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ColorMunki Smile monitor calibrator review

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ColorMunki Smile monitor calibrator review

A monitor profiling and calibration package from X-rite, with the emphasis on ease of use.



Keith has recently been looking at the new ColorMunki Smile from X-Rite.

This entry level monitor calibrator places its emphasis on ease of use over refinement and absolute control over profiling setup.

Note that this is a completely different device from the more advanced ColorMunki Display (monitor calibrator) and more expensive ColorMunki spectrophotometer, which you can use to build ICC printer profiles, as well as profile monitors. 

xrite colormunki smile

The examples shown here are from testing on Apple Macs, but the software generally works in the same way on Windows machines.

Monitor profiling – why bother?

If you look at the image above, then how do you know that what you are seeing on your monitor accurately represents what’s in the picture file?

That may not matter too much if you only ever display your images on your own monitor, but what happens when it comes to making a print, or sending the image to someone else?

If your monitor makes everything a little green, then you may think it’s your photos that need a bit of colour adjustment, and tweak the colour.

It looks fine on your screen, but when you print it, everything comes out with a magenta tint.

You can buy the ColorMunki Smile at Amazon.com or B&H … or try at Adorama

Look at the sunset photo to the right.

rutland water sunset - test printThe range of tones from dark to light is an essential part of how this photo works as a large print.

The dark blues all contribute to the slightly cool feel (it was taken in January, and it was only a few degrees above freezing)

All of these things are affected in an unknown way if your monitor isn’t calibrated.

Getting it right – and why it matters

How can you expect predictable and consistent results from editing your images, when you’ve no idea if your monitor is displaying the right range of colours, whether what you see as white on the screen really is white, or if your monitor is making shadows look too dark

The software and measuring device you get with the Smile will measure the performance of a particular display (profile its behaviour) and you can be more confident that what you see, is what is in the actual photo.

Significant benefits should also be apparent if you want to print your images (either yourself, or via some third party).

There are many more articles on this site which go into a lot more detail about printing and colour management.

ColorMunki Smile

Colormunki smile colorimeter and packThe ‘Smile’ was launched by X-rite [Sept. 2012]to supplement their range of advanced and professional measuring and profiling equipment.

“Ideal for photo hobbyists, design enthusiasts, gamers and any other users looking for the easiest way to colour correct their computer monitors, ColorMunki Smile offers a simple and affordable option for beginner colour perfectionists.”

As I’ll show, the emphasis really is on ease of use, rather than any advanced control options.

I’ll discuss this further in the conclusions, but in testing it, I’ve tried to put aside the fact that I do rather a lot of colour management related work, and look at it fairly, from the point of view of its intended market.

What do you get

The device is USB powered and includes an adjustable counterweight on the lead, enabling it to hang in front of the screen that is being measured (the Smile also supports multiple monitor setups ).

The underside of the device has a soft felt surface, both to avoid marking your screen, and to ensure that stray light doesn’t affect the light and colour measurements it takes during the calibration process.

colormunki smile colorimeter

There are four holes underneath, where light enters from the screen (note the label calling the device a ‘ColorMunki Lite’)

colormunki smile sensors

Three of these show (with careful lighting) coloured filters, which allow the device to measure both display brightness and its colour.

These measurements are needed, since the calibration/profiling process relies on the software setting the display to a particular colour and then the device measuring just what light comes from the screen. The differences between expected and measured values are what are used to create the calibration profile for your screen.

Calibrating Monitors

The software is installed from the supplied CD – there is no requirement for licensing, although you can register the software from within the application. The software can be installed on any computer you own.

When you plug in the sensor and fire up the software, the screen just offers you one simple start button…

Here it is on my Apple PowerBook (which has an LED backlit screen).

one button to start calibration process

You need to place the sensor on the screen.

If you tilt the screen back a bit, the sensor will rest on the screen more evenly.

placing sensor on LCD screen

The screen then shows a number of coloured patches, which are measured by the Smile device.

display measurements taking place

Once finished, a profile is created. This is automatically placed in the appropriate place for your computer system.

Before and after calibration – move your mouse over the image below to see the ‘after profiling’ shot (the ‘native’ display setting of the MacBook Pro tends to be a bit on the blue/white side).

That’s it – your monitor is calibrated.

Multiple monitors

If you’ve a system with multiple displays, then this is detected at the start, and you have the opportunity to repeat profiling for another display.

multiple monitors need to be calibrated one after the other

After profiling, keep your measuring device in a drawer (or the box), out of the way of dust and light – this will maximise the useful life of the device and help ensure its ongoing accuracy.

Settings and options

In keeping with the ‘keep it simple’ aims, there are few setting you can adjust.

Re-profiling your monitor every week is a perhaps a little keen – once a month is much more reasonable (or if you think someone has altered your screen setup).

software calibration options

The software identified other screen types I tested as LED or CFL based (‘standard’) and I didn’t actually need to set this option.

If you access the help option, then a web page is opened up with more ColorMunki Smile information.

online help for the colormunki smile

That’s it – the product does one thing, and does it well…

Conclusions

colormunki smile - splash screenThis really is the easiest monitor calibrator I’ve ever used – nothing to set up and nothing to decide about calibration and profiling settings.

If you just want a better set up screen and confidence that your display is showing the correct colours, then that’s it. Plug it in, run the software and you’re done.

X-rite have realised that there is a considerable market for monitor calibrators amongst people who quite frankly couldn’t care less about gamma and white points – they just want better colour.

You want better colour – it just works…

Bright screens and print evaluation

Just one warning, if you are using the Smile and making your own prints.

If you have your monitor set too bright, then the tendency, when editing your pictures, is to make shadows darker to get a range of contrast that looks good. If you then print this, the darkened shadows get even darker, leading to the common ‘my prints are too dark‘ problem.

Profiling/calibration alone won’t fix this.

Suffice, to say, my own Apple display is set to about 35% of full brightness (I set my displays to a known brightness, but you need more advanced kit like the i1Display Pro for that).

Buying the ColorMunki Smile

We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying the ColorMunki Smile, or any other items at all, via our links with Amazon or B&H

 Order from B&H

Some details for the curious…

Of course, being someone with more than a hint of curiosity about such matters, I went and had a look inside the ICC monitor profiles created.

The profile is named after the display name with the suffix D65 added, suggesting that it’s using a D65 white point (often seen as 6500K, although technically D65 and 6500K are not quite the same thing). Opening the profile shows a gamma setting of 2.191 – close enough to the ‘standard’ of 2.2

Luminance values for your screen are neither set, nor displayed anywhere, so with multiple monitor setups, you’re going to have to balance screen brightnesses manually ‘by eye’ before you set out.

The sensor design looks very much like the old i1Display device, right down to the four sensor openings, three with coloured filters.

From X-Rite’s product information I note that profiles are produced by the same underlying process as with the ColorMunki Display and even i1Profiler software. The profiles generated were very similar to ones I’d produced when testing other modern X-Rite devices.

However, if you are concerned with precise whitepoints and luminance settings, then move on, this is not the calibrator you were looking for…

Note – Keith regularly tests beta versions of equipment and software for X-Rite and other manufacturers. Neither Keith or Northlight Images has any business connections with these companies. Our impartiality is important to us – see our review policy for more info.

Summary

Monitor calibrator with support for multiple monitor systems.

Uses ColorMunki Smile software for calibration and profile creation.

Manufacturer details: X-rite

Buy the ColorMunki Smile or ColorMunki Display at Amazon.com

Software requirements (at time of review)

Macintosh

  • MacOS X 10.6, 10.7, or 10.8 (with latest upgrades installed)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo CPU or better CPU
  • 500MB RAM
  • 500MB of available disk space
  • Powered USB port
  • Display resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels or higher
  • User must have Administrator rights to install and uninstall the application
  • Internet connection required for software update

Windows

  • Microsoft Windows XP 32 bit, Microsoft® Windows Vista 32 bit, or Microsoft Windows 7 32 or 64 bit. All operating systems should have latest Service Pack installed
  • Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2 or better CPU
  • 500MB RAM
  • 500MB of available disk space
  • Powered USB port
  • Display resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels or higher
  • User must have Administrator rights to install and uninstall the application
  • Internet connection required for software update
More colour management and printing related information

For information about printers, paper reviews and profiling (colour management) see the Printing section of the main printers and printing page, or use the search box at the top of any page. All colour management information is indexed on the main Colour Management page.

Some specific articles that may be of interest:  

  • Why don't my prints match my screen? A short article showing why there is more to getting your prints to match your screen, than just calibrating your monitor. It's the vital first step, but you do need to consider some other factors for best results.
  • Why are my prints too dark - some basic suggestions to this common problem.

 


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