Why you need to calibrate your monitor
If there one thing that’s certain about photos on the internet, it’s that nobody is seeing exactly the same thing as you. In general, most screens are too bright, and have whatever default color the monitor happens to ship with. Some are great, others not so much. As the monitor gets older, these colors change too. It’s more of an issue with older bulb light monitors, and less so with LED, but still these colors change over time.
There’s also the matter of print matching. If you’ve ever printed (you’re missing out if you haven’t), and been dissatisfied with the print, it could be that your screen is fooling you when you’re editing.
There is a way to get your screen to a known standard, and doing this means that you know you have good representative color and brightness on your screen, and that you’ve made a step toward better prints. This is screen or monitor calibration.
What is monitor calibration?
To calibrate your screen, you need a puck-like device that sits on your screen, and measures the color being displayed. This is called a spectrophotometer. It’s just a name for what it does: photo = light, spectro = from spectrum meaning a range of colors, and meter = to measure. So it measures the light color. Don’t worry, you don’t need to buy one of these specifically, and match software to it, they come as kits, with the required software bundled with it.
What do you need to do it?
Some examples of the screen calibration kits include the X-Rite i1 Display Pro (which is what I have), the Spyder Pro, and the Color Munki. The process for each is similar and pretty straightforward. First you install the software, and run it. Next you attach the device. Initially you have to decide the settings, but the correct ones are usually suggested. Usually these are 120cd/m2 or less in brightness, D65 or Native for Illuminant and 2.2 for Gamma. At the start you may need to set the monitor brightness and contrast via the monitors own menu. Finally you just let the software run and it will create a profile automatically at the end. One thing that’s critical is that you need to have your monitor on for a while before starting the calibration. It takes up to 30 minutes for the monitor to settle.
How do you do monitor calibration?
Let’s look at this using the software supplied with the i1DisplayPro, i1 Profiler. Here’s the screen you see at the start (after registering the product).
Click on Display Profiling to begin. The software detects your screen type automatically and applies recommended defaults for the screen. Press Next (below).
You’re on to the Measurement screen now (below). Choose the manual option for the screen brightness and contrast. The color tiles you see on the right are the colors that will flash on the screen as the calibration runs. Click the Next button to begin.
The next figure below, is a cropped version of the screen you will see. Place the device on the screen as instructed. Press ‘Ok’ to continue.
Use the controls on you monitor to get the correct brightness settings (see below) for the profile. Click Next when it’s correct. The screen will cycle through the series of colors seen as tiles back further. As each tile displays, the entire screen changes to that color. This takes about two minutes.
Take the device off and set it for ambient light, even if you don’t use this function.
The tiles now show a before and after view of the color changes from the profile. Click next.
Click Create and Save Profile to make a new monitor profile.
Once the profile is made, you can do a comparison using the test charts in the screen.
Summary and questions
That’s it. You’re done. Lightroom, Photoshop and color managed browsers like Safari will use this profile when you view images, allowing you to edit and process images with the best color rendition. Ideally you should do this calibration no less than once a month for best color. You’ve also taken your first steps into color management without knowing it; probably the most important.
Do you have any questions about this process? Have you tried it? Had any difficulties? If you use a similar device which one, and have you had good success with it? Please share in the comments below.