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Better colour on your monitor

  |   Article, Articles and reviews, Colour management, Datacolor, Monitor calibration, Northlight Blog, X-Rite   |   No comment

Better colour on your monitor

Why simple monitor calibration tools are important if colour matters

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Does accurate colour matter to your hobby or business?

Keith has tested a lot of precision colour management equipment and high quality monitors over the years, and it’s easy to think that you have to pay a fortune for accurate colour.

Well, there are a number of simple and basic tools that will quickly improve the accuracy of your monitor and laptops.

They won’t break the bank and should give you more confidence that what you see is what others will see.

Soft proofing a print that is not too dark
Spyder5 Express
B&H | Adorama | | Amazon UK
ColorMunki Smile
B&H | Adorama | | Amazon UK

Why bother about colour on your monitor

yellow fieldsIf you look at the image to the right, 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 viewing the image on the web?

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 or upload to your web site, everything comes out with a magenta tint.

Whilst you can’t allow for web site visitors with awful screens, you can at least do your bit to ensure it’s not your fault that colour tint is there.

What about white?

Look a the white of this page. Look around for objects that you know are white.

If you are indoors, then how a piece of ‘white’ paper looks depends on the lighting you have. If you’ve different lighting in different parts of your house (such as fluorescent) then take a white object round with you and see if it still looks white. Try outside in daylight.

A white object is white because of the source of light that illuminates it has a certain mix of colours, which are reflected from it.

This mix can vary quite a bit – think of the difference between candle light and the light I see coming in through a north facing window at noon on a sunny day.

Our visual system is incredibly flexible in the way that different types of light are interpreted. In many ways, it’s this adaptability that allows us to happily use rather poorly adjusted monitors, without noticing any problems.

The problem is that as we saw earlier, I don’t know exactly what each colour really is, for my screen, or yours.

Just because the computer sends ‘white’ to the screen, doesn’t tell us the actual colour of the light that the screen emits.

So, I’ve no way of knowing whether the white on my screen has a colour cast, or what sort of white it best matches.

Ways round the problem

xrite colormunki smileAs mentioned, I’ve a lot of reviews of equipment and software that help address the problems I’ve outlined, but a lot of people have asked me what’s the simplest way of getting better results.

With apologies to some experts I know, I’m going to say that a simple colour calibrator is likely all you need.

The two I currently suggest are the ColorMunki Smile and the Spyder5Express.

Both come with very simple software (Mac and PC). They are USB devices that you plug into your computer, run the software and then put back in the box.

I’d suggest you repeat the process every few months or if you think someone has changed your monitor settings.

I’ve much longer reviews of the X-Rite ColorMunki Smile and the Datacolor Spyder 5 if you want to know more.

The Spyder 5 comes in three versions – the basic model is the ‘Express’

There is a chart in the Spyder review covering the differences, but I’m going to say that if the differences don’t mean much to you, take it as a big hint that the cheaper model will suffice.

More if you need it?

As you’d expect, this sort of stuff can get a lot more complex and expensive, and if accurate colour is a critical element of your business, then I’d suggest looking at more of my ‘in depth’ articles, since this is stuff you really should be aware of.

There is a school of thought amongst some colour management experts, especially those selling equipment, that you need to spend a lot of money on precision monitors and calibration equipment to make it worthwhile.

I disagree and think that the kinds of improvement offered by the sorts of kit I mentioned earlier can make a real difference, at a fraction of the cost.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the more expensive stuff can make a worthwhile difference, but you do need to know why and of what value it is to you.

As a photographer I don’t need the kind of super advanced kit you’d use in some industries, so I use good monitors such as the BenQ 2700 and BenQ SW320 that don’t come with features and certification that is of no use to me.

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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 articles and reviews are indexed on the main Colour Management page - please do let Keith know if you've any questions, either via the comments or just email us?

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.

Articles below by Keith (Google's picks for matching this page)


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