Picture the scene: you’ve spent hours toiling at your computer over a piece of work for print – it’s just how you like it. You upload it to printed.com and sit pretty, waiting for your dazzling print to arrive. Within 72 hours it arrives at your door... you can smell that freshly cut paper already! You slide your print out and wait for the satisfaction of seeing your perfect creation brought to life, but alas, this isn’t what you expected at all.
Why is it so dark? Why don’t the colours match what I had on screen? Why am I talking to myself like this? Chances are, the problem lies with the settings on your monitor (and possibly your sanity). For the sake of unnecessary worry, let me tell you that for most of us, calibration shouldn’t be necessary; display manufacturers do a pretty good job of getting the settings right on their products. That being said, if you’re not seeing the results you want from your print – or if you want that little bit of extra control over the outcome – calibrating your monitor certainly won’t hurt.
It’s important to note that a lot of modern monitors, especially new LCD panels, are quite bright out of the box. That’s great for games and films, but not when you want to colour-match for print. It’s tricky getting the brightness right; screens emanate light, while paper/print only reflects it. Calibration will certainly make it easier.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, you have two options. You can either:
A) Calibrate your screen using the options provided with your operating system (or other software).
B) Splash some cash on a physical screen calibrator that will do the work for you.
Option A) The cheap option: Stop, Calibrate and Listen.
Get yourself comfortable. Let’s do this thing...
Step 1: Stop
Most monitors take some time to warm up before they display correctly, so leave yours on for 15 minutes or so before you move on. Cup of tea?
Step 2: Calibrate
Either download some free software like QuickGamma and follow the instructions, OR use the little-known calibration software that can be found on both Windows and MacOS.
Step 3: Listen (to these steps..)
How to calibrate your screen in Windows 8:
Open a search: either mouse-over or touch-over the right of the screen, and click ‘Search’.
Switch the search type to ‘Settings’, and search for ‘Calibrate’.
Once the results are up, click ‘Calibrate display colour’.
Follow the onscreen instructions to calibrate your monitor.
How to calibrate your screen in MacOS:
Choose the Apple menu and click ‘System Preferences’.
Click ‘Displays’, and then click ‘Colour’.
Option B) The slightly more pricey option.
If accurate colour matching is necessary for your work, a professional display calibrator might be the option for you. If you’re feeling savvy, you could even trade in your printed points and put them towards buying one from Amazon.co.uk.
A display calibrator is a device that sits in front of your screen and works in conjunction with installed software to bring your colours up to scratch. Prices vary, and your requirements will depend on the level of accuracy you want to achieve. You’ll never have perfect colours – too many factors affect the outcome – but with a good calibrator you can come pretty close. Notable brands are X-rite and Spyder.
Calibrators are quite costly, but for a professional photographer or designer looking to get accurate results from their print, they can save a lot of disappointment. They aren’t a one-use item, either: screen panels age over time, and other factors like ambient lighting and the position of your monitor will change, too. Professionals recommend using a calibration tool once a month to ensure continued accuracy.
That’s it! Do you think calibration is worthwhile? Have a favourite device or resource you like to use? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Keith cooper, photographer, has put together a big collection of calibration images for you to use here.
P.s. Sorry for the Vanilla Ice reference - You did spot it, right?