Digital Printing Guide: Monitor Calibration
by Sandra Kehoe – January 18th, 2017
Profile Your Monitor
If you want to display your images accurately, and make sophisticated decisions about how they will look, you need to calibrate your monitor. The ICC profile created by monitor calibration will help your monitor display colors better but it won’t change them – that’s what image editing software does. Without monitor calibration (accurately seeing your files) how would you know what to change or how to change it? Monitor calibration is a must. It’s easy. You need a device to do it well.
Colorimeters don’t have favorite and least favorite colors, don’t have color deficiencies, don’t get fatigued, don’t drink caffeine or eat sugar, don’t change over time or adapt to their environments, and don’t have emotions. You do. All of these can affect your perception of color at one time or another. Colorimeters are in a stable state. You’re not. So when it comes to making sure that your monitor displays color as accurately as possible, use a colorimeter.
You don’t need a colorimeter if you have a spectrophotometer. Unlike a colorimeter, a spectrophotometer has it’s own light source that can be used to make monitor, projector, or printer profiles. Spectrophotometers do more and cost more.
Calibrating and characterizing your monitor is a simple process. Use the profiling device and software of your choice. I personally use X-Rite color management solutions – the i1 Display Pro, ColorMunki, or i1Photo Pro (Spectrophotometer)
Set Gamma and White Point
Using your color management hardware’s software, specify a Gamma 2.2 and a white point of D-65. These are the defaults for most monitor calibrations software today. The gamma is specified based on the operating system of your computer, now the same for both Mac and PC, not the gamma of your editing space, monitor, or output device. The white point is specified to simulate a clean white, neither too blue and bright nor too yellow and dull. While the industry standard for building ICC printer profiles and viewing prints is D-50 or 5000K, if you specify this setting during monitor calibration, more often than not, your whites will appear to dull and yellow. This is due to limitations in monitor technology; their white points are well above 7500K, so when you simulate a white point lower than 6500K the monitor’s response starts to physically fail. A white point of D-65 is a simulation that generates a standard preferred appearance – or a good clean white.
Set The Brightness Of Your Monitor
The calibration software you use should help you confirm that you have set the brightness to a target range between 90 and 100 lumens. If your monitor is brighter than this target range, it will be more difficult to predict what your image will look like on other devices and it’s likely your prints will appear too dark. If your monitor is darker than this target range, your whites will appear too dull and you may not see subtle shadow detail that exists in your files.
Measure Your Monitor’s Color Space & Build The Profile
Once you’ve set, Gamma, White Point and brightness, all you have to do is click go and let the software do the rest. After measuring your monitor’s color capacity, your color management software will generate an ICC profile that maps it. When you save the results, make sure the title for the resulting ICC profile contains the date. This profile will be loaded automatically whenever you restart your computer, until you build a new one. Repeat this process once a month.
Confirm Monitor Calibration
After calibration, view both synthetic test files and real world images. (You can find many on my website.) If neutral gradients contain color casts or crosses, repeat the process.
Repeat this process monthly or when lighting conditions change substantially.
One of the advantages of calibrating your monitors to a device neutral standard is that when properly calibrated, all monitors, old or new, should generate very similar if not identical appearances with the same files. You will not have to adjust your files when you look at them on other monitors – someone else’s or when you replace your old monitor.
All monitors are not created equally. Smart monitors cost more and offer more saturated color (wider gamut Adobe 1998 instead of sRGB) and the ability to set brightness more precisely. (I use NEC’s PA272W.)
The value of the time and money invested in a good monitor and in calibrating and characterizing any monitor simply can’t be over stated. Once you’ve made this investment, you’ll reap countless dividends. And, you’ll get more enjoyment out of the process and your images.