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Tech Take-Apart
Introduction to Monitor Color Calibration
by kp

During the holidays you can accumulate a lot of photos from parties, family reunions, and company gatherings. Editing all of those photos can be a daunting task, but even more important is to get the best quality prints. For good prints, you need to start not with your printer settings - but your monitor settings. On screen your photos may appear okay, but an uncalibrated monitor can mislead you on what the actual hues are in your images. Worse yet, you may end up with a pile of photos looking dark or off-color.

Both Windows and Mac OS X offer system settings to adjust the color on your display. You may have additional controls available on your monitor (for desktops) or with your computer’s video card but because each manufacturer is different, I am going to cover the basics on using the system control panels, reviewing other popular color management tools and color terminology.

To begin, let’s review some general terms about display technology and color management. Color is created by two methods: additive color or RGB (red, green, blue) and subtractive color or CMYK (C: cyan, M: magenta, Y: yellow and K: black). Additive color is created from light such as the images on your monitor screen. Subtractive color is created by pigments on a printed image. Because the color is created from two different sources, this is why your prints often look darker than what you may see on screen. By using color management controls, these differences become less noticeable.

The range of colors that can be produced within a device – printer or display – is called the color gamut. To assist in color management for devices, a group of manufacturers formed the International Color Consortium (or ICC) to standardize color management practices. The ICC identifies a device’s color capabilities through color profiles which can be shared between devices such as printers, scanners, monitors to reproduce the image’s original settings. Applications such as ColorSync and Kodak CMS were developed to help with color profile management.

To check your monitor’s settings in Windows, go to Control Panel -> Display -> Settings -> Advanced -> Color Management. From this menu, you can add existing color profiles and apply them to your current monitor settings. For even more accurate color management, Microsoft offers a free tool named Image Color Management (ICM) which can be downloaded here. This tool gives you more control on tracking color profiles for a number of devices and even gives you an enhanced color plot analysis.

Microsoft's ICM Tool

For Macintosh users, there are similar options available through the System Preferences menu. From the Display icon, click on the Color tab to reveal the Display Profiles. You can use one of the existing profiles or make your own by clicking Calibrate. This function allows you to make a profile specific to your environment and requires you to use your monitor’s built-in menus to adjust brightness and contrast. The choice of gamma and white point depends on the lighting within your area. The standard is usually 1.8Gamma and D65 white point. After naming your new profile, click Done to apply. Apple also has its own color management tool called Color Sync. It works similarly to the Windows tool mentioned above in that it can manage and correct device color profiles.

Mac OS X Color Profile Management
Mac OS X Display Adjustment

Next month, we’ll continue to explore more in-depth about color profiles and how to use them to help image editing in Photoshop. Plus, some tips on getting the right colors in your digital photos will be discussed.

Adobe: Color management terminology
Adobe: Setting Up Your Monitor for Color Management (pdf)
Microsoft: Color Management and Windows: An Introduction

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