A Site for Photographers by Photographers

Home > Learn About Photography > Monitor Profiling

Featured Equipment Deals

Basic Photo Tips: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO Read More

Basic Photo Tips: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO

Just as it was 100 years ago and just as it is today, every camera—be it film or digital—is nothing more than a lightproof box with a lens at one end and light sensitive film or a digital...

Latest Equipment Articles

4 Outdoor & Adventure Photo Packs Read More

4 Outdoor & Adventure Photo Packs

Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...

Latest Learning Articles

5 Tips for Combating Red-Eye Read More

5 Tips for Combating Red-Eye

Red-eye doesn't have to ruin your photos. Learn 5 simple tricks to avoid and eliminate this undesirable photographic effect.


Color Management Primer: Monitor Profiling

by Jay Kinghorn, January 2009 (updated February 2011)


Part I: Color Management Overview | Part II: Monitor Profiling | Part III: Color Settings | Part IV: Printer Profiling

In a digital photography workflow, your monitor is your window to the world. It is the tool you use for making critical decisions on tone and color and the benchmark you use for judging print quality and accuracy. It’s no wonder then that photographers are selective when purchasing a monitor. If money were no object, photographers would simply choose one of the top two or three monitors. The price of a new monitor is a major factor for most photographers. This forces photographers to strike a balance between cost, performance and accuracy when choosing between hundreds of different monitors. In the first half of this article, I’ll discuss the important criteria you’ll want to consider before purchasing your next monitor. In the second half, I’ll help you calibrate and profile your monitor for greatest accuracy, giving you confidence that what you see on screen is what you can expect in print.

Note: This is the second article in a four-part series on color management for digital photographers. Part 1 provides an overview of color management’s key concepts and its role in a digital photography workflow. Part 3 of the series will help you configure your color settings and color management options in popular image-processing applications. Part 4 focuses on color management and printing, helping close the gap between what you see on screen and what you see in your finished prints.

Selecting A Monitor For Digital Photography

Look at any monitor’s spec sheet and you’ll be confronted with myriad technical terms, arcane specifications and confusing sales copy. In this section, I’ll walk you through the commonly-used monitor specifications pointing out which will have the greatest impact in your digital photography workflow.

Cost

The unfortunate truth with monitors is you get what you pay for. While there are bargains to be found, a $200 monitor won’t be as accurate, calibrate as well, or display the subtleties in your work as well as a $2,000 monitor will. If you make your living as a photographer, retoucher or designer, you need to have a high-performing monitor. Your art, your livelihood and your reputation all depend on you being able to make good color decisions on the best equipment.

Even if you don’t make a living by selling your photos, your monitor will have an economic impact. A high-quality, well calibrated monitor will help minimize the number of test prints you’ll need to make when creating your portfolio or gallery prints. Over the life of the monitor, this savings may exceed the initial cost of the monitor.

This brings me to my first recommendation. Buy the very best monitor you can afford. Scrimp on your computer upgrades, a new camera body or flashy accessories. Your monitor is the most important investment in your digital photography workflow. It is the foundation upon which all other elements in the workflow depend. An inferior monitor will cost you time, money and image quality.

With that in mind, let’s look at ways you can stretch your dollars when purchasing a monitor, focusing on elements offering the biggest bang for their buck.

Display Technologies

At the turn of the century, in simpler days of digital photography, you really only had one monitor type to choose from, CRT (Cathode Ray Tube). These heavy, deep dish monitors took up a lot of space on your desk but could be calibrated very accurately because the red, green and blue components used to create the picture on screen could be adjusted independently to fine-tune the display.

These monitors have largely gone the way of the dinosaurs and have largely disappeared from the photographer’s desk except for a reticent few who refuse to give up their CRT monitors for newer LCD displays.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Displays) are smaller, lighter, brighter and have better contrast than their predecessors. Like many new technologies, early LCD monitors were not well suited for digital photography. They were difficult to profile, aged too quickly and didn’t maintain a stable brightness. However, the current crop of LCD monitors on the market provides exceptional quality at reasonable prices.

The primary downside to LCD displays is the inability to adjust the red, green and blue picture controls. Most LCD monitors use a single light source, typically a fluorescent bulb, making it impossible to control or fine-tune individual amounts of red, green or blue.

The newest generation of LCD monitors on the market use an LED (Light-Emitting Diode) light source instead of a fluorescent bulb. Unlike traditional LCDs, LED-based displays can adjust red, green and blue independently for the highest accuracy.

As these LCD/LED monitors gain wider acceptance, expect the price for these monitors to decrease quickly, making LCD/LED the dominant technology used for computer monitors. If you’re looking to purchase a monitor today, look for one with an LED backlight for improved calibration capabilities.

Brightness

One of the advantages of moving from CRT to LCD monitors is the increased brightness of the monitors makes it easier to read text on screen with less eyestrain and movies, video games and photos take on an extra brilliance. Unfortunately, bright monitors also make it more difficult to create a match between your monitor and printer. If your monitor is too bright, prints will appear too dark. As part of the calibration process, you will want to decrease the brightness of the monitor to match your print-viewing conditions. I’ll cover this in greater depth later in this article.

From a buying perspective, don’t pay more for a brighter screen. Virtually any LCD monitor on the market will have sufficient brightness for your purposes.

Contrast

Often marketed in tandem with a brightness measurement is a contrast range. Simply put, the contrast measurement is the ratio between the brightest white and the darkest black. Brightness and Contrast ratio are directly correlated as the brighter a monitor the greater the difference there will be between white and black.

Like a high brightness setting, a high contrast ratio can cause problems for digital photography. Most prints have a contrast ratio of less than 500:1, while it is not uncommon for today’s LCD monitors to have a contrast ratio of 1000:1 or higher. This creates a situation where the image on screen contains brighter whites and deeper shadows than is possible to reproduce in print.

The popularity of mobile devices, online photo sharing sites like this one, and televisions connected to the Internet, it is quite possible that many photographers will look to screens, instead of print as their primary output medium. For these photographers, having a wider contrast range will be beneficial as it will more closely match the contrast range of the original scene, particularly as High-Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging tools improve.

For the time being, I wouldn’t purchase a monitor based on a contrast range setting though it may factor into the decision making process at some point in the future.

Gray Balance

The most effective real-world test of a monitor, particularly after calibration, is how well it displays a gradient from black to white. Ideally, the gradient will transition smoothly throughout the tones without any banding or discoloration. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the weaknesses of many monitors are clearly visible with this test.

In Photoshop, create a new document 5×7-inches in size at 300 ppi. Use the Gradient tool (G) to draw a gradient from black to white across the length of the document. Zoom in to fill the screen and press Tab to hide your palettes. Does the gradient progress smoothly through the tones or are there uneven bands or steps between brightness levels? Is there any discoloration through the midtones? Take a close look at the shadows. Do tones become gradually darker or do they drop abruptly to black?

This analysis will give you valuable insight into the quality of a monitor and its effectiveness for digital photography. When removing a subtle color cast from an image, you need to have confidence that the color you see is an accurate representation of the photo. Otherwise, you may remove a color cast from the photo that was never present in the original image.

Gray balance is high on my list of criteria to use when selecting a monitor.

Screen Uniformity

Here’s another simple test you can use to check the quality of a monitor. Create a new 5×7 inch at 300 ppi document in Photoshop and fill it with white. Press Tab to hide the palettes and zoom into the document until it fills the screen. Can you see any dark spots or discoloration on the monitor? Are there any color casts or bands of color along the edges of the screen?

Slight discoloration along the edges of the screen is not uncommon and is manageable, but significant dark spots or colored areas should be a red flag. Either the monitor quality is sub-par or this particular monitor may be defective and should be returned to the manufacturer.

Angle of View

Early LCD monitors suffered from a shallow angle of view—the colors in your photos changed depending on your position relative to the monitor. Although the angle of view of a monitor is listed in the specifications, the numbers listed by the manufacturer should be treated with a dose of skepticism. The tests used to calculate the angle of view measurement don’t reflect the reality of sitting at a monitor judging the color of a photograph. If possible, display a photo on screen and shift your body position from side to side? Does the photo change in color, tone or contrast? Ideally, you want a monitor you can look at from slightly different angles and still see the same image. This is one of the characteristics of higher-quality monitors that is often lacking in less expensive models.

Color Gamut

As I introduced in the previous overview article, every device has a range of colors it can reproduce, called the color gamut. A device with a wider color gamut can display more saturated colors than one with a smaller color gamut. The color gamut of most monitors closely matches the sRGB colorspace. The past few years have seen an increase in the number of wide-gamut monitors capable of displaying a larger percentage of the Adobe 1998 color gamut, a larger color gamut than sRGB. A wide-gamut monitor makes it easier to perform corrections on heavily saturated colors or deep shadows, which often cannot be displayed on a normal-gamut monitor.

A wide-gamut monitor gives photos a vibrancy and clarity not seen on standard-gamut displays. If you’re spending big bucks for a top-of-the-line monitor, consider looking for a wide-gamut display. At the same time, I would be leery of an inexpensive wide-gamut display because the additional color gamut may come at the expense of gray balance. Make sure a wide-gamut display uses a high-bit internal LUT (Look-Up Table) to prevent banding or uneven color transitions.

Size and Resolution

When Apple introduced their 30-inch monitor, photographers began clamoring for extra large monitors for their studios. Today, several manufacturers offer large monitors but, does size truly matter?

The construction of LCD monitors makes it difficult to maintain even lighting across the display, as evidenced by the screen uniformity test discussed above. These difficulties are exacerbated by an oversized monitor. While some manufacturers have been able to create large monitors without uniformity problems, these displays tend to be very expensive.

A better solution for most photographers is to purchase two monitors, one high-quality display for performing color critical work, and a second less-expensive display for storing palettes, word processing, etc. This setup gives you a large area to work on with significantly less cost and allows you to purchase a higher quality monitor. This is the setup I use in my studio and I’ve been very happy with it. Ergonomically, I find two smaller screens much easier to navigate through than one large screen and it allows me to jump back and forth between two tasks quickly, like editing photos and responding to e-mail.

Corresponding to monitor size is monitor resolution. The monitor’s resolution, typically listed in pixels, is closer to the image size measurements used for digital photos. Higher resolution displays often appear sharper and display detail more effectively than low-resolution displays. Many older users find high-resolution displays to be somewhat problematic as the icon and text size used in many applications is fixed, making icons very small. Fortunately, you can always decrease the screen resolution on a high-resolution display and many applications include higher resolution icons and interfaces which are easier to read on high-resolution displays.

Advanced Features

This final category is a bit of a catch-all to include the features separating the good monitors from the best monitors. A monitor with some or all of these features is likely a high-quality display that will exceed all but the most discerning expectations.

An internal, high-bit LUT (Look-Up Table) allows adjustments during profiling to be made internally to the monitor’s hardware instead of to your computer’s video card. This improves gray balance and accuracy during calibration and profiling.

Some monitors are pre-tuned in the factory to the standard white point and gamma settings used for digital photography. This minimizes the adjustments made during calibration and profiling, resulting in better gray balance and overall accuracy.

One problem with LCD monitors has traditionally been the long time needed to reach a stable brightness. Many monitors continue to fluctuate slightly for up to an hour before they reach a stable brightness. A few manufacturers have solved this problem and guarantee stable brightness within 2-3 minutes of powering up the monitor.

Another hallmark of a high-quality monitor is built-in monitor calibration software that communicates directly with the monitor’s internal LUT. These monitors deliver high-quality, hassle-free calibrations because the calibration software is tuned specifically for the characteristics of the monitor.

The ultimate goal of these advanced features is to ensure your monitor is stable, repeatable and accurate. This minimizes the amount of correction necessary during the calibration and profiling process making for a more reliable monitor for performing critical color corrections.

Now that you’ve selected your monitor, let’s look at the tools and techniques used when calibrating your monitor for maximum accuracy.

Monitor Calibration

The purpose of calibrating your monitor is to compensate for any color and tone inaccuracies caused by the construction of the monitor or the interaction of the monitor with the video card in your computer. No monitor is perfect out of the box—every one will display color in slightly different ways. Monitor calibration measures, then compensates for, these differences by creating a custom ICC (International Color Consortium) profile.

The term “monitor calibration” actually refers to a two-step process, monitor calibration and profiling. The first component, calibration, changes the physical behavior of the monitor to match a known, desired state. On LCD monitors, this is essentially limited to adjusting the brightness of the backlight. Other corrections listed in the monitor’s on-screen display, such as RGB and white point adjustments, perform software corrections to the display without changing the physical behavior of the device. This differentiation is important because hardware adjustments, like altering brightness, do not negatively impact the quality of the image displayed, while software adjustments can cause problems, particularly with gray balance and the smoothness of transitions and gradients.

In profiling, the second portion of the monitor calibration process, a series of colored patches displayed on screen. The monitor calibration software then compares the measured colors against the actual color values stored in the software and builds a look-up table to compensate for the differences.

Together, the two-part process improves the accuracy of photos displayed on your monitor. The calibration process brings the monitor’s hardware controls to a known state, then the profiling portion uses software to correct any lingering inaccuracies. The resulting ICC profile is set as the default monitor profile in your operating system. Any color management-aware applications, like Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture use this monitor profile to automatically adjust the RGB values of displayed colors. Once you create the profile, there is nothing more you need to do.

This concept can be confusing to users new to color management. So, to help bring clarity, let’s look at an example. You and I both calibrate our monitors. The color management hardware and software determines your monitor is slightly blue and mine is slightly green. When you and I look at the same photo on screen, the monitor profile tells your video card to display less blue and mine to display less green. This ensures the photo looks the same on both our monitors despite their inherent differences.

What Settings Do I Choose?

With most monitor calibration packages, you will be asked to specify the white point, Gamma and luminance you would like to calibrate your monitor to. With some monitor calibration software packages you will find these options listed in the Advanced calibration modes, others will place these options on the initial screen. To help you make informed decisions, here is a summary of each option along with my recommended settings.

  • White Point: The white point option determines the color of white used for the monitor. Similar in function to the white balance option on your camera, the white point specifies the color temperature the monitor should be calibrated to. Most photographers will want to set their white point to 6500K, a close match to daylight and close to your monitor’s native white point. Photographers and retouchers who frequently prepare images for reproduction on commercial printing presses may want to calibrate their monitor to 5500-5800K. This produces a warmer white, which is a closer match to the papers used for proofing and printing on printing presses.
  • Gamma: The monitor’s gamma controls the tone response curve of the monitor, or, to put it more simply, the contrast through the midtones. For both Mac and Window users, I recommend starting with the Gamma 2.2 setting. Advanced profiling software packages may offer an L option, which has become a favorite of photographers because it is perceptually uniform, meaning changes in tone are distributed evenly throughout the tonal range. With other gamma settings, a change in 10 RGB units can produce uneven jumps in tone depending upon whether the change occurs in the shadows, midtones or highlights.
  • Luminance: Recommending a specific luminance setting is a bit tricky. You need to set your luminance to match the brightness of the ambient lighting used for viewing prints. Since I’m not sitting at your desk next to you judging prints, I can’t give a firm recommendation.
    I suggest performing an initial calibration set to 110 cm2 (candelas/meter2), then comparing prints with their display on screen. You’ll want to look for a match in tone between your print and your monitor. Use the print as your reference and vary your monitor accordingly. You may need to calibrate your monitor several times to find the best match. I’ve had very good success with a luminance setting of 110 cm2, but some photographers working in brightly lit rooms will need to boost their luminance up to 200 cm2 for print matching.

Monitor Calibration Tools

Although there are several monitor calibration packages on the market, I’ve chosen to highlight three options I feel are easy to use and produce excellent profiles. Each of these options is designed for a different user group, so I suggest performing additional research online to solicit the opinions of other photographers who have similar needs as yours before making a decision.

_Note: To perform an effective monitor calibration, you need to have a dedicated hardware and software package. The older, visual calibration packages are not accurate enough for digital photography. Your initial investment in a monitor calibration package will be quickly repaid through time, ink and paper savings. _

X-Rite Eye-One Display 2

. The i1 Display 2 is the best entry-level monitor calibration package I’ve tested. The wizard interface is easy to use and the accompanying colorimeter creates good-quality profiles for a variety of monitors, including laptops.

The i1 Display is particularly attractive to schools and larger photo studios as the included EyeOne Match software can be installed on an unlimited number of computers allowing you to share a device with others in your photo club, photography class or workgroup.

ColorEyes Display Pro: $175 software only/$325 w/DTP-94 Colorimeter. For photographers looking for more sophisticated control over their monitor calibration, the ColorEyes Display Pro is hard to beat. After entering your desired settings into the software, the ColorEyes software takes over, adjusting brightness, contrast and white point automatically.

I recommend purchasing the Color Eyes Display Pro DTP-94 bundle, combining the Display Pro software with the DTP-94 colorimeter, which is widely considered to be the most accurate colorimeter for monitor calibration. If you already have a spectrophotometer or colorimeter, you can purchase the software separately and use your existing hardware.

One of the most useful features of the Color Eyes Display Pro software is the profile validation option, which calculates the accuracy of your existing monitor profile and allows you to track accuracy over time. This provides both a current snapshot of your monitor’s accuracy and allows you to monitor for changes in brightness or color accuracy over time. Should the accuracy of your monitor begin to decrease, it is a signal that your monitor may be due for replacement.

ColorMunki Photo

. Photographers looking for a single solution for monitor calibration and print profiling should take a serious look at the ColorMunki Photo, a spectrophotometer that does double duty. The ColorMunki software is very easy to use, simplifying both the monitor calibration and printer profiling processes. The accuracy of both types of profiles is very good, rivaling more expensive, professional-level applications.

The primary knock on the ColorMunki Photo is the inability to define monitor luminance or white point. You can specify your preferred Gamma setting, but the ColorMunki software is hard-wired to predefined luminance and white point settings. Still, the monitor profiles are very good, particularly for the price.

Calibrating Your Monitor

With any of these calibration packages, the calibration process is very straightforward. Each program features a wizard interface to walk you through each step of the process. There are, however, a couple tips to make the process run more smoothly.

  • Allow your monitor to warm up for at least an hour before calibrating. This ensures the monitor is at a stable brightness.
  • Disable any features that dim your monitor to match the ambient light. This feature, most commonly found on newer Apple laptops, dims the screen to match ambient light conditions. Any change in brightness also changes the monitor’s color characteristics, invalidating your monitor profile.
  • Check the Curves display included in the Profile Summary of most calibration packages. The Curves window shows how severe a correction was necessary to build your profile. Ideally, the curves should all appear as a straight line from lower left to top right. The farther the curve deviates from this ideal, the more severe the correction and the more likely you will see problems with accuracy in certain color regions or banding in smooth transitions like skies and skin tones.
  • Recalibrate your monitor monthly. Your newly created monitor profile is a snapshot of your monitor’s color characteristics at the moment the profile was created. Any changes to the monitor’s settings, or drifts cause by aging, temperature or changes to the video card will cause the color characteristics of the monitor to change as well. Calibrating monthly will help ensure your monitor profile is an accurate representation of your monitor’s color characteristics. If you are printing frequently, you may prefer to calibrate weekly to ensure your monitor profile is as accurate as possible.

Monitor Recommendations

Your monitor is the cornerstone upon which the efficiency of your digital workflow is built. Carefully selecting the best monitor for your workflow and calibrating your monitor regularly are the best means of ensuring your workflow runs smoothly and your printing is hassle-free.

Given the large number of monitors currently on the market, it is impossible for me to make specific monitor recommendations to fit your needs, budget and workflow. One valuable resource you can use in your research is to search for your monitor within the ColorSync User Group archives. The ColorSync user group is a color management discussion group. Try searching for your monitor name (e.g. Eizo CG222W) and “ColorSync”. You’ll often find expert user experiences with your monitor and recommendations for other comparable monitors.

I am personally a big fan of the Eizo ColorEdge monitors. I’ve been using them for years and recommend them highly to clients. I have also heard rave reviews for the HP LP2480zx Dreamcolor display. You might also consider the NEC MultiSync 2690WUXi2, a 26" display with a wide color gamut. For more modestly priced displays, I’ve had good results with the Apple Cinema Displays, particularly those with a matte surface, and the slightly less expensive Samsung 245T.

What other resources do you use when shopping for monitors? Post your recommendations in the comments field below. In the next article, I’ll help you configure your color settings and color management policies in Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture and other common image-editing applications.

More

Color Management Primer by Jay Kinghorn

About the Author

Jay Kinghorn is an Adobe Photoshop Certified Expert, Olympus Visionary photographer and full-time digital workflow consultant and trainer. He specializes in helping corporations use their photos efficiently and effectively by streamlining workflow processes and improving employee’s skills using Adobe Photoshop. Jay is co-author of Perfect Digital Photography and author of two Photoshop training DVDs, Photoshop CS3 New Feature Training and Beginning Photoshop for Digital Photographers. Jay lectures and presents to businesses and universities internationally. His presentations focus on digital photography workflows, color management, image optimization and the future of photography. His clients include Olympus, Sony, Adobe, Cabela’s, Vail Resorts and the Rocky Mountain News. Jay is often found climbing the rock walls, running the trails or scaling the mountains near his home in Boulder, Colorado.

More »


Text ©2008 Jay Kinghorn.

Article revised February 2011.

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Andrew Rodney , January 20, 2009; 04:03 P.M.

>n Photoshop, create a new document 5×7-inches in size at 300 ppi. Use the Gradient tool (G) to draw a gradient from black to white across the length of the document. Zoom in to fill the screen and press Tab to hide your palettes. Does the gradient progress smoothly through the tones or are there uneven bands or steps between brightness levels? Is there any discoloration through the midtones? Take a close look at the shadows. Do tones become gradually darker or do they drop abruptly to black?

Minor point, the test is much better preformed if you assign first the display profile to the document. That effectually turns off Display Using Monitor Compensation (adding another profile into the mix), giving you a better view of the actual calibration.

Tim Cahaney , January 20, 2009; 05:00 P.M.

Hi Jay,

I'd like to hear your comments on selecting a video board since this also plays a role in displaying the colors on the monitor. For example, I have no idea of what my gamma setting is on my Nvidia 8800GTS video board although my calibration/profiling software states that it should be set to 2.2. Thanks....

William De La Vega , January 22, 2009; 12:07 A.M.

I thought daylight color temperature was around 5600K, why should the white point be set to 6500K?

Bill

James McGrew , January 25, 2009; 03:06 P.M.

I purchased the full Spyder 3 pro package for printers, monitors, etc. I notice you did not even mention the Spyder products. I take it I did not make the best choice for serious calibration work for my landscape photography?

James McGrew , January 25, 2009; 03:25 P.M.

PS: On my question about Spyder's calibration tools, forgot to say I work on a 24 inch Imac (yes, with that glossy screen) and also the 17 inch Mac Book Pro.

Roberto patrizi , January 26, 2009; 05:09 P.M.

Look at this site, it has been designed to check color profile of your monitor:

http://www.monitorsetup.com/

Why not cite a software tool for color calibration of your monitor? Yes, I know it's not as fine as hardware solutions, but it could be a start point.

Wonderful work, I'm waiting for the next! Saluti, Roberto!

Jay Kinghorn , January 27, 2009; 05:09 P.M.

Andrew,

Thanks for adding the suggestion to assign the display profile to the document. You are correct, this takes one profile out of the mix.

Jay

Jay Kinghorn , January 27, 2009; 05:11 P.M.

Tim,

Your video card should do a good job of supporting whichever monitor you choose. I would suggest following the gamma 2.2. recommendation in your calibration settings.

Jay

Jay Kinghorn , January 27, 2009; 05:15 P.M.

William,

The daylight white balance setting of 6500K is somewhat arbitrary. The actual color of daylight varies through the day and varies through the seasons. Depending upon a photographer's workflow they may be better suited using a white point other than 6500K. I suggest using 6500K as a starting point then tailoring your workflow as your specific needs change and you gather a deeper understanding of color management.

Jay

Jay Kinghorn , January 27, 2009; 05:17 P.M.

James,

The products I've recommended in the article are by no means the only products a photographer can use successfully with color management. Given the setup you've described, I think the Spyder 3 should be very capable of generating a good-quality profile for your laptop.

Jay Kinghorn , January 27, 2009; 05:21 P.M.

Roberto,

Thanks for the site recommendation. It is very comprehensive.

Our eyes adapt to color casts and are fooled too easily to serve as an objective tool for monitor calibration. For that reason I strongly discourage software calibrations in favor of hardware calibrations.

Donald Pryce , March 19, 2009; 12:13 P.M.

Jay,

Thanks for a very informative series. I'm learning a lot. I have a correction, though. LCD monitors can allow individual RGB adjustments. My ViewSonic VX2035wm does.

dp

Jay Kinghorn , March 19, 2009; 12:35 P.M.

Donald,

Thanks for your comment. While your monitor does have sliders to adjust red, green and blue it does not change the physical characteristics of the monitor, it uses the monitor's onboard software to change the display of the fixed light source. To use a crude analogy, it is like digital zoom on a point and shoot camera. Superficially, it allows you to change the RGB values but doesn't fundamentally change the color characteristics of the backlight in the monitor. CRT and LED monitors display color using separate red, green and blue elements which can be adjusted, via hardware controls to adjust the voltage of each, and therefore the color characteristics of the backlight. Unfortunately, with LCD we're only really able to build a profile to compensate for the characteristics of the backlight. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope the cost of LED monitors drops quickly. JK

Dave Borsky , May 04, 2009; 08:30 A.M.

Hi Jay. For us neophytes , could you briefly review how to assign the monitor color profile to the 5X7 document you suggest we create in Photoshop CS4 to check the monitor's display of a gray scale gradient? Thanks, Dave

Jay Kinghorn , May 04, 2009; 10:07 A.M.

Dave, I can certainly do that. Under the Edit menu select Assign Profile. In the resulting dialog box, select your monitor profile from the list.

Best regards,

Jay

Steve Cantellow , June 08, 2009; 05:50 P.M.

I'm guessing that the main reason I shouldn't rush out and buy Apple's new 24 inch cinema display for use with my MacBook Pro is its contrast range of 1000:1. But is it possible to get a reasonable match from screen to print? Most of my images are viewed on screens, but it is important that I have reasonable print accuracy too on the occasions where I do print out. The Apple monitor may make my life easier in terms of connectivity with my laptop/ peripherals, but will it turn out to be a headache when it comes to printing?

Jay Kinghorn , June 16, 2009; 12:15 P.M.

Steve, If you are looking at one of the models with the matte screen, you should be fine. If you find a difference in your shadow detail between screen and print, be sure to use Photoshop's soft proofing to make your screen more accurately reflect the printed piece.

Also, be sure to calibrate the display to 100-120 cm2, otherwise the brightness of the screen will be significantly brighter than your prints.

I hope you enjoy your new monitor.

Jay

Steve Cantellow , June 17, 2009; 05:48 A.M.

Thank you Jay - your advice is much appreciated. Your article has been the best primer I've found on the net: this subject can get quite complex for newcomers but you manage to demystify where others obfuscate. Is it mainly the blacks that are affected when you go from glossy screens to print, or are there other factors that one should be mindful of? Is glossy screen to print simply a no-go area?

Jay Kinghorn , June 17, 2009; 12:21 P.M.

Steve, I'm glad my article is helpful to you. I understand how difficult it can be to sift through all the monitors available on the market today.

The problem with glossy screens is twofold. First, any light you have in the room is picked up and reflected by the glass. This makes it critically important to have very dim light in the room and to make sure any light you do have is daylight-balanced.

Secondly, the glossy screen almost always has more contrast than a matte screen. This makes movies look fantastic, but provides an unrealistic view of your photos. The dynamic range on screen (the range from white to black) is far greater than you can achieve in print. The whites are brighter and the shadows are darker. This makes the photo sharper and more contrasty than it will actually print. If you use calibrate your monitor to 120cm2 and use the soft proof feature with paper white and ink black, you can minimize these potential problems.

So, in summary, I don't think a glossy screen is a complete no-go for photography. I do think there are better alternatives though.

Jay

Steve Cantellow , June 17, 2009; 01:51 P.M.

Thank you once again Jay! I feel fully equiped to make my purchase and get started with color.

Jay Kinghorn , June 17, 2009; 02:24 P.M.

Steve,

Glad to hear it. You can find additional information, which may be useful to your decision making process at http://perfectdigitalphotography.com/monitors.php

Jay

Jay Kinghorn , August 14, 2009; 07:36 P.M.

I recently came across this excellent test of your monitor's calibration and thought I would share it with you. Visit http://www.aardenburg-imaging.com/documents.html and Download the "Monitor Checker Target For Adobe Photoshop" and follow the instructions in the file. This is discerning, yet realistic test of your monitor quality and calibration accuracy. The results are very revealing.

- Jay

Chris Page , August 29, 2009; 03:38 P.M.

Jay - I wonder if you could give me some advice please - I'm using Photoshop Cs3 & have my laptop screen & attached monitor profiled using a Spyder3Pro - I've noticed that the 2nd screen is still not "right" and when dragging an image displayed in photoshop between the two screens I just spotted that when I am holding down the left button to drag the image it looks correct but when I let go again the image reverts to the "incorrect" version. I'm a bit stumped because my Vista settings say that I have the appropriate default ICC profile and I've no idea where to look to crack the problem.

Any advice would be much appreciated.

Update : I've just tested with other windows programs and it does appear that this problem is only in Photoshop and I've now found the settings for colour management on different monitors and I'm really confused now! Chris

Steve Cantellow , August 29, 2009; 05:40 P.M.

Chris - I had similar problem: posted here http://photo.net/digital-darkroom-forum/00UDD8

Basically I calibrated my macbook pro's LCD with Spyder3 Elite and my Eizo CG222W with it's own software. Lightroom 2 in dual monitor mode was working fine. But all other applications requiring me to drag across - really off colors on the Eizo (secondary monitor). Called Eizo and they recommended that I select their monitor to be the primary monitor - did this and this fixed the issues with photoshop. But bizarrely, still got problems with the Eizo's calibration in other applications including Preview. Even stranger - when I use the Nik Software Plugin suite launching from Lightroom 2 - WAY OFF colors on the Eizo. When I use the Nik Software Plugin suite launching from photoshop - GREAT colors on the Eizo. Can't work this out. But as I use mainly Photoshop and Lightroom2 I guess I'll survive for now. If you ever find a solution, please let me know!

Jay Kinghorn , August 29, 2009; 07:32 P.M.

Chris, Steve,

Running a second monitor off a laptop has always seemed to be a little problematic, particularly on Windows, though OSX has had problems as well. In many cases, the video card isn't up to par to run a larger display.

It sounds to me like the problem has to do with the way the OS and the individual applications reference the monitor profile, and how frequently they reference the monitor profile. For example, you have a photo with a given set of RGB values. These RGB values need to be converted through their respective monitor profile. As you move from one monitor to the other, some applications recognize the change and adjust accordingly. Others fail to change and it sounds like a handful of others do something else altogether.

For Steve's issue, I would concur with Eizo and set the CG222W as the primary display. Chris, can you tell me a little more about what is "not right? Is it that the monitors don't agree with one another, or they don't match a printed reference displayed under a D50 light conditions?

In both cases, it would be helpful to reference the images against a "known good" print so we can begin making some concrete correlations (e.g. the display of the Eizo matches the print, but the laptop is too blue). It is tricky to get two different monitors (of different age, manufacturer, and size) to display correctly off a desktop designed to handle two monitors. It is another thing entirely to try and get two monitors to concur when running off a laptop.

Let me do a little research on the topic and see if I can find any concrete answers for you.

Jay

Jay Kinghorn , August 29, 2009; 08:02 P.M.

Steve & Chris,

Here are a few articles I think you'll find useful in addressing your problems. On the ColorSync archive there is a good thread discussing the problems inherent in calibrating two displays, particularly on Windows XP. (I haven't been able to find out how Vista differs in this regard). http://lists.apple.com/archives/colorsync-users/2005/Jun/msg00027.html

From the findings, it appears most applications are not written to support two separate monitor profiles. The Adobe applications are notable exceptions, along with Preview. This mostly concurs with your experiences, though Preview has been problematic for you as well.

Additional information can be found in the Fogra Softproof Handbook on pg16, http://forschung.fogra.org/dokumente/upload/9440d_Fogra_Softproof_Handbook.pdf

Unless you really want to dive into the technical details to troubleshoot the problem, it sounds like your best bet is to figure out which of the monitors gives the most accurate color and make your color judgements based on that monitor.

If I find anything else, I'll let you know.

Jay

Chris Page , August 30, 2009; 07:01 A.M.

Cracked it. I have been using a reference picture (a photo of Ayers rock I took with an OM2 years ago - it's on the wall behind me and scanned in - right at the bottom of www.cpage.co.uk - I'm happy with that picture, enough advert).

When I open a photo if the color profile is "incorrect" it gives me options to change to the embedded profile, my working profile (from Edit >> Color Settings) or sometimes (not everytime for a reason I cannot yet fathom) allows me to pick one - hence my default profile is that for the laptop so it works all the time and I can effectively manually set the correct profile for the other monitor if I'm going to be doing editting on that one.

It's a bit of a pain & something to be aware of (if I wanted to compare side by side I would have to duplicate the picture, close the original, reopen & set the other profile & make sure the correct picture was on the correct screen) but workable - I guess if I were doing this on a professional basis I would have either a big screen in the first instance or 2 monitors exactly the same.

Thanks for the assistance

Chris

Steve Cantellow , August 30, 2009; 06:35 P.M.

Jay. Thank you again for your insight and willingness to share it. Really helps folks like me get a grasp of the issues. Pleased that adobe have taken the initiative. Hope that Nik Software follows suit (since one of their applications - Viveza - is all about making color adjustments!). I've bookmarked the links you sent and am going through them in detail.

Jay Kinghorn , August 30, 2009; 07:12 P.M.

Chris,

From your response, it sounds like your solution to solving the color mismatch may actually create more problems in your workflow and sounds to me like you have your color management policies set differently in different applications. I'd suggest re-reading the Color Settings article. http://photo.net/learn/digital-photography-workflow/color-management/color-settings/.

You should never have to change the color settings to get photos to look correct. The color settings (and the profile mismatch) are more of a "set once" preference. Deciding on one color space to embed in your photos will make life a lot simpler.

Steve, I'm glad you found the links useful.

Best of luck to both of you in dialing in your monitors.

Jay

Bill Wetzel , November 03, 2009; 08:49 A.M.

Jay,

Thanks for the great articles. I'm confused by one point. You say that monitor profiling process will modify the look-up table in the video card to compensate for variations in the monitor. That's fine and makes sense. But you go on to say that color-aware apps such as Lightroom and Photoshop will also use the profile produced by the profiling process to correct the image. That sounds like double-profiling to me. Why would any app consider the monitor profile when that profile has already been applied to the lookup-up table? I understand why color-aware apps would apply a profile included with the image, but not the monitor profile.

Thanks,

Bill

Jay Kinghorn , November 03, 2009; 04:51 P.M.

Bill,

Thanks for your great question. The monitor profile is applied at the operating-system level and supplied to all color-management aware applications (varies by platform, OS). The color profile is only effectively applied once through the operating system, then honored by Lightroom, PS etc.

I hope this clarifies the display compensation process. Basically, if you've performed your monitor calibration and profiling, the color management software will take care of the rest.

Best regards,

Jay

Bill Wetzel , November 03, 2009; 07:46 P.M.

Jay,

Thanks for the quick response. I appreciate it but I'm still confused. Here is the whole story that prompted my query.

As a result of a failure of my monitor calibration tool colorimeter (Eye-One Display 2) the generated profile was grossly in error with a long red tail extending way out of the visible gamut. Because the error was so extreme colors on the monitor, especially reds, displayed by color-managed apps were far from reality and drew my attention to this point of confusion that I would have missed with more subtle shifts.

When I view an image with a non-color-managed application (such as IrfanView) the colors are fine. When viewed with color-managed-apps LightRoom and Photoshop, the reds are strongly shifted. When I switched back to a profile produced before the colorimeter failed the colors on both color-managed and non-color-manged apps were fine, though slightly different. Clearly both LightRoom and Photoshop are changing the colors displayed on the monitor based on information in the monitor color profile. But why?

My understanding is that the video card look up table is adjusted by Eye-One software, based on the currently selected profile, at system-boot time. Because the profile is applied to the LUT, all applications, whether color managed or not, benefit from the color corrections. Why then is LightRoom and Photoshop making additional adjustments to the color when the video card is already doing it once. It appears to me to be a case of double profiling.

It seems to me that color-managed apps should only be using the profile embedded in an image, not the system-wide profile set by calibration software.

Thanks again,

Bill

Jay Kinghorn , November 20, 2009; 12:43 A.M.

Bill, Sorry for the delayed response. What you've described is exactly what should happen if your instrument mis-read a patch and created a faulty profile. You say your non-color managed apps look "fine" and this is probably reasonably true if you're working on a decent monitor. Unfortunately, the non-color managed applications ensure that what you see on your monitor isn't what I see on my monitor.

All monitors have their inherent defects-some more than others. The monitor calibration is an attempt to compensate for those defects so you and I see substantially the same thing when we display any photo on our monitor.

Behind the scenes, if you're using a photo with the Adobe 1998 profile embedded in it, the color values for the Adobe 1998 file are being converted "on the fly" to your monitor profile in order to display correctly. On my system, the Adobe 1998 color values are converted to my monitor profile to display correctly on my machine. This process, called display compensation ensures that ICC-based color management. Otherwise, we could never agree on what the photo should look like. If your monitor was inherently too blue and mine too green. The neutrals in a photo would look blue on your screen and green on mine. With display compensation, these defects are compensated for so each of us see a neutral image.

Although your situation sounds odd, it is exactly what is supposed to happen in a color managed environment.

I hope this clears up the confusion. (And I hope you got a better profile when you reprofiled your monitor.)

Jay

See R , December 20, 2009; 02:23 A.M.

I just read this artile series which helped me immensely. Regarding the Eizo Color Edge Monitor (at least the CG222W, which I have), which is recommended here, and also the Colormunki, which I have and which is also recommended here, please read: if you have a Color Edge Monitor, it really should be calibrated using the ColorNavigator software, which is capable of driving the Colormunki and several other monitor calibration devices. There are a few important points here (which I bring to you after a long and painful process): 1) the color navigator software is much more sophisticated than the colormunki software and gets you around the limitations of the latter in terms of the lack of choice of color temp (which Jay mentioned as a limitation in his article. 2) ColorNavigator calibrates the monitor directly rather than puting a profile on your video card (so you need a USB cable connected between the monitor and the computer) 3) you still use the colormunki (X-rite) software to profile your printer/paper system--which is not limited by the lack of color temp control in the software as is the monitor calibration part of the x-rite software, and 4) you may encounter some software conflict trouble (I use Windows XP OS) with ColorNavigator and X-Rite, but as of today I have been able to work around it. A few months ago I spent a long time on the phone with Eizo and they could not solve my problem--today I downloaded ColorNavigator again--I'm not sure if they solved the problem on their end or if I figured out a work around myself or both--but now that I have a work around I am very pleased with the results.

And BTW--I really appreciated Jay's advice on soft proofing--I experimented and agree 100%

Steve Cantellow , January 10, 2010; 01:44 P.M.

Different colors in Safari and CS4 running side by side on same monitor

Just thought I'd make another post (plea!) in case there is anyone out there who has cracked this problem, or knows someone at Apple who might be able to help!

As described previously: my situation....... MacBook Pro running OSX Leopard. External monitor - Eizo CG222W. Color calibration - Eizo or datacolor software with Spyder 3 device (problem persists with either. Software used - Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Mac OSX.

As described previously: my problem..... CS4 - colors perfect. Mac OSX (and all Mac software e.g. Safari) colors fluorescent and bizarre. Example: running in clamshell mode with the MacBook Pro's LCD closed, I put up the same image side by side on my CG222W in Safari in one window and then in CS4 in another window. Result..... the colors are completely different. (By completely different I mean the Safari version has nearly fluorescent greens and reds). The same is true when I'm running the monitors in conjunction, I just thought it would bring home the problem with the windows side by side running the two programs on the same display. As stated previously, the problem persists no matter what calibration software I use (including the provided Eizo software, or the third party Datacolor software)

Jay has kindly answered me earlier and it would seem that I'm not alone in struggling with this problem - it is apparently notorious when you are using dual display work with a notebook. I just wondered whether anyone out there has cracked it? It is driving me nuts. I know I should be grateful at least that Adobe software works, but I'm going bananas seeing when even my desktop icons having ridiculous colors on an expensive 'pro' monitor. Apple Care thus far have been unable to make progress with this issue.

Is this an insurmountable hardware issue, software issue, calibration issue or a simple color space issue or something completely different? Please help me before I need admission to a psychiatric ward!

A big thank you in advance!

Jay Kinghorn , January 14, 2010; 04:31 P.M.

Steve,

I'm still trying to find a solution to your problem. In doing so, a couple questions came to mind. How was the Safari image prepared? Does the JPEG image in Safari have the same embedded ICC profile?

Is this problem consistent between all files you display this way, or only one particular file?

Hopefully we can solve your mystery!

Jay

Steve Cantellow , January 16, 2010; 06:57 A.M.

Thanks for coming to my rescue again Jay - it is very much appreciated.

I have done a further experiment which may or may not throw further light on the situation....

When I open the file in ColorSync the Apply Profile default is "None." When I enter the drop down menu selecting "display" and select any of the profiles listed (Adobe 1998, sRGB, CG222W (my display)) - the color shifts dramatically to a more sensible one. When I select "None" again we are back to an inappropriate fluorescent red.

In terms of whether this is a problem that occurs across files - it seems to be the case: various icons on my desktop, text, images and graphics when surfing the web - all seem to be odd. Bring the same files into Photoshop on the same monitor - back to normal. Now, seemingly, I can achieve the same thing by opening the Color Sync utility and manually selecting the Display Profile. However this is going to be a pain to do for every file that I encounter that isn't in grayscale.

Oddly enough since I set the CG222W profile as the main profile and am operating in clamshell mode - images created by my camera now seem to have normal colors in Nik Software applications and Apple applications (previously were bizarre). Unfortunately, as described above, for everything else - nothing but odd colors.

I am unsure on how to search ICC profile information in Safari and Preview.

Once again, I apologize for my profound lack of knowledge in this area, and am very grateful for your help.

Steve

Steve Cantellow , January 16, 2010; 03:34 P.M.

I've also just found this link

http://www.gballard.net/photoshop/srgb_wide_gamut.html

where someone with far greater technical knowledge than me describes a problem with shifted colors in Safari in particular. Seems to be a problem when you have a wide gamut monitor and are running Safari that untagged files have over-saturated appearance especially affecting the reds - this strikes a chord with me. Not sure if we are even talking about the same thing or whether this is a red (!) herring?

Jay Kinghorn , January 18, 2010; 12:22 A.M.

Steve,

This is exactly what I suspect is happening. Here's an experiment. In Photoshop, use the Assign Profile command (Edit>Assign Profile) to assign your monitor profile to an image. Does it match what you're seeing in Safari? If so, you'll need to make sure you're creating JPEGs with an embedded color profile, otherwise you'll continue to see crazy colors.

I'd recommend avoiding ColorSync utility. Unless you know specifically what you're looking for, you're more likely to cause harm than good.

Please let me know if this solves your problem.

Jay

Steve Cantellow , January 19, 2010; 03:35 P.M.

Thank you Jay.

With my own photos fortunately) there is no difference in photoshop or Safari. But with certain web graphics files Photoshop does indeed convert the colors to more sensible ones - even before I've assigned a new color profile.

The most striking examples of this include the red adobe logo (adobe-lq.png graphic found on www.adobe.com) and the green 'battery and clock' graphic found on the apple macbook page (overview_bucket2_20091020.png found on http://www.apple.com/macbook/). These are .png files, but it applies to some jpeg files too. I'm using these as examples because on my screen they appear as extremely hyper-saturated colors before I open them in photoshop.

Photoshop fixes the color automatically on opening the file.

I guess I shouldn't be upset about this issue. After all I'm interested in photos not random web graphics! With your instruction I've learned a great deal more about being in control of the colors of my photos in photoshop. And that's what matters most.

......but I wish I could get Safari, Preview and OSX to display web graphics & desktop icons etc etc in sensible tones on my Eizo monitor - if only I could browse the web and navigate my hard-drives using photoshop I'd have no problems!

Jay Kinghorn , January 19, 2010; 05:35 P.M.

Steve,

That makes sense. In a nutshell, because you have a wide-gamut monitor, non-color managed elements appear oversaturated. Color managed elements appear correctly. This is an ongoing problem with displaying photos (and other content) on the Web since only Safari and recent versions of Firefox are properly color managed.

Your desktop icons should appear correctly because everything in OSX is supposed to be color managed. If not, I'd recommend trying to undo whatever you've done in ColorSync utility.

Best regards,

Jay

Steve Cantellow , January 19, 2010; 06:32 P.M.

Many thanks Jay. In a funny way this problem has resulted in me learning more about color - so am grateful. I am always indebted to you for your advice.

Jay Kinghorn , January 19, 2010; 06:42 P.M.

Steve,

I'm glad you found the conversation enlightening. I wish you the best in your exploration of color!

Jay

Amy Hopp , February 28, 2010; 06:17 P.M.

Jay,

I recently switched from a CRT to the Dell U2410 wide gamut display. Your color management articles are helping me along, as I am a complete beginner in this area. I am interested in purchasing the Color Eyes Display Pro software bundled with the DTP-94. Will this be an effective calibration package for my specific type of display? I have read varying opinions on wide gamut LCD monitors. Thanks for any input you can provide!

Amy

Jay Kinghorn , March 01, 2010; 11:34 A.M.

Amy,

Congratulations on your new monitor. Integrated Color recommends using the Spyder 3 device with wide-gamut displays and I'm inclined to follow that suggestion. http://www.integrated-color.com/cedpro/spyder3.html

The DTP-94 is a great device, but it was created before wide gamut displays were widely available and I suspect the filters inside the colorimeter are not designed to handle the wide gamut of your monitor.

Best regards,

Jay

S Woodhall , April 21, 2012; 03:43 P.M.

Hello Jay,

Can you update recommendations for "good quality" monitors? I looked at the perfect digital photography site and it seems that this info is circa '09. Also, any thoughts on the new Datacolor Spyder 4? Thanks for all of your help. Your efforts are greatly appreciated. --Scott

Jay Kinghorn , April 21, 2012; 08:26 P.M.

Scott,

Thans for your comment. With so many entrants into the market and the quality of monitors and calibration equipment improving overall, it becomes very difficult to evaluate and make solid recommendations. I simply don't have the time and the resources to personally test each monitor and I'm very reluctant to recommend anything I haven't worked with personally. If you're looking at professional quality monitors (generally $600+) I'd suggest searching the Apple ColorSync listserv for the specific monitor you're evaluating. Often, there will be a discussion by the listserv members on the pros and cons of the monitor and how it compares to others on the market. 

-Jay

Josh Root , April 21, 2012; 08:39 P.M.

Scott,

 

There is also a Spyder4Elite review that Bob Atkins just did here:

 

http://photo.net/equipment/datacolor/spyder4elite/review/

Ellery Curtis , May 03, 2013; 01:12 P.M.

brilliant.....great stuff in this article. 

I am new to many of these concepts, next month am likely springing for an NEC PA series monitor (still have not decided on 24 vs. 27 inch :D).  In the meantime, while I wait, I have been doing alot of reading on this subject.

This was a wonderful and easy to follow overview.  I read a somewhat similar series of articles by a site "cambridge in color" (I think that was the name) - it was helpful, but this helped make a bit more practicle sense of it all in my head.

Thanks for all the information provided...it will surely help a ton!

Jay Kinghorn , May 04, 2013; 02:35 P.M.

Ellery, thanks for your comment. I'm glad you found the information useful!


Add a comment



Notify me of comments