Regardless of which calibrator or screen you have, please read this brief article first.
If you have a desktop screen, make sure it is connected to your computer by the most modern connection option available, such as HDMI or DVI. Do not use a VGA cable unless your computer supports absolutely nothing else.
Turn off Auto Brightness
It’s vitally important to make sure your screen isn’t adjusting its own brightness without your control. Some Macs and laptops have this feature.
Mac users, go to System Preferences > Displays to find yours. PC users, go to Settings > System > Display. If you see that checkbox, turn it OFF:
The proof of calibration is in the printing, so the first thing you should do after calibration is compare some prints to your screen.
So, before you calibrate, gather about half a dozen prints, and the files from which they were printed, so that you’re ready to check your calibration afterwards.
If you already have prints lying around, that’s fabulous. If not, go ahead and order some right away. Please don’t wait until after you’ve calibrated to send off for prints. Do it now.
- The prints must be from your usual lab
- Your usual lab must be a good professional lab
- You must be sure you adhered to the lab’s colour profile requirements (eg sRGB)
- You must not have allowed the lab to perform any "auto-correction" on your files
- Home prints are not sufficient. No matter how expensive your printer is. These reference prints MUST be from a pro lab.
What prints to choose
- A range of colour prints that encompass all corners of the colour spectrum (some skin, some blue skies, some green trees, some pink fabric, etc, etc.) Emphasis on photos that represent your own style of photography.
- At least one photo with near-neutral tones. Whites, greys and blacks, pale browns, faint yellows, mild pastels, that kind of thing. Non-colourful photos are just as important as colourful ones.
What prints NOT to choose
- Don’t choose any really vivid colours, such as hot pinks. They are unlikely to be printable anyway, and will just serve to confuse the calibration issue. Stick to "moderate" colours.
- Don't bother with black-and-white photos. They're the hardest photos of all for labs to print, and honestly, black-and-white print matching is pot luck. Don't burden yourself with it at this stage.
The light around your computer is very important for editing, and print comparison. Please read this article and consider the light that you’re in. If necessary, make changes to your environment.
Some calibrators have the ability to read your light, and recommend calibration settings based upon it. Some even have the ability to change your screen while you’re using it, according to changes in your lighting. I do not recommend using either of these functions. If there is a problem with your lighting, fix it at the source, rather than changing your monitor to compensate for it.
It’s a pretty good idea to calibrate in low light. Not pitch dark, necessarily, just dim. It removes even the slightest risk of light bleeding in and messing with the calibration result. But after you’ve finished calibrating, make sure you turn the lights back on, before trying to compare prints, or begin editing.
After you’ve calibrated, it’s time to compare the prints to the screen.
Open your digital files in a colour-managed program (Photoshop, Elements or Bridge.) For heaven’s sake don’t use Windows Picture Viewer, or anything like that.
Make sure you don’t hold the prints too close to the screen. This is an easy mistake to make – holding the print right next to the screen, or just below it, then worrying that the print is too dark.
Your monitor is a light source. If you hold your print too near the screen, you’re effectively back-lighting it. Like a camera set to Average Metering mode, your eye “stops down” to allow for the light source, and the print appears dark.
So, you must hold the print out to one side, and turn your head ninety degrees when comparing it to the screen. This allows your eye and brain a fraction of a second to adjust and compensate for the difference between the illuminated and non-illuminated colours.
Can you expect your screen to match your prints exactly? No. It’s a light source vs paper – they’ll never be identical. So, you need to be sensible in your expectations. Some tolerance is required.
Don’t ask yourself "Does this match this perfectly?". That’s a question that’ll end in tears more often than not.
Instead, ask yourself "If I sent this to the lab, and got this back, would I be satisfied? More importantly, would my family/client be satisfied?" If the answer is "No", then you need to investigate re-calibration options. But if it’s "Yes", then be happy.
In each of the individual calibration tutorials, I will discuss strategies for recalibrating if you find that your screen doesn’t match your prints satisfactorily. Return to the main calibration page to choose your tutorial.
You should recalibrate once a month. Some people do it once a week, and some raging geeks do it every morning. But for most of us, monthly is fine.
Your calibration software should have an option to set a monthly reminder, so you don’t forget.
If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.