Why is Monitor Calibration Important and How to do it

Why is Monitor Calibration Important and How to do it


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.

Calibrating your screen 01

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).

Calibrating your screen 02

Click on Display Profiling to begin. The software detects your screen type automatically and applies recommended defaults for the screen. Press Next (below).

Calibrating your screen 03

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.

Calibrating your screen 04

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.

Calibrating your screen puck position

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.

Calibrating your screen 06

Take the device off and set it for ambient light, even if you don’t use this function.

Calibrating your screen 07

The tiles now show a before and after view of the color changes from the profile. Click next.

Calibrating your screen 08

Click Create and Save Profile to make a new monitor profile.

Calibrating your screen 09

Once the profile is made, you can do a comparison using the test charts in the screen.

Calibrating your screen 10

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.

Read more from our Post Production category

Sean McCormack is a Fuji X Photographer and author based in the Galway in the west of Ireland. He's the author of The Indispensable Guide to Lightroom CC. When he's not writing or creating YouTube content, he shoots people, places and even things.

  • Gnah

    For your information, the i1 display pro and the colormunki display share the same hardware. The software are different.
    There is a good software (open source I guess) available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It offers more options. The software is Dispcalgui.

  • Sean McCormack

    Hi Gnah,
    There’s 3 different variations of the Color Munki: The Smile, which looks like the old i1 puck, the Display, which does indeed look like the i1 Display Pro, and the Photo, which is the classic looking Color Munki. So yes, one of the is probably the same hardware. Cheers for the tip on Dispcalgui, which seems to have had a rename to DisplayCAL. It’s definitely a neat alternative for those with a device already.

  • Peter H.

    All nice … but how about making a poll asking how many amateur photographers are REALLY willing to spend $ 200 on such a calibration set? I mean, not “yeah I of course want that one day” but “I will DEFINITELY buy one”.
    Let’s do it and have a surprise.

  • Sean McCormack

    Well Peter, as someone who was that amateur, it was getting terrible colour for prints that drove me to it. As a camera club member at the time, competitions were a big thing and prints meant more categories to enter. So from the point of view of getting prizes and recognition it was worth it. Will it make everyone want one? Hardly. Perhaps it takes a whole series of things to get to the stage where someone knows the only solution to their crappy colour on other screens, or the occasional print is screen calibration.

  • surya

    Sharing information is very useful for me.

  • siddhesh pawar

    it is just advertise guys focus on photography and u can set it by software which is free on internet dont go for this product….

  • Sean McCormack

    Siddhesh, you can indeed use calibrations tools to do a visual calibration. Even Apple has this built into their Display preferences. The problem is that it’s entirely subjective and will be different every time you do it. Personally I couldn’t care less if someone isn’t worried about colour consistency. I do care about it, and here I’m relating my experience with product that I bought and paid for-and use monthly so my output is both consistent and accurate. Your perception that this is written as an ad is inaccurate.

  • Peter H.

    Some decades ago I owned a huge Syncmaster CRT monitor – it came with a cardboard mask that had holes in several fields of different colors and patterns, and a software supplied with the monitor that used that cardboard mask and the users input to align the controls and calibrate it. Although that wasn’t as accurate as some electronic sensors it did a fairly good job – with no extra money.
    I wonder why these simple things are no longer supplied.

  • Lukasz Brodziak

    There is no need to buy one as you don’t calibrate you screen that often. For example one store near me offers Spyder 4 rental for 24 h at price of ~10$ which is no that expensive even if you will recalibrate screen 2-3 times a year (which is not going to happen given you are the only one using it and nobody will change the setings).

  • After calibrating your screen/monitor would you have go back and reedit all your pictures.

  • dude II

    Absolutely wrong.
    After calibrating your monitor you will see the images with the correct colors/contrast/brightness. If your monitor was set so bad that you had to go back and edit ALL of you pictures. Calibration is one of the lessor issues you have. Calibration is a drop dead necessity to PRINT images. Using a color managed workflow is essential for producing quality images for digital viewing or print. If you had ever worked in a color darkroom with film, you would understand the importance of color control. Digital is so easy compared to film.

  • dude II

    Absolutely wrong.
    After calibrating your monitor you will see the images with the correct colors/contrast/brightness. If your monitor was set so bad that you had to go back and edit ALL of you pictures. Calibration is one of the lessor issues you have. Calibration is a drop dead necessity to PRINT images. Using a color managed workflow is essential for producing quality images for digital viewing or print. If you had ever worked in a color darkroom with film, you would understand the importance of color control. Digital is so easy compared to film.

  • dude II

    Print much? I do not think so.
    A color managed workflow is essential to high quality output. Digital color management using the old Mark I eyeball will fail. If you don’t believe me, just look at the same image on two different manufactures monitors without calibration. If you can see a difference, then your Mark I eyeball has failed.

  • pete guaron

    Oh dear – this is like watching a greyhound race – everyone wants to chase the rabbit!

    For what it’s worth:
    1 – monitors are made by computer companies – they have their own agenda, and calibration does hit the target for my photographic work – only too happy to jump on board & calibrate the screen

    2 – I use ColorMunki (among other toys) to get my colors “right” – I’ve no idea what the other products are like – I’m happy with mine, though

    3 – I find it fascinating when I’m post processing – my “target”, while I’m pressing shutter buttons, is to minimise ANY post processing, and I manage it surprisingly often these days

    4 – that said, the post processing feeds through a number of layers of software, and what I find surprising is that THEY all scream for some kind of calibration – as I move a photo through from one to the next, the colors change, and it’s not really until the final layer that I feel happy with what I’m seeing on the screen – but since I know it’s “coming”, it doesn’t really worry me

    5 – some of my stuff is archival work – there is no “correct” or “right” color except an EXACT match – frankly that seems to be a pipe dream – we’re dealing “color photography”, it’s a surrogate for the colors in the real world, and my view is that the best we can hope to achieve, is an “acceptable substitute” for the colors of the real world

    6 – and THAT said, I get a lot closer with all the various “toys” than ever I did before I started using them

    Really appreciated your article Sean – we’re on the same team, it’s just that some of us kick the ball with the other foot, so we don’t always do it the same way. But of course life would be deathly boring if everyone did the same thing.

    For the rest of you guys – everyone is entitled to an opinion – opinions are never “right” or “wrong”, but they do serve a useful purpose – they stimulate discussion. They sure as hell have, with this topic – LOL Let’s have a truce – each to his own!!!

  • Jay L

    I have a Dell Monitor from 2006, and the last time I tried calibration it was difficult or impossible becaus the monitor itself had very little adjustments available-and very non user friendly. I want to get a new monitor to tie in to my laptop. Any suggestions on a good one that doesnt break the bank?

  • John C.

    In my opinion, this is a big waste of time, especially if you are sharing your images on the internet. What good does it do to calibrate your monitor when everyone else doesn’t? I have the X-rite i1 display Pro, and when I calibrate my monitor, it always appears darker than normal. Using this new “calibrated” monitor, I edit my photos as always, and later post them on Facebook. When I look at the images on my work computer, they are darker and have extreme contrast. They look that way on nearly every other display, except for my calibrated monitor. And just because your monitor is calibrated, doesn’t mean your printer will print what you see there. It needs calibrating too. So in my opinion, this is just a waste of time, unless you have the systems in place to calibrate both your monitor and printer. Definitely not recommended for sharing photos online.

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  • Sean McCormack

    Most good printers come with specific print profile for each of their paper product, so yes can can get close in print. Bearing in mind that with paper you’re looking at a reflective surface, I can say that my prints look like my screen. Obviously you can get even better by calibrating the printer.
    Your experience doesn’t match mine, and I do specifically create web versions of my images with sRGB profiles and I view through colour managed browsers, so I know that it’s as good as it can be on the web, whatever the user is viewing with. I do agree that that part is a crap shoot though.

  • Sean McCormack

    Jay, if the budget is there for a Dell Ultrasharp model, you’ll be good with that. They’re often on sale too.

  • Sean McCormack

    Hey Pete,
    Thanks! I’m all for getting closer.. so the color checker is used as well with shoots.
    And yep, this site is definitely about discussion!

  • Calmerthan

    Sean, I’ve wanted for a while to get a color calibrator, but even with decent average ratings on Amazon, when I read through the comments I think I should wait—big software instability, bad color casts (even for people who are no neophytes but are experienced with calibrating), etc.

  • why not join a camera club and buy one and share it with all member – or buy with a couple friends and pass it around once a month.

  • Kevin Storr

    Dell make some of the best monitors on the market and I will choose a Dell Ultrasharp monitor over an Apple one any day.

  • Kevin Storr

    Although it is advisable to calibrate monthly so $120 for the year? While you could leave it longer are you able to compare your profiles and determine what has changed. As the monitor drifts over time so will your images.

  • Kevin Storr

    That is some thing I have seen the group purchases the tools and you just leave a deposit while you take it and calibrate.

  • Jay L

    Thank you lots!

  • Jay L

    Thank you.

  • Jay L

    What do you use Sean?

  • Sean McCormack

    An older ultrasharp, and like Kevin, I choose it over an Apple for my Mac Pro. It’s the 2408. A mate had the 2407 and I really thought it was worth getting.

  • Jay L

    Thank you lots. How does this compare to the more expensive Apple retina displays? Comparable in quality? Just as good?

  • Sean McCormack

    If I was getting a new machine, I would probably get the 5k iMac.. but that’s a different question I’m answering. Part of the reason for staying with this monitor so long is the matte finish and ease of calibrating.

  • Joel

    I have to suggest the ultrasharp as well, I got a refurbished Dell U2410f about a year ago and it is excellent.

  • Exactly! Or pay like $5-10 to “rent” it from the group and it helps pay for the cost to buy it, and any profit goes to the group for functions, etc.

  • Do you ever alter your monitor settings, especially brightness, for different purposes on your computer? If you play a game, sometimes it pays off to turn the brightness up. If it’s daytime, you will want your monitor brighter, and if it’s night, you may want it darker. All of these changes in brightness are something that these calibrators account for. This means that your work is dependent on whether you were playing Starcraft on Battle.net just before you edited one set of images, while another set of images is way brighter because you worked on them in the dark.

    Every since I started calibrating, my work is VERY consistent in brightness, and my colors are much more consistent. If you are creating great images, you’re going to eventually want to print them…calibration ensures that you won’t have green or whatever color casts on your images. It means your images will look the way you intended them to look, instead of being disappointed with the results.

  • Michelle Wright

    Hi Sean. Thanks for the great info. I will need to calibrate my monitor, but also my printer. Is there a product I can buy that does both or is it best to get two different products. Really new to this. Thanks for any advice.

  • Elmer Jensen

    Color Munki Photo!

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  • Jay L

    Sean, what is the newest Dell ultra sharp you would recommend, that rivals or is as good as the Apple displays I see in the Apple store?

  • Sean McCormack

    Hi Jay,
    The newest ones generally have the newest features, like having USB3 rather than USB2 connections etc. Like I’ve said before, they often have sales that will get a good deal. These vary by region, so the deals I see would be different to yours (they generally auto detect region). I prefer the Matte screen of the dell to those of Apple, which being glossy, tend to look more saturated.

  • Jay L

    Thanks Sean. My current display is a Dell 1905FP from 2006. It actually works nicely with the matte screen. Is it time to update? I use a Mac laptop hooked up to it. I dont even know if I can calibrate it.

  • Jay L
  • Al Disley

    can you calibrate in both daytime and nigh time? what is the recommendation?

  • Tamuk

    Go for Viewsonic professional monitor VP 2468.

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