Monitor Color Calibration

Monitor Color Calibration Test Image

Monitor Color Calibration Test ImageAre you graphics industry professional looking for professional advice on calibrating your computer’s monitor color display? Look elsewhere my friend. This article was written for amateurs by an amateur.

But My Monitor Looks Fine!

There are many reasons to ensure that your monitor is color calibrated. This article certainly does not aim to achieve calibration accuracy desired by professionals in the graphics design and print industry, but achieving some sane level of color accuracy is critical too.

Here’s why:

  • Use your computer for long duration without straining your eyes and tiring your brains.
  • View the web in colors that were intended.
  • View images sent by friends in the way they saw them while shooting.
  • Adjust colors of your images and send to your friends knowing that they will appear natural and not excessively corrected.
  • Get your images printed on photography paper, photocopy paper, inkjet paper, even magazines and newspapers knowing fully well that the final print will features colors that you have come to expect. No nasty surprises.

1. Setup Baseline Calibration


For starters, we have to ensure that your monitor’s baseline colors are balanced. Most monitors meant for home and office use are preset to color levels that are near luminous. With the slightest of adjustments, these become nearly fluorescent in appearance.

  • A baseline calibration will ensure that your monitor is:
  • Displaying the color spectrum correctly
  • Has optimal Black and White definition
  • Has smooth transition from Black -> Gray -> White
  • Has near zero banding effect (like vertical color strips) when the shades change in the spectrum

To calibrate your monitor, you will need a software that will display colors on the monitor in a test pattern.

Adjust Gamma:

To correct for gamma error in your monitor display, download QuickGamma (Windows, Freeware).

QuickGamma will let you achieve the all important black-point and white-point levels. To use, simply fire-up QuickGamma after installation. Now adjust the brightness and contrast of your monitor using the monitor buttons so that the display appears as instructed.

Once Black and White levels have been achieved, you can tweak individual color gamma levels by the software too.

Tweak Colors:

Though only gamma correction is considered enough, I suggest that you also download and install Monitor Test Screens (Windows, Freeware). Monitor Test Screens displays different color test patterns. With these you can determine if you have geometry issues, dead pixel/stuck pixels, backlight issues or if your monitor’s color/brightness/contrast settings need further tweaking.

On an ideal monitor, black should be pitch black (not dark shade of gray) and white should be milky white (not fluorescent). The gradient from black to white should be smooth and balanced. You should be seeing lots of gray shades and black or white should not appear for large portions of the edges. The colors too should be evenly separated out and vibrant but not fluorescent.

Note that most display drivers these days come with similar color-correction options. nVidia’s display driver offers a Monitor Optimization Tool that is very easy to use. ATI and Intel too offer color calibration options. Ideally, I would like you to explore these in-built options instead of using 3rd party tools.

If your image sharing/viewing work is limited to computer monitors only, you can now relax knowing that your monitor is now baseline calibrated.


2. Obtain Control Sample


If like me, you too occasionally dabble in printed media and see your work printed in magazines or photo-paper etc., you will have to proceed with the following steps.

Unlike a monitor (transmissive medium), printed media (reflective) features a vastly reduced number (gamut) of colors that can be displayed. On a monitor or a backlit panel, the white light is produced by the backlighting source – LED, CFL, Tubelight, Electron Gun etc. As a result, the white light is high intensity and quite pure. In print however, white is the combination of the color of the paper on which the image is printed and the ambient light shining on the paper. Paper no matter how white, will always appear a light shade of gray when compared to the white of the monitor. Similar behavior is observed in all colors (after all white is the combination of all three primary colors). The net result is that colors on a printed medium always appear a lot darker and duller than On-screen.

If you have printed your digital photos on photo-paper and lamented about the loss in intensity of the colors, you are not alone. If fact, if your image were to be printed on art-paper (used in magazines and books) or newsprint (used in newspaper and pamphlets), the color rendition would be a lot worse.

Since we cannot change the way the colors appear on the paper, it is better to tweak the monitor to display colors in a lot more dark and muted form. This way, our expectations at the time of design will match the print-out.

Create a color image on your computer that contains blocks of colors such as Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black. Include other colors such as Orange and various shades of gray. You can use a software like to create such an image. Make sure that you create the image for printing at 300 dpi (a 6″x4″ image should have dimensions of  1800 x 1200 pixels) and save it as a TIFF file.
For convenience you can also print various color charts that are available on the net (for ex: Visibone).

Remember to print on the media you are likely to use for your print jobs. For ex: if you frequently print photos on photo-paper using a service such as Snapfish, then get the color chart printed at SnapFish. If you print images at a Color Photocopy center, then ask them to print the image on their regular paper.

In my case, my images get printed in magazines. This presented a unique problem – I could hardly ask the printing press to print a single sheet of reference colors for my convenience.

I solved this by:

  • Achieving the best Baseline Color Calibration I could
  • Borrow a Pantone Color Matching book from a friend and compare the basic colors (R G B C M Y K) from the book with my monitor
  • Take a good look at the magazine where my image would be printed and guesstimate the color corrections that will be required

Now that you have a printed sample of a image file on your computer, you are ready to proceed to the next step.


3. I Took The Red Pill


If you have come so far, you have taken the red pill. Welcome to the real world. You will be shocked at what you see, but at-least you will be free (of color rendition worries).
Hold up the printed sample of your image beside your computer monitor and view the images side by side to spot how much difference has crept in the brightness, intensity and vibrancy of the colors. Now comes the tough part of configuring your monitor to ape the printed image.

In general, with desktop monitors, you can tweak the monitor settings such as Brightness, Contrast, Color Temperature, Red Green and Blue levels to tone down the colors on your monitor to come close to the printed sample. Do not attempt to achieve a 100% match, since the monitor will become so dark that you will have problem using it for day to day applications and you will get eye-strain trying to make out the Black color of the Window menu options against the Gray background they are generally printed on.

If you can achieve a near match and arrive at a mental image of how much dimming you need to apply to see the visualize the computer image in printed form, you have achieved your goal. In my case, I need to mentally imagine the printed image as being 15% duller and darker than it appears on my monitor. Mind you, this is specific to one printer (Kalajyoti Press who print the You&I Magazine). The figure is slightly different for another printer (only 10% dark+dull for Pragati Printers who print the Wow Hyderabad Magazine).

Tweaking LCD monitors of Laptops presents a whole new problem. Since the LCD panels do not have dedicated control buttons for setting colors, we must do it in display drivers. Fortunately, display drivers of most graphics cards from nVidia / ATI / Intel feature the ‘Color Adjustment’ panel. In my case, the Laptop’s LCD panel tended to display more blue than red. Hence I adjust the curves of only these colors.

Tweaking the color settings of the Display Driver’s Color Adjustment tab is not easy. It takes a lot of practice and it is frustratingly long. On the the plus side though, it is in software so you can always simple press ‘Restore Defaults’ and start over. My advice is to make small corrections to the parameters one at a time and eventually arrive at the perfect setting. Making large corrections tends to have a cascading effect and you will quickly find the image colors getting out of hand rather than in control.

Professional Solutions for Monitor Color Calibration

  • Datacolor DC S3X100 Spyder 3 Express: [amazonproduct=B0037255LC]
  • Datacolor DC S3P100 Spyder 3 Pro: [amazonproduct=B0037258L4]
  • Datacolor DC S3EL100 Spyder 3 Elite: [amazonproduct=B00372561Q]
  • X-Rite ColorChecker Passport: [amazonproduct=B002NU5UW8]
  • X-Rite Eye-One Display LT: [amazonproduct=B000CR78CE]
  • X-Rite i1Display 2 Color Calibrator: [amazonproduct=B000JLO31M]
  • X-Rite Eye-One Display LT: [amazonproduct=B000CR78CE]
  • Pantone huey MEU101: [amazonproduct=B000CR78C4]
  • Pantone huey Pro MEU113: [amazonproduct=B000OFC1YY]
  • Xrite ColorMunki Photo – Monitor, Printer & Projector Profiler: [amazonproduct=B00169N0BK]

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