Featured Expert: Mike Pach

The Importance of Monitor Calibration

by Mike Pach

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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.

6 thoughts on “Featured Expert: Mike Pach

  1. MikeT says:

    MIke –

    Amateur question here – why do I get different results from the local printing kiosk at the drug / copy stores (saturated & bright images – similar to the camera display and computer) than when I send the same unaltered images to a distant print shop (more subdued / less bright) for larger sizes?

    I have a Canon S100 – I know it’s a little over saturated and bright – but I’m basically a consumer who is spending a lot of time taking pictures, and not a lot of time working with images on the computer (and would like to print a few ‘best of the best’ annually).

    Thank you for you thoughts and advice!

    Mike T in VA

    • Mike Pach says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for asking such a great question.

      The differences that your seeing can be attributed to many factors. First off the kiosk and the print shop are using different printers, inks and papers, which can give you varied results. It is highly probable that the kiosk printers are not calibrated to the same standards as high-quality machines of the print shop.

      Do you calibrate your monitor? A very common problem most people encounter is that their prints come out too dark because their monitors are too bright. From your description of your prints from the print shop, it seems you may be encountering the same issue.

      When you print at a kiosk or send your files to the print shop are you applying or paying extra for any type of color correction?

      How are your prints looking off your Canon printer? Making prints from an inkjet printer requires either the use of profiles from the paper manufacturer or the ability to create your own for best results.

      • MikeT says:

        Mike –

        I don’t really print at home (but have the capability) because of the trouble of paper and ink – and getting good results consistently (without really diving into the printing process – and ‘mastering’ that too). I started going to the local copy shop, with a kiosk in the lobby, and get results which are visually similar (bright and saturated) to my monitor and camera.

        I actually sent my 5 photos to DPI, and had them printed as-is (settings wise). I then compared the prints to the appearance on my monitor – and reset my display (I use an LG lcd hd tv for a ‘monitor’) to appear similar to the prints. Setting the display up for the best overall average of the 5 prints took about 35 minutes. This setup might work, but I can’t use these settings for everyday use because the display is so dark and flat looking.

        I looked into the calibration tools mentioned in your original blog – but they’re a little on the high side from a cost perspective.

        Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions,

        MikeT

  2. Kari Espeland says:

    Hi Mike,

    I had been under the impression that you calibrate your monitor to whatever settings your printer uses. For example, if I plan to use ProDPI for all of my printing, which I do, then I should match my settings to theirs. Is this not correct? From your info it sounds like I need to calibrate my computer with itself instead.

    Also, I am currently using a 17″ Macbook. Is it correct that it would be highly recommended that I use a monitor, not a laptop, for better photo editing?

    Thanks!

    Kari

    • Mike Pach says:

      Hi Kari,

      Thanks for your questions.

      Calibrating a monitor and applying a profile to your files for printing are two different things. Calibrating allows your monitor to reproduce colors as accurately as possible. Applying a profile to your file is part of what’s called Soft Proofing, which allows you to see the image on your screen as it would appear on a paper your or your lab is printing. If ProDPI gave you a profile to use, then you would apply it to any files you’re sending to them for print and save that version separately from other versions.

      I recommend that you search for some tutorials on soft proofing. I recently did a workshop on the subject with my photography group. You can check out the links below, which are worth viewing:

      http://xritephoto.com/ph_learning.aspx?action=webinars&eventid=1639&eventdateid=5676
      http://xritephoto.com/ph_learning.aspx?action=webinarsarchive&eventid=1641&eventdateid=5678
      http://xritephoto.com/ph_learning.aspx?action=webinarsarchive&eventid=1640&eventdateid=5677

      It is recommended that you use an external monitor for editing if you are using a laptop, even a Macbook. The main reason is that laptop screens generally have smaller color gamuts than desktop monitors. In other words, they produce less colors. A good desktop monitor will have more consistent color and luminosity across the entire screen. Also, it’s very easy to change the contrast of a laptop screen by just moving it slightly.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you have other questions.

      Mike

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