Calibration (Color Management Part-2)

In the previous article, we talked about why we need color management. Now, let’s talk about what we can do, and that starts with Calibration.

Calibration, in simple terms, is adjusting the colors of your device to match the standard ICC established for us. This is often done with a combination of hardware and software to create a color profile (a characterization). This step is pivotal! If you are not calibrating your equipment, you’re pretty much eyeballing, approximating, or just downright guessing you have the right coloring. When you go to take your imagery to the next level (i.e. printing, publishing, or posting online) you run the risk of your color accuracy going seriously awry.

Monitor Calibration

One of the first things you’ll want to calibrate is you monitor, as that’s where you’ll be doing most of your work. In an ideal situation, you’ll want to have a good quality monitor dedicated to your editing/digital work, and you’ll want to keep it calibrated regularly.

That’s right . . . regularly! Your devices do not stay calibrated. Just like your car, your monitor will need regular “tune-ups”. Regular calibrations are the first line of defense against color errors.

How often you calibrate can depend on the quality and stability of your particular monitor. For a lot of desktop monitors, I’d recommend calibrating about every six months. If you are working on a laptop, which is less ideal for image editing, I’d recommend calibrating around once a month. Again, this depends on the quality of the monitor, but laptops are known for going out of calibration more frequently than desktop monitors.


To perform a calibration, you are going to need a device known as a Colorimeter. This device is used to interpret how your monitor is displaying color, and will then create a conversion if necessary.

There are a variety of companies that make them and they come at a variety of prices as well. X-Rite is the company I recommend, and they have several options of devices such as the i1 Display Pro, and the ColorMunki Display. Datacolor is another good company as well, with the Spyder5PRO.


The colorimeter plugs in with a USB and will hang over the top of your display with a lens that sits flush against your screen. Its software will then display color swatches at full screen and evaluate how your computer displays the color as compared to the ICC standard. Running the software can take anywhere from 2-3 minutes up to 10-15 minutes, with basic and advanced options. So be sure you allow for the proper amount of time for a good calibration.

Calibrating Monitor

Manual Calibration

While most computers come with the ability to manually adjust your calibration, it is not recommended. First off, 1 out of 255 women and 1 out of 12 men have some form of color vision deficiency (if you’d like to know where you fit in that statistic, try X-Rite’s Color Challenge). The human eye can be influenced by a number of factors. Sleep, diet, age, and your mood can all affect the way you see color. Some of the biggest factors, however, are surrounding colors, color fatigue, and color memory.

Surrounding Color

The colors that surround another color can have a visual effect on how that color is perceived. Take the image below for example. The characters in the center are the exact same shade of red, but the shades surrounding them make them appear different from each other.

by Carlos Sanchez
Try covering this image with a piece of paper that has two holes cut out to compare the center colors.

Color Fatigue

Color shape exercise

Color fatigue has to do with the anatomy of your eye. The human eye sees color through cells called Rods and Cones. Rods allow you to see values, while cones are for seeing color. You have cones for Red, cones for green, and cones for blue. The combination of these color cones allows you to see all the other colors. If your eyes are bombarded by a concentration of a single color, the cones used to perceive that color could go into color fatigue and become weaker. As an example, stare at the blue star for 30 seconds and then stare at something white. As you stare at the shape, a patch of blue cones the shape of the star is illuminated with blue light, while the surrounding cones receive a mixture of red+green+blue. When you then look at something that is white, your eyes are receiving the red+green+blue combination. However, the blue cones have been fatigued and are slower to respond, leaving only red+green in the shape of the star (that makes yellow to your eyes by the way).

So what does this have to do with calibration? Well, it could be a concern if you have a wallpaper image on your desktop that has bright vibrant colors. Sending your eyes into color fatigue while you are manually calibrating your monitor. Good luck with getting accurate results then.

With our human eyes being so sensitive to these factors, it’s better to have a device such as a colorimeter do the calibration to avoid any misreading of color.

Printer Calibration

If you are going to be doing your own printing, you’ll want to calibrate your printer. Calibrating a printer is similar to calibrating the monitor, the hardware/software will measure how the colors your printer produces match up with ICC’s standard. It will then create a conversion in the form of a color profile installed on your computer. Then you select that profile whenever you want to print.

Printer calibration takes into account 4 main factors:

  • Printer Model
  • Type of Ink Used (i.e. inkjet, offset, laserjet, etc.)
  • Hue/Value/Saturation of the ink (different brands could have different values)
  • Type of paper/substrate used.

If any one of these factors changes or is different you will need a completely new printer profile. If you have your own printer but like to print on 3 different types of paper, you will need 3 different printer profiles.

Printer Profiles

If calibrating a printer seems a daunting task, don’t panic. There are lots of options for you out there. Most professional print labs perform their own calibrations, so you can feel comfortable sending your work to them. Also, if you do have your own printer, then a lot of the paper manufacturers have preset paper profiles you can download and install for free. These profiles do not know what printer you are using, however. While they do a good job, nothing quite compares to a manual calibration.


Just like with calibrating a monitor, you’ll need a device to perform it. This device is called a spectrophotometer, and it’s very similar to a colorimeter. In fact, a lot of the times you can find devices that are both. Such as X-Rite’s i1Pro2, this bundle allows you to calibrate monitors, projectors, and printers.


Calibration is a big and very important step in making sure you have color accuracy. But it doesn’t end there. What happens when your image leaves your computer? There are even more steps you can take to ensure accurate color goes with your file, and we’ll talk about those in future articles. While you can’t always control the calibration of other’s devices, you can make sure that on your end things were done right. This will improve the likelihood of your image displaying properly.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.