This tutorial discusses using the Spyder4Express to calibrate screens which have no adjustability other than their brightness. This includes:
– All Macs
– All laptops
– Those all-in-one PCs that are trying to be Macs

It might also include very cheap desktop screens with no buttons or menus to control their color.

(To the best of my knowledge, this tutorial should be fairly applicable to the Spyder3Express as well.)

Before you begin, please make sure you’ve read this article first.

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Part 1: Brightness

The SpyderExpress doesn’t adjust the brightness of your screen, nor even give you any guidance about it, so you have to do it manually before you start.

Warm up

Make sure your screen has been turned on for at least half an hour before starting this process.

Light

Make sure you’re in good light. Viewing prints in dim light is a futile exercise. It needs to be bright enough, and white enough. Read this if you haven’t already done so.

Adjust brightness to match prints

Compare your prints to your screen, and adjust the screen’s brightness to get an acceptable match. Remember, don’t hold the print close to the screen – it must be out to the side, so you have to turn your head to compare.

Please don’t agonise over this brightness step. Near enough is good enough.

If you’ve never adjusted the brightness of your screen before, it’s likely to seem horribly dim to you at first. Don’t worry, you’ll be used to it in no time at all, and you’ll wonder how you ever tolerated it so bright before.

Part 2: Install software

Nothing much to tell here. Install the software from the disk that came with your calibrator.

However, it’s a very good idea to visit the Datacolor site to make sure you’ve got the latest version.

After you’ve installed, plug the calibrator into a USB port, and launch the software.

Part 3: Setup

On the Welcome screen, you’ll see all of the advice that I’ve already given you (about warm up and light):

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In the “Display Controls” section, please ignore the first two instructions about Contrast and Color Temperature. They don’t apply to your screen. The third point, about Brightness, is very relevant, but we already addressed it in Part 1 of this tutorial.

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Preferences

From the Go menu, choose Preferences:

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Set the Recal warning for monthly, and turn on the “LCD Native” option, then press OK:

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“Check for software updates” should be turned on by default. “Share calibration data” is up to you. “Netbook controls” are only if needed, of course.

Press “Next” at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen to continue.

Display Type

No mystery here – most of us have LCD or Laptop screens nowadays:

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On every screen in the software, the Help button is readily available. Always take a moment to use it if you need to. I must say I’m very impressed with Datacolor’s help documentation.

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Make and Model

I must confess I don’t understand the purpose of this screen. Maybe it’s just so that Datacolor has a reference for your calibration data, if you’ve chosen to share it with them. Anyway, I dutifully chose my manufacturer from the drop-down menu, and typed in the model of my laptop:

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Display Technology

This section really is important. The Help document says to leave these menus on “unknown” if you genuinely don’t know the answers, but please make the effort to find out the answers if you don’t know.

If you have a wide-gamut screen, I’m sure you’ll know about it, because your wallet will be that much lighter because of it. Most laptop and Mac screens are normal gamut, but check your paperwork if you’re not sure.

(Please don’t mix up wide gamut with wide format. Wide format screens are … y’know, wide. 16:9 shape, or whatever. “Wide Gamut” refers to the range of colors they can show. If the salesman boasted to you about a “110% gamut” or “Adobe RGB gamut” screen, it means wide-gamut.)

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The Backlight should also be fairly easy. If you have an LED screen, the manual or your invoice should tell you. Many newer screens are LED nowadays. If you do have an LED screen, it’s almost certainly White LED. RGB LED screens are still pretty rare and expensive.

My laptop is a bit older, so it’s a regular LCD screen, with flourescent backlighting:

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Part 4: Lights out

At this point, if you haven’t already, turn off the lights or pull the blinds, or whatever. Spyders are notoriously sensitive to light sneaking in, so for your best chance of accurate calibration, make your room as dark as possible.

Part 5: Calibration

Tilt the screen back, and use the counterweight on the cord to hang the sensor over the back, so it’s positioned roughly on the diagram on the screen.

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Click “Next” to begin the calibration process.

For a few minutes, the device will read a range of colors:

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NOTE: Please wiggle your mouse every few seconds while calibrating. It’s probably completely unnecessary, but do it anyway. The last thing you need is for your screen to dim itself from lack of activity after a minute or two – that throws the whole calibration into a cocked hat, believe me. Of course, don’t let the mouse pointer go underneath the device – just keep it at the side.

Once the Spyder has taken all its measurements, remove it from the screen, and press “Finish”:

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Part 6: The results

Here, you get a screen with a “Switch” button which allows you to compare your screen with and without its new profile. It’s fun, but fairly pointless, so don’t linger here very long. Press Next to continue.

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This screen tells you the profile has been saved:

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This screen is a bit more important than the others, because it tells you the gamut of your screen. But that’s still not particularly important, because the gamut is what it is – there’s nothing you can do to change it.

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In this screenshot, you can see that my humble laptop screen has a gamut of 69% of sRGB. But you can see that it in fact exceeds sRGB in the red-to-green part of the spectrum. What does it all mean? Nothing, really, except to serve as a reminder that I’d be utterly wasting my time if I was working in Adobe RGB for my image editing.

Part 7: Lights up

Turn your lights back on, or open the blinds, or whatever.

Part 8: The comparison

Now that the calibration is finished, it’s time to check the results, by comparing some prints. I explained this process on this page.

If you are satisfied that you have an acceptable match, then your work is done. You may begin editing, or go and have a beer, or something.

Part 9: Troubleshooting

Brightness

Even though you adjusted brightness before commencing, you might find that you’re not entirely happy with the brightness level you chose.

In that case, just re-adjust the brightness, then run the calibration again.

You might be thinking “Really? I have to recalibrate after tweaking the brightness?” Strictly speaking, yes. The calibration process creates a profile which is an exact description of the characteristics of your monitor at that point in time. If you adjust anything, the profile isn’t relevant any more.

However, if you only tweak ever so slightly, and you’re not a raging nerd about your imaging, then you can probably get away with it until next month’s calibration. Just don’t tell anyone I told you that!

color

If you are unhappy with the color of your calibrated screen … well, the Spyder Express doesn’t give you much flexibility, I’m afraid.

This is the crux of the matter. When you spend a small amount of money, you get a small amount of calibration control. Therefore, this “Troubleshooting” section is fairly short, because your options are limited.

First, please let me reiterate – have some tolerance. Calibration isn’t some kind of magic. It can never make ink on paper exactly match light coming from a screen. “Acceptably close” is what we’re aiming for.

So, if the color isn’t to your liking, the first thing to do is recalibrate. Exactly as before. Make doubly sure that the device is sitting perfectlyflush against the screen, so that no light can leak in. And remember to move your mouse occasionally during the readings, to prevent screen dimming.

During my testing, I found that this device is really sensitive to surrounding light. I had to go as far as putting a thick towel over the whole computer while the calibration was running:

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Native off

If plain recalibration doesn’t work, then there is only one option remaining. Go back to Preferences …

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… and turn off “LCD Native”:

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Then calibrate again.

That exhausts your options, I’m afraid. You really only have two – Native on or off. Try both, and see which one you like best.

Part 10: If all else fails

If, after numerous calibration attempts, you can’t get a result you like, you have four options:

Contact Datacolor

They’re the experts, after all. See if they have a solution for you. Maybe you’ve got some kind of graphics card glitch, or something.

Lower your expectations

Choose the best calibration, and live with it.

New screen

This shouldn’t apply to Mac people, but it definitely might apply to PC people. Mac screens are pretty darn good, but the same can’t always be said of PC laptop screens. So, PC peeps, consider buying a good external monitor to run off your laptop. General info about monitors here.

New calibrator

This one applies to Mac people, since your screen should be pretty good. Spend some extra money on a higher-level calibrator that gives more control over color.

Part 11: Regular recalibration

After one month has passed, the Spyder software will remind you to recalibrate.

If you’ve installed a new version of the software in that time, you’ll need to go through all of the above steps again. However, if nothing has changed, you can quickly recalibrate by simply choosing “Full Calibration” from the Go menu:

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