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ColorMunki Smile 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.
This review complements the many others Keith has written covering profiling systems - there are links to these at the end of this article.
The examples shown here are from testing on Apple Macs, but the software generally works in the same way on Windows machines.
If you look at the image to the right, 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.
Look at the sunset photo to the right.
The 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.
The 'Smile' was launched by X-rite [Sept. 2012] to supplement their range of advanced and professional measuring and profiling equipment.
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.
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.
There are four holes underneath, where light enters from the screen (note the label calling the device a 'ColorMunki Lite')
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.
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).
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.
The screen then shows a number of coloured patches, which are measured by the Smile device.
Once finished, a profile is created. This is automatically placed in the appropriate place for your computer system.
That's it - your monitor is calibrated.
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.
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).
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.
That's it - the product does one thing, and does it well...
This 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
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 ;-)
If you've any questions or comments - please let us know, or leave a comment on our blog
Monitor calibrator with support for multiple monitor systems.
Uses ColorMunki Smile software for calibration and profile creation.
Manufacturer details: X-rite
The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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