Color Management by X-Rite | Why Calibrate and Profile a Monitor?
by Brenda K. Hipsher – May 23rd, 2011
Seriously… why do we need to go to all the time, trouble and expense of profiling our computer monitor? When I’m out in the field people consistently say to me, “My prints don’t match my monitor.” The first question I ask is, “What device and software are you using to calibrate and profile your monitor?” And about 99% of the time the response is the same, “Oh it’s not my monitor! My monitor looks FINE!” I smile.
So let’s talk a little bit about why we need to do this at all. Often you will hear the terms “calibrate” and “profile” used together and sometimes used interchangeably. So let’s talk about these terms first. Calibrate generally means to put your hardware into a condition that is optimal and will give your device and software combination the very best opportunity to make the largest gamut profile possible. Calibration might include things like:
- Setting your white point in the menu of the monitor
- Adjusting your contrast
- Modifying your brightness or luminance
- Perhaps even putting the monitor into a mode that will allow for a larger color space to be utilized by the internal circuitry of the equipment.
Calibration usually involves changing something inside your monitor to calibrate it to some group of data. Most often you’ll find photographers using settings like D65 or 6500K for the white point, 2.2 gamma, and somewhere between 80-120 luminance. I have seen monitors come out of the box set to 9300K and with luminance outputs of up to 380! That setting on a monitor is going to produce some seriously dark and yellow prints if we start there. Even the highest end wide gamut monitors need to be profiled regularly as they will drift over time. So either way calibrating and profiling our monitors is essential.
Again calibration usually involves changing things on or in the monitor itself. Whether these changes are made manually or are initiated from a software program, calibration involves putting the hardware into a state that is optimum for producing the largest color space possible in the finished profile.
Profiling is done using a software program that produces colors that are shown on a monitor. A hardware device, either a colorimeter or a spectrophotometer, measures the output of the monitor for each color displayed. The software program then constructs a profile, a text file of data, that allows the monitor to display colors more accurately. When the profile is in use by the operating system that is driving the graphics card to which the monitor is attached the color reproduction on the monitor will, theoretically, be the very best it can be for that particular monitor.
So why can’t we do this with our eyes? Well eyes are designed to be adaptable and quite literally we actually “see what we want to see.” When viewing a photograph on an LCD display our eyes will literally shift color so that our brains are happier about what we see! If we look at a blue monitor all day our eyes will slowly but surely correct out the blue! Try putting on a pair of yellow tinted sunglasses outside. At first we can see the yellow. But slowly our eyes adjust and correct out the yellow. When we’ve had the glasses on for a few minutes the scene begins to lose the yellow hue and looks more natural. BUT…. when we quickly remove the glasses … everything will suddenly appear BLUE! This is what happens when we try to use our eyes to correct our monitor. Our eyes shift as we’re trying to accomplish the task.
It’s worth mentioning that strong colors on the walls of the room you’re doing critical color correction can also affect your color vision. And it’s important to view your prints in wide spectrum daylight balanced light sources for optimum results.
Obviously calibrating and profiling our monitors is only half the equation for monitor to print matching but it’s definitely the place to start with a color managed workflow. No matter how perfect our workflow is for printing we will never get reliable, repeatable, results if we don’t calibrate and profile our monitor first!
For more information on options for calibrating and profiling monitors for photographers visit www.xritephoto.com. You can find more indepth information in this publication which is available to view online or download as a PDF.