Unless your monitor is calibrated to show colors and tonal values accurately, an image viewed on your computer is likely to look radically different from the same image viewed on your neighbor's computer. What looks light purple on your screen may really be dark blue. Printers use the actual data within the image rather than the screen appearance when reproducing color. So, even though the image may appear great on your un-calibrated monitor, the resulting print may be far different than anticipated. While it is possible to create prints that look perfect without calibrating your monitor, more trial and error is involved, and that can become costly and frustrating.
Out of the box, monitors tend to be set overly bright with a bias toward blue. This is why the most common question about prints is; “Why are my prints too dark?” Of course, if you are editing your images on a monitor that is displaying your image too bright, the resulting print will look too dark.
If you take the time to calibrate your monitor, then you can safely color correct and edit your images based on their screen appearance. This will also allow you to outsource your work to a fine art printer and receive prints that match your expectations.
Obviously, this raises the question, “How do I calibrate my monitor?” It is really quite simple. With the right monitor calibration kit, the process can be completed in less than 15 minutes. A monitor calibration kit includes software and a hardware device that measures the color and brightness that your monitor produces. Basically, you set the measurement device on your monitor and the software displays a series of color swatches on the screen which the device records. In this way, the program determines the range of colors and brightness that the monitor is capable of reproducing. Most kits will set the color and brightness to commonly used values. Once your monitor is calibrated, you can edit your images with confidence!
To better understand the choices available on the market, we recently conducted a thorough user review of several monitor calibration packages. After working extensively with the Datacolor Spyder4 Express, the Datacolor Spyder4 Elite, the X-Rite I1 Display Pro, and the X-Rite ColorMunki Display, we heartily recommend the X-Rite ColorMunki Display.
The X-Rite ColorMunki Display offers the best combination of simplicity and power. The fun name speaks to the light hearted nature of the package. We found it to be well refined and the easiest to use. The software guides you through each step of the process, includes a helpful video tutorial and gives great results from start to finish. The X-Rite ColorMunki Display retails for $199, but can be found for around $175.
For more information read our monitor calibration software review.
2. Use All of Your Colors
Use the full range of colors that your camera can capture. By default, most cameras don’t capture the full range of colors that they are capable of recording. So, when you are out photographing intensely red roses in the warm morning light, your camera is likely recording the red of the rose as less saturated than it really is.
Why would this be? Most cameras were originally set to record colors into a specific range of color, a color space, called sRGB. This color space was designed to approximate the average range of a computer monitor. The thinking was, why capture a range of colors greater than what your monitor can display? Since then, monitors have improved a great deal. Now there are many monitors that display a range of color much larger than sRGB and closer to limits of the larger Adobe RGB color space. Below, is a 3D comparison of the two.