This page last updated: March 2018
On this page I will discuss calibration devices which are presently available in the marketplace. I will keep it as up-to-date as I can. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I actually own almost every device mentioned on this page. Yes, I’m a geek.
If you need it, please visit my blog for general information about monitor calibration.
If quality and control are your main considerations
If you’re very serious about your craft, and especially if you make (or intend to make) money from it, go for the best:
These two devices are the bee’s knees. They can calibrate any monitor you choose, to any targets you choose. If your budget allows it, they won’t let you down.
Important disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate. Therefore, many links in this section are to Amazon pages. While I am immensely grateful to anyone who purchases via my links, I urge you not to abandon normal shopping prudence. If you find an item cheaper elsewhere, definitely go for it.
Previous generation of Spyders
At the time of this update, it’s still possible to buy the Spyder4s, so you might find this at a good price:
Why would you buy an older Spyder? Well, the Spyder5 series are only for the newest screen technology – LED and Retina-type LCDs. If you, like me, have an older non-LED LCD screen (known as “CCFL” or “fluro backlight”), you’d probably need a Spyder4.
I hasten to add that the Spyder4 series calibrates LED screens as well, so you wouldn’t be limiting yourself in that regard. In short, the Spyder4Elite is still a great device. But of course, it seems inevitable that the manufacturer will cease to support it with software updates at some point in the future, so bear that in mind.
And just to clarify, the X-Rite i1Display Pro does both LED and non-LED screens just fine.
If your budget is a factor
If you, like many people, are trying to be more frugal, the decision-making process can be framed in these terms:
“How much help does my screen need?”
Assess your screen in its uncalibrated state, compared to your prints from a pro lab. How closely do they match?
1. They don’t match at all
This means your screen needs all the help it can get; therefore you should buy one of the most powerful calibrators that I mentioned above:
But there are two other aspects to consider in this situation. First, follow this troubleshooter to make sure your print problems aren’t caused by colour space.
Second, consider if some of your hard-earned money might be better spent on a new screen instead. These days, good screens are getting more and more affordable. You might find you’ll be more satisfied spending your money on a newer, better screen and a cheaper calibrator, than an expensive calibrator for your old screen.
Of course, you might have a brand new screen that simply isn’t very good. There are plenty of those out there. It’s not only old screens that can be bad, just as it’s not only new screens that can be good. Either way, this screen-vs-calibrator decision is one you’ll have to make, and for whatever it’s worth, my opinion is that a better screen with a cheaper calibrator is a more satisfactory way to spend your dough.
2. They’re close, but not an exact match
For your best guarantee of a great print match, once again I emphasise the quality of the top tier devices – the SpyderElite and the i1DisplayPro. However, since your screen doesn’t need huge manipulation, you might get good results with the mid-range devices:
These two devices are good. They’re not the most function-rich calibrators on the market, but they perform their functions very well. I find the Munki slightly more user-friendly, so I lean towards it by a small margin, but you’d be satisfied with either one.
3. They match almost identically
If this is you, you’re probably one of many people who think they don’t need to calibrate at all. Actually, you should.
But because your screen doesn’t need any shifting, just maintenance, you might be satisfied with the cheapest tier of device:
Even though this is a “recommendations” page, I don’t really recommend the Express. I mean, I want everyone to be calibrated, so I’m pleased that this low-price option exists. Basic calibration is better than none.
But I need you to know that this device has quite limited functionality. It doesn’t control brightness, and only gives two colour temperature options. And it’s fickle! One month it might give you a great calibration first go, but next month it might take three or four tries to nail it. And for some screens, it simply never works well at all. It’s a big ol’ gamble.
To summarise … consider this calibrator if it suits your budget, but if at all possible, I encourage you to stretch your budget to something a little better.
Other budget devices
For the sake of review, I wasted some of my money to buy this device. It’s terrible. Avoid it like the plague.
I wasn’t prepared to spend money on this one, because I haven’t read many positive things about it. To be safe, I’d say steer away from it.
Once you’ve made your purchase, head to my monitor calibration instructions page for a step-by-step guide to using it.
Remember to gather or order your test prints while you’re waiting for the calibrator to arrive. Do NOT wait until after you’ve calibrated to get prints. You need those prints beside you when you calibrate, so you can immediately know if the calibration was successful.
Calibrators for home printers
I’m firmly on the record stating that I think printing at home is for mugs. All that expense of wasted paper and inks and time when stuff goes wrong – who needs it? Pro labs are so reliable and fast.
However, if you’re printing your own, your printer needs to be calibrated. So you’ll need one of these:
I have used some of these devices, but only briefly, and a long time ago. Please do your own research very carefully, to find out which one is best for you.
Note: Buying second-hand
Buying used is tricky. First, you have to be entirely satisfied that the device is being sold for the right reasons (ie not dodgy) and that’s hard to do.
Second, you have to be very sure that the device will work with your screen and operating system. Nothing worse than buying a device then finding it isn’t compatible with your LED screen, or your version of Windows, or whatever.
But to complicate matters, remember that just because a device didn’t work for somebody else, doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work for you. Maybe your screen is better suited to it than theirs was.
So do your research very carefully. Ideally, ask to test the device on your screen before buying it. If that’s not possible, be sure you can return it for a refund if it doesn’t work.