world variables can greatly influence the quality of the projected image. The software will assist you in placing the device correctly, as you'll need to ensure that is pointing at the center of the projected image. Once the process is completed, you'll be able to view a before-and-after-comparison. In our test, the differences were quite drastic.
Printer calibration is a two-step process. You'll print an initial set of swatches, which are grouped into five columns. Once the sheet has dried properly, you scan it in five passes with the ColorMunki. This goes more quickly than with similar devices on the market, which often require you to scan a few hundred swatches individually for proper profiling.
Once the first chart is read, the software analyzes the results and generates a second chart. This two-step process helps to improve a specific printer's weak points as far as color accuracy goes, in order to create a better profile. You'll need to create a set of swatches for each ink- and-paper combination that you use.
Once a profile is created, you'll even be able to further optimize it based on the type of photographs you shoot. You can load one of your images into the software, and it will identify predominant colors. It will create a swatch sheet with those specific colors, which can be scanned to further refine the profile. This can be accomplished with any number of images.
The Digital Pouch and Photo Color Picker
In addition to the basic calibration functionality, the ColorMunki software includes two applications, The Digital Pouch and Photo Color Picker.
The Digital Pouch is a tool that allows you to view color-accurate images on displays other than your own. The application allows you to load any number of images for transport. Once the images have been selected, it creates a Java photo viewer applet. The applet lets you know if the display you are viewing the images on has been profiled in the last thirty days. Because the application is Java based, pouches can be viewed in any Mac, Windows, or Linux environment with a Java Virtual Machine installed.
The Photo Color Picker may be the most interesting application included with the ColorMunki. It analyzes photos and picks out predominant color swatches. Selecting a swatch allows you to view harmonic, variant, and similar colors. This is a great tool for helping to pick a matte color for a specific print.
Browsing through photos is easy using this application. It automatically catalogs iPhoto, Lightroom, and Aperture libraries. RAW files can be viewed directly under OS X, and the application even includes a Cover Flow interface for image browsing.
Because the ColorMunki can read any sort of color using its sensor, you can also use it to read the color of physical objects. This gives the application a bit of interior design functionality: scan furniture and wall colors in a room to help define its palette. You'd then be able to select prints that complement the room, enhancing its design.
I did run into a couple minor issues with the software, but none too discouraging. For some reason, my Lightroom library was displayed in a seemingly random order in Photo Color Picker. I also had to Force Quit the application a couple of times when browsing said library. Xrite is aware of this issue and is working on a software update to correct it.
The application cannot read adjustments made to an image in Lightroom; it only reads the RAW files in the library's directory structure. For any images that you've done heavy work on, especially with white balance and other color adjustments, it would be advisable to export a JPG or TIFF for the most accurate swatches.
Owners of Eizo monitors should be advised that, at the time of this writing, the ColorMunki is not supported by the Eizo color management software.
These quibbles aside, the ColorMunki is an impressive product. I was amazed at its ease of use, accuracy, and build quality. I would not hesitate to recommend this device to any photographer looking for a monitor and printer-calibration system. The ease of use and enhanced software functionality set the ColorMunki apart from other competitors in its price range: even more so than its playful name.