This tutorial discusses using the Spyder4Pro to calibrate most desktop screens – that is, screens which have buttons and menus to control contrast, brightness and colour.
Before you begin, please make sure you’ve read this article.
Part 1: Screen setup
Make sure your screen has been turned on for at least fifteen minutes before starting this process.
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.
Reset to factory defaults (first time only)
When you’re getting ready to calibrate for the very first time, you need to search the screen’s menu to find the setting that puts everything back to its starting point. Every screen is different, so I can’t tell you exactly where to find this function, but trust me, it’ll be there somewhere. It might be called "Reset Screen Defaults" or "Restore Factory Settings", or something like that. You get the idea.
(When you’re doing subsequent monthly calibrations, this reset step shouldn’t be necessary. But never say never – some screens may need that "kick in the pants" each time, if they won’t recalibrate easily.)
Move the OSD
On some screens, the OSD (on-screen display, ie the menu) is right in the middle by default. That’s no good, of course, because that’s where the calibration needs to take place.
Somewhere in the menus will be the controls for the OSD’s position. Find them, and move it over to one side, or down into a corner.
Adjust brightness to match prints
The Spyder4Pro helps you control the brightness of your screen, but in a kind of unintuitive way. I’ve done some testing and experimentation, and I’ve found that the best approach is to adjust the brightness manually before you start your first ever calibration.
So, 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.
Explore the colour presets
Now you need to investigate the range of colour settings that your screen offers. All monitors will have two or three (or more) colour presets – they’ll be called "Warm", "Normal" & "Cool", or "6500K", "7500K" & "9300K", or something like that. (Most will also have a "Custom" or "User RGB" setting, but we’ll try to avoid that complexity if possible.)
Found ’em? Great. Now grab a piece of paper, and write them down in a column:
A little later you’ll be writing their precise temperatures on that page.
Choose the first preset
Set your screen to the first colour preset in your list, whatever it might be.
Part 2: Install software
Do you still have the disk that came with your Spyder? Great. Run it now to install the software.
After you’ve installed, plug the calibrator into a USB port, and launch the software.
It’ll ask you to activate the software, which only takes a moment. It will also ask you a couple of questions about checking for automatic updates (say yes) and providing information to Datacolor (up to you).
Part 3: Setup
On the Welcome screen, you’ll see all of the advice that I’ve already given you (about warm up, light, resetting etc):
In the "Display Controls" section, you can ignore the second instruction. You’ll be dealing with colour temperature later.
From the File menu, choose Preferences:
These should all be fine. Make sure the Recalibration Warning is set to Monthly, and Check for software updates is turned on.
Go to the Advanced Settings …
… and turn on the "Show RGB Sliders" checkbox:
Press "OK" twice to exit Preferences and return to the main screen.
Check all four checkboxes, then press "Next" at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen to continue:
Needless to say, choose "LCD" here:
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.
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:
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 colours they can show. If the salesman boasted to you about a "110% gamut" or "Adobe RGB gamut" screen, it means wide-gamut.)
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 monitor is a bit older, so it’s a regular LCD screen, with flourescent backlighting:
This is the part where you tell the software what your screen can and can’t do:
Don’t check the Contrast one, but check the other three:
After some testing, I’ve found that there’s no benefit in trying to let the Spyder control your screen’s contrast. The factory default contrast setting is invariably the safest, so don’t mess with it.
After you press "Next", you’ll see a warning dialog telling you about the risk of "unacceptable calibration results" if you adjust the red, green and blue settings on your screen:
Let me tell you folks, it is not joking. You really do get some dodgy results if you try fiddling with those sliders. Don’t worry, I’m going to guide you through the safe pathway. Press OK.
Part 4: Calibration Settings
This screen is the hub of the whole operation:
These three settings are fine as shown here (for now):
But this one needs to be turned off:
The next screen tells you to set your screen’s colour temperature. Ignore it for now, just press Next again:
Part 5: Lights out
At this point, if you haven’t already, turn off the lights or pull the blinds, or whatever. For your best chance of accurate calibration, make your room as dark as possible.
Part 6: Monitor readings
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.
Click "Next" to begin the calibration process.
Read the first preset temperature
The device will take a minute to read black, red, green, blue and white. Then it will stop here:
There is a whole lot of guff on this screen, but really only one thing that’s important right now – the Current Kelvin value:
Remember back at the start, how I asked you to write down the names of all your monitor’s temperature presets, then set your screen to the first one? Well, that Current Kelvin reading is telling you the exact temperature of your screen’s first preset.
On my screen, it’s 6323K. Yours will be different, of course. Whatever it is, write it down:
Read the other preset temperatures
I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. I want you to access your screen’s menu, and choose the second preset.
Then press the "Update" button:
It’ll take a few seconds, then give you a reading for the second temperature:
Write that one down, then change to the next preset, press Update, write it down, etc, etc, until you’ve read and recorded all of the values of your screen’s presets.
Get outta there
Once you’ve taken all those readings, DON’T continue. Instead, press your Esc key to take you back to the previous screen:
Then press "Back" a couple of times …
… until you are at the Settings screen again:
Part 7: Choose the best preset
Ok, now you’ve got all those numbers written down, it’s time to evaluate them.
For almost all of you, the goal is to choose the preset which got closest to 6500K. Most labs recommend this target. If you lab doesn’t give a specific recommendation on their website, you can usually assume that 6500K is the right temperature to aim for.
My screen gives me a preset which is just over 6400K. That’s fabulous, I’m very lucky. I hope you’ll be that lucky too.
But don’t sweat it if you can’t get within 100 points of 6500K. Honestly, anything from 6000K to 7000K is a good starting point.
(If you don’t have a preset that gets you in the 6000-7000K range, it might be time for a new screen – start putting a few dollars aside.)
Set your screen to the best preset. Now you’re ready to calibrate – for real this time.
Part 8: Calibration
Change the White Point target from 6500K to "Native":
This is the key to good results. Choosing Native for the white point target allows for the most "comfortable" calibration, without trying to force your screen to show colours it can’t achieve.
Press Next a couple of times until you arrive here again:
Your device is probably still on your screen, and your lights are probably still turned off. If not, do so now. Then press "Next" to start the show.
The device will take a minute to read black, red, green, blue and white. Then it will pause here:
At the top right it will tell you the Target brightness (120, which is the LCD target we chose earlier) and your Current brightness, which should be lower than 120. (You can see mine is quite a bit lower at 97.)
Your "Current" brightness should be between 70 and 100. If so, press "Continue" right away:
BUT … if it’s lower than 70 or higher than 100, I’m sorry, but I kinda need you to stop here, turn your light back on, and go right back to the start, and re-visit your print matching from Part 1. In good light, you really should have a print match somewhere between 70 and 100.
If you can’t be bothered starting over, adjust your screen’s brightness until it’s at approximately 80. That should be a safe area for most people.
IMPORTANT: If you make changes to your screen’s brightness, you must press the "Update" button each time, so that the "Current" reading will change to reflect your new result.
Once you’re as near as possible to 80, press "Continue" to move on:
For the next few minutes, your screen will display a whole range of colours while the device reads and records them:
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":
New target notification
Upon finishing, you’ll almost certainly get this little pop-up:
Don’t be alarmed – it’s a good thing. It’s telling you that your new Brightness target has been recorded in the software, where it will be remembered for you for all subsequent calibrations.
Part 9: Save and evaluate the profile
Now it’s time to give your profile a name. Your naming convention isn’t vital, and you can do whatever you like, but I find that it’s handy to name it by the three targets you chose earlier. I calibrated my screen to a Gamma of 2.2 (the default, of course), a White Point of Native, and a Brightness of 100, so I’ve named my profile thus:
For most people, monthly recalibration is quite adequate. You’d only choose a shorter timeframe if you were (a) a raging nerd, or (b) worried that your screen might be dying:
Once saved, you’ll get this enthusiastic message:
Then you can press "Next"
Next, 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.
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.
Press "Quit" to finish.
Part 10: Lights up
Turn your lights back on, or open the blinds, or whatever.
Part 11: 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 12: Troubleshooting
If you find that your screen is brighter or darker than your prints, adjust your screen’s brightness as needed, then run the calibration again.
Note: If you find that you need a target lower than 70, or higher than 110, I encourage you to make a frank assessment of the light in which you work, and decide if it’s truly suitable for imaging.
If you are unhappy with the colour of your calibrated screen, you can try a couple of things.
But first, ask yourself if your calibration was as good as it could be. Was the device sitting perfectly flat against the screen? Was there too much light glaring on the screen? Was there any risk that the screen might have dimmed during calibration? If there’s any doubt in your mind about those questions, try a plain (careful!) recalibration.
At this point, 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.
Consult your piece of paper again. If you feel that your screen needs to be warmer to match your prints, choose the preset that gave you the next lowest number. If you feel that your screen needs to be cooler to match your prints, choose the next highest preset.
Once you’ve changed the screen setting, calibrate again.
Part 13: 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: Make a frank assessment about the quality of your monitor. If it’s a bit old, or rather cheap, or both, maybe it’s time to bequeath it to the kids, and buy yourself a better one. General info about monitors here.
- New calibrator: If you’re confident that your screen is new enough, and of high enough quality, then you should consider spending some extra money on a higher-level calibrator that gives more control over colour.
Part 14: Regular recalibration
After one month has passed, the Spyder software will remind you to recalibrate.
Simply launch the software, and when you get to this page, choose "ReCAL":
It will pause at this step so that you can tweak the brightness to hit your target if necessary:
And the rest of the process is very familiar and straightforward. Nothing to it!
If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.