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Is Your Monitor Calibrated?

The problem with viewing digital images on a screen is that color, contrast, and brightness that look good on your monitor may not look at all the same on another monitor. If you share your images with a printing service, gallery, or portfolio reviewer, it’s vitally important that the all monitors on which your work is viewed speak the same language — that is, that what appears on one monitor appears close to the same on another monitor. If you do your own printing, your prints should be a very close match to what you see on your monitor. If they’re not, chances are that either your monitor calibration or your printer profile are inaccurate.

Of course, you have no control over anyone else’s monitor, but you have considerable control over your own. The process is monitor calibration, and one can only hope that those on the receiving end are also using a well-calibrated monitor. The good news is that, when imaging professionals are concerned, they probably are.

Datacolor pic2Thanks to relatively inexpensive hardware and accompanying software, the process is simple. A good calibration tool and software from Datacolor (Spyder 5 Elite) or X-Rite (i1 Display Pro), as well as others, costs under $300, and can profoundly improve your control over your work. You should be aware, though, that some monitors are much more amenable to accurate calibration than others. Monitors from Eizo and NEC are prone to better calibration than most. Apple monitors are less so. But in the end, calibration is well worth it, regardless of the brand. It’s a simple process that generally takes just a few minutes every two to four weeks. 

For a printing service, the question constantly arises, is this file meant to be printed exactly as I see it, because it came from a calibrated monitor? Did the artist really intend those muddy blacks and dingy whites or over-saturated reds? Perhaps it was intentional, or perhaps the monitor gave them inaccurate information. The person doing the printing can only make educated guesses. If you share your images and you’re serious about the appearance of your work, whether printed or viewed on a monitor, calibration is a necessity. Even if you don’t share your work, a well-calibrated monitor will give you a meaningful standard by which to both adjust your images and view them.

James Barker is the Director of PhotoPlace Gallery and a printer with some 50 years experience in wet and digital darkrooms.