The Importance of Monitor Calibration
by Mike Pach
In all of my years of experience with digital photography, I find that many photographers dismiss the importance color management and do not calibrate their monitors. They either think that it isn’t necessary, or they find it so confusing that they ignore it out of pure frustration. If you are working with digital files either for screen viewing or printing, monitor calibration is a fundamental key to your success. You are essentially wasting your time if you’re making edits on a system that isn’t calibrated because your display isn’t showing you a true representation of the colors in your files.
Some of you might be thinking that I’m just trying to sell you something you don’t need or you’re irritated because after spending a huge amount of money on your camera and computer systems, the last thing you want to do is buy something else. Many people think they can “calibrate” with their own eyes, but that simply does not work because you are simply guessing at what the right colors should be, and your eyes can easily be fooled.
So why is monitor calibration necessary? Let me start by asking some other questions. How many of you have printed images on your own printer or sent them to a lab, and they ended up being too dark or your shadow and highlight areas were muddy or blown out? How many of you have printed images yourself or through a lab and the colors weren’t even close to those shown on your screen? My guess is that every one of you answered yes to these questions because you’re experienced these things at one point or are continually having problems. The solution to these issues is calibration.
Every device that outputs color, such as cameras, printers and monitors produces colors that are slightly different. Even if you compared two monitors that were the same model from the same manufacturer, their color output would not be the same.
Calibration devices such as the X-Rite ColorMunki Display, the X-Rite i1Display Pro and the Datacolor Spyder colorimeters are very effective at correcting your monitor’s output. Their software generates a series of colors of known values on your screen while the colorimeter measures the difference between the known values and the values the monitor is producing. The software then creates what’s known as a “profile” that gets assigned to the monitor through your computer’s operating system. The profile adjusts the color based on the calculation of the differences between the known and measured values. The colorimeters also measure the monitor’s luminosity so brightness and contrast can be optimized. Many monitors come from the factory with the brightness set to high, which is the main reason for producing dark prints.
You may then ask why you need to purchase calibration equipment instead of just renting or borrowing something and using it just once. Just like us, electronic components change over time, and as they change, so does the way they output color. Regular calibration of a device such as your monitor is recommended once every 4 weeks to maintain consistent color.
The calibration process is very simple and only takes a few minutes. If you’re hesitant to make an investment in color management equipment of any kind, consider these questions. How much is your time worth? How much money are you wasting on printing services or papers and inks because you’re unhappy with the results? How valuable is it to you to reduce the stress and frustration from the trial and error of guessing whether or not your color is correct? A calibration device will easily pay for itself quickly with the savings in time, money and frustration. Practicing proper color management techniques takes the guesswork out of your workflow and results in a much more productive and happier you.