Have you noticed that the colors in your images appear different on your computer and other devices? That the print looks nothing like what you expected it to? Or perhaps you’ve had someone point out that the colors in your images are off, despite looking great on your own screen?
This is a common problem that most photographers have faced more than once. Luckily, the solution isn’t too complicated: calibrate your monitor.
The reality is that your monitor needs to be calibrated regularly. Failing to do so means that you’re most likely not seeing colors correctly on your screen, which may cause issues with how images look on other devices or when printed.
Trust me, there’s nothing worse than spending hours working on an image just to realize that the colors are completely off when getting it back from the printshop.
Calibrating your monitor is important even if you don’t have any intentions to print your images; the image you’re viewing on your computer might look completely different than what your friends and followers see on their device.
Let’s take a closer look at what it means to calibrate your monitor and how you go forward with doing it, so that you can avoid making the same mistakes that I’ve made.
What Does it Mean to Calibrate a Monitor and Why Should You?
We now know that it’s important to calibrate a monitor in order to make sure you’re always seeing colors correctly displayed but what exactly does it mean?
Simply put, calibrating a monitor means that the colors are adjusted to fit with the general standards. This is done by using a spectrometer (which we’ll come back to in a minute).
It’s not enough to calibrate the monitor only once, though. The colors displayed on your screen may slightly change over time and their brightness may decrease. This shift in colors and brightness can become drastic if calibration is ignored for too long, especially for older monitors.
A good indicator that your monitor needs calibrating is that your images have an overall color cast, appear washed out or flat when viewed on a different device. Just because they look good on your uncalibrated monitor, doesn’t mean they look great for others.
This brings us to why you need to calibrate your monitor: it ensures that the image’s colors are balanced and consistent with the common standard. In other words, the colors are correct when viewed on various devices and when printed.
Luckily, it’s a fairly easy process.
How to Calibrate a Monitor
While there are a few different ways to calibrate a monitor, the most accurate method is to use a spectrometer. This device hangs on the screen and, with the additional use of computer software, it measures colors, brightness, contrast and gamma, before creating and saving an ICC (International Color Consortium) profile based on the measured values.
There are several high-quality spectrometers out there but I strongly recommend the DataColor Spyder X Pro. I’ve been using different models of the Spyder for several years and am extremely satisfied with it.
The calibration process only takes a few minutes and, for those who aren’t very tech-savvy, the program takes you through it step-by-step. Let’s take a closer look at what each of them are:
- Let the monitor warm up for at least 20-30 minutes before beginning and make sure there isn’t any direct light (daylight or ambient light) on it.
- Connect the spectrometer (in this case Spyder X Pro) to your computer via the USB port and place it over the top of your screen
- Follow the on-screen instructions from the software and wait for it to finish
You’ll see several different grayscales and colors appear on the screen during the process. The spectrometer records these and uses the data to build an ICC profile that’s saved to the computer. For most computers, the profile is automatically updated and set as the standard. It’s perfectly possible to change a display’s active profile at any time by going into your computer settings.
Remember to calibrate your monitor at a regularl basis. Most calibration software sends a frequent reminder and I suggest that you do it every 3-6 weeks. Older monitors might need to be calibrated even more frequently.
Note that each monitor uses a different ICC profile, which means you need to calibrate each specific device or monitor (for example both the laptop and the external monitor).
What is an ICC Profile?
While it’s not a must-know piece of information in order to calibrate a monitor, it could come in handy to know what an ICC (International Color Consortium) Profile is.
Shortly put, it’s a file that describes how a particular device displays color. You can think of it as a devices’ color space or a profile that most accurately displays the range of colors a device can produce.
ICC profiles can either be generic or custom. This means that you can choose between an abundance of generic ICC profiles (found in your computer settings or online) or create one your own. There are some good generic alternatives but creating a custom profile through calibrating the monitor gives a much better result.
The Importance of Understanding Color Spaces
Regularly calibrating your monitor is essential in order to create prints that accurately represents what you see on your monitor. However, there’s still a chance that the colors look wrong. The most likely reason is that your images are saved and/or printed in the wrong color space.
A color space is, simply put, the range of colors that can be produces in an image. The most common ones are sRGB, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB.
Recommended Reading: What are Color Spaces in Photography?
You might not know that there’s a huge difference between them, which is why printing or editing in the wrong color space can make the colors look off when viewed on a different medium, even when calibrating the monitor! Just take the two image below as an example, the first is the saved sRGB file and in the second it’s converted to ProPhoto RGB; the difference is alarming.
Make sure that you familiarise yourself with the different color spaces so that you know which one to use.
Monitor calibration is an important part of the digital photography workflow but, unfortunately, it’s often overlooked. It goes without saying that this can cause a lot of frustration as failing to do so greatly affects the image quality.
The non-photographers who view your work might not have calibrated monitors. In the perfect world, all monitors would be perfectly calibrated so that the images would look the same on every screen. This sadly isn’t the case (yet).
However, calibrating your monitor is even more important for the print outcome. You don’t want your blue photo to look pink when printed, right?
To sum it all up, working on an uncalibrated monitor means you’re working blind and have minimal control over the finished product.