True Colors

The joy of digital photography can be quickly diffused when the photograph we’ve printed doesn’t resemble what we saw on our monitors. Dramatic differences in brightness, contrast and especially color make using a digital darkroom an exercise in frustration instead of creativity.

Photographers can save themselves the aggravation, as well as loads of paper and ink, by calibrating their monitors. Just because that brand-new monitor looks impressive on your desk doesn’t mean that it’s prepared to be the heart of your photographic workflow. Thankfully, the process of preparing your monitor to accurately display color and tone is both easy and affordable at prices beginning as low as $79.

Monitor-calibration systems, such as those from Datacolor ColorVision, Pantone and X-Rite (formerly GretagMacbeth), have been designed to help photographers, whether professional or enthusiast, make sure that their LCDs or CRTs are outputting the best and most accurate image possible.

What you want from a monitor is for it to provide a color-neutral workspace that allows you to confidently enhance your images. Since so much of image editing is dependent on a visual assessment of what’s on the screen, a calibrated monitor becomes essential.
Today’s color-calibration systems are both accurate and simple to use. The main component of these products is a colorimeter, which when placed in front of a display, measures brightness and color values. The included software displays a series of screenshots, which consist of different neutral values, colors, patterns and levels of brightness. Taking the data provided by the colorimeter, the software creates a specific profile that optimizes the output of the monitor.

It’s recommended that you calibrate your system once a month to ensure accuracy, because your monitor will change as it gets older. Though the display likely will remain fairly consistent for the first several years of its life, it’s important to develop the habit of regular calibration.

Calibration tools help ensure display consistency, so that adjustments you make to your images are repeatable and predictable, which ultimately results in better print output with less guesswork.

Once your monitor is calibrated, it doesn’t mean that your prints will exactly match what’s on your screen. It’s important to remember that the image you see on a monitor and what’s printed on paper are from completely different mediums. A monitor uses a combination of red, green and blue light to produce an image that’s emitted through the monitor, while a photograph is created by the reflection of light on a surface whose color is produced by a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks.


The image on your monitor will never exactly match what’s on paper, especially since your choice of paper, be it glossy, matte, watercolor or otherwise, will impact how the photograph is reproduced. The goal is to have an accurate monitor, so that any changes you make to the image can be consistent and repeatable.

For those who choose not to use a system with a colorimeter, DisplayMate offers a system that uses a series of screenshots and user adjustments to optimize the image on the screen.

Whichever system you use, it’s essential that you perform such adjustments and measurements on a regular basis to help ensure that your prints can become the best they can be.


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Datacolor Colorvision (800) 554-8688

DisplayMate Technologies (800) 932-6323

Pantone (201) 935-5500

X-Rite (formerly GretagMacbeth) (914) 347-3300