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Monitor Calibration

color monitor

You have probably noticed when shopping for a TV that the colors displayed vary somewhat dramatically from one model to another. Although part of the disparity is due to the quality of the individual make and model numbers, much of the difference is also due to variations in the manufacturer's factory calibration settings.

In the same manner, each computer monitor will display an image somewhat differently right out of the box. Although buying a quality monitor up-front is an important consideration, nearly any monitor has room for improvement if color accuracy is important in it's use.

inspect graphic

Without calibration, you can't trust a display for accuracy. Making adjustment to images in Photoshop is risky, and could actually damage a picture that may have been better before your started.


Monitor Calibration Methods

There are three ways to improve the accuracy of your monitor calibration, with a cost range from absolutely free to somewhat expensive. Which one you choose depends on your level of need for monitor accuracy. It takes just a few minutes to make basic calibration adjustments. If you're a graphic designer, it's imperative that you calibrate your monitor as a part of your professional work environment.

Note: Many computer monitors come from the factory preset for an office working environment which may not be ideal for viewing and editing photographic images. For color accuracy and consistency work in a darkened environment.


Basic Calibration   ·   Software Calibration   ·   Hardware Calibration

— Case Study —

A client called one day with a problem. In an attempt to bring all graphic design in-house, her employer had recently purchased design software and put her in charge of marketing material design. While working on the first project she had chosen a royal blue color which pleased her. Upon printing out the document on their desktop printer she noticed that something was amiss: the carefully chosen royal blue color printed out as purple!

She called asking “How do I know which color is right – my monitor or my printer?”
My reply, “probably neither one,” was not what she expected. To achieve that kind of paired accuracy requires color management. Each device, the monitor and the printer, would need to be calibrated and using the same ICC profile to match each other fairly accurately.

After providing her with a PMS color chart (so she could quickly pick an ink color that she could trust as accurate) we discussed the necessity of color calibration for more accurate color results.


Basic Monitor Calibration

Here are a few quick preliminary tests to help diagnose the current status of your monitor's calibration. Please avoid making any adjustments until you have read the entire webpage.


Brightness and Contrast Adjustment

grayscale chart 2

Brightness and Contrast Calibration - a rudimentary calibration to your monitor is made by simply adjusting the brightness and contrast settings with the aid of a grayscale chart. In this chart above, do you see a subtle difference between 0 and 10? — how about 95 and 100? (NOTE: they should appear totally grey, with no color in them at all). You can download a larger chart by clicking here, from PhotoFriday.com.


Gamma Adjustment

gamma chart

Gamma Calibration - As you stand back from your monitor, the lines surrounding the middle square should blend with the square. If the middle square is darker or lighter than the background you need to calibrate your monitor's gamma. Although most monitors work fine with the contrast set at 100%, you may find this too bright, or that the highlights are blocked; decrease contrast and recalibrate the black point.


Calibrating your Monitor with Software

Software calibration - a better method to calibrate your monitor involves the use of calibration software. Before performing any adjustments, check your computer's operating system and/or your monitor installation CD for a built-in calibration dialog to help you make proper adjustments. Some PC's running Windows come with Display Color Calibration, Mac computers have ColorSync.

There are also numerous 3rd-party software programs available as well. QuickGamma is free software based on Norman Koren's gamma and black level chart.



Hardware Calibration

ColorVision Spy

If color accuracy is vital to your profession you need to invest a little money. Specialized software can be used in conjunction with a colorimeter (a device that reads the actual color values produced by your monitor) to obtain dependable calibration. Pricing starts from around $100 to several hundred dollars.

Room lighting also needs attention. For precise color image editing, the best work space is a darkened room where the overall illumination is lower than the brightness output of the computer monitor.


Monitor calibration is the first (and most important) step in complete Color Management. Color Management is calibrating and controlling color accuracy between various devices, such as monitors, scanners and printers. Whether you are color correcting a photo to get a print made, or preparing artwork for a printing company or website, test and correct your monitor calibration if you want predictable results. For more information see Norman Koren's website, containing extensive information on color management.




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