Color Calibration

Don’t you hate it when the pictures you get back from your print service or from your printer just don’t look like what you saw on your screen?   Understanding color calibration still remains one of the most frequent questions we get.

Colors are very perceptually driven.  What you and I mean when we think of a red car may vary between the bright red of a Porsche and the wine red of a Dodge minivan.   Last year we talked about the difference in “color spaces”, as hopefully you will recall.   sRGB, AdobeRGB and ProPhoto RGB are all attempts to map the larger range of colors our eyes can see into electronic instructions our monitors and printers can display or reproduce.  We know that making sure your camera accurately records the colors depends on having your white balance correctly set in camera or by correcting it through the use of something like the xrite Passport, which Roger and I both use.  

When you are sitting in front of your monitor(s) looking at an image, there are a lot of factors which influence how it looks.  First, is the ambient light; if you are sitting in a brightly lit room it takes more power on your monitor to make the image stand out.  Ideally, you should work in a room with controlled and consistent light, and it should be fairly dim.   Second, you need to consider what color are your walls?  Seriously, the reflected light will influence the colors you see on your screen. Finally, we get to your monitor.  Hopefully by now you have upgraded to LED monitors.  They have much more even light and it provides much finer controls.  Additionally, they don’t require warm up time to settle in.  One of the first things you should do, is turn down the brightness level of your screens.  Remember, prints are seen in reflected light not in the backlight glory of electronics.  Next it is important to actually calibrate your monitors.  It’s important to do this regularly; I try and do it every two weeks.  Now the new very high end monitors come with built-in calibration sensors which automatically communicate with the controls.  Since I don’t have $3K hanging around for those kinds of monitors, I take a much more practical approach. 

Tools such as the Spyder line, range from monitor only, to monitor and printing devices.   The lens hangs over the screen and the software generates color commands. The sensor reads the screen and helps you adjust the monitors RGB values.    Lots of people ask about calibrating their laptop monitors.    In my opinion, it is almost a waste of time.  Laptop screens are far less accurate just because of the additional stresses inherent in their design.  First, your color perception depends on viewing angle, second screen brightness is subject to power stability and often is impacted by how much power the computer is using elsewhere in the system.  Next week we will discuss Part 2 of this topic; calibrating your printing devices or the digital equivalent if you send your images out for printing.