Whether you’re a practicing professional or an avid amateur photographer, the quality of your image output and color accuracy is extremely important. Properly calibrating your monitor will ensure that your colors and black levels are true, and that you are creating the optimum results for editing and viewing images. You could pay to have a professional do the job, but learning to do it yourself will save you money in the long run.(3) The entire calibration process is pretty painless to learn and it’s worth a few afternoons to learn the basics.
What Is Calibration?
Calibrating monitors is one of the basic steps most computer users forget or ignore. Essentially it is the process of correcting the color settings of a monitor to match selected colors of printed output.(2) The colors on screen may not be the exact match of what they actually are. We’ve all experienced taking the perfect photo with the most incredible colors only to download it and be inherently disappointed when you go to view it. That’s when you know it’s time for a thorough calibration. Schedule a calibration monthly to get into a routine.
There are many ways to go with calibrating, from software and hardware to using your computer’s built-in utilities. Let’s take a look at a few of these options.
Using Built-in Utilities
Both Mac OS X and Windows have built-in display calibration tools to help guide you through the process, step-by-step. Using free tools should be the first option if you’re an amateur or need to adhere to a tight budget. They are extremely handy, quick, and easy to locate on your operating system. Keep in mind the adjustments will be limited by the display type and model.
Familiarize yourself with the terminology (i.e. gamma, white point, etc.). Each utility provides a relatively simple explanation of what they all mean.
Before you begin…
1. Turn on your monitor at least a one half-hour before calibration so the monitor can warm up to its normal operating temperature and conditions.
2. Set your monitor’s resolution to its native, default screen resolution.
3. Make sure you’re calibrating in a room with moderate ambient lighting. The room doesn’t need to be pitch black, but you don’t want the sharp glares and color casts resulting from direct light.
4. Familiarize yourself with your monitor’s display controls. They may be located on the monitor itself, on the keyboard, or within the operating system control panel. (1)
Using Online Tools
Here are some of the more popular online tools to check out for the job:
Photo Friday’s monitor calibration tool is a webpage which helps you adjust the brightness and contrast of your screen.
The site is not updated but you can use the online screen calibration tools placed in three pages “Brightness and Contrast, Color Depth, and Screen Resolution.”
The site includes a series of test images that start from checking contrast to checking for response times of your monitor.
This website has a range of interactive tests to fix your screen colors and includes tablets and smartphones as well.(5)
There are a number of different companies that provide color calibrators. Here are two of the best.
- Spyder4 — tools include the Spyder 4 Express ($119 list), the Spyder 4 Pro ($169.99 list), and the Spyder 4 Elite ($249.99). Each uses a colorimeter and software to help you achieve consistent color across all of your monitors, and each has a specific feature set.
- Pantone ColorMonki — products include the ColorMunki Smile ($99 list) and the ColorMunki Display ($169 list). As with the Spyder series, these solutions include a colorimeter and software. X-Rite also offers a line of professional calibration tools for monitors, printers, and projectors, including the i!Photo Pro 2 ($1,549 list) and i!Publish Pro 2 ($2,098 list).
So is “calibrate monitor” on your to do list now? If not, you are missing an essential step in your photo processing workflow. If you are editing your images after you take them, and your monitor is not calibrated, then you are essentially wasting your time.