Monitor Calibration For Photo Editing

October 27, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Monitor Calibration For Photo Editing


Why Calibrate Your Display?

Every display device, whether it be a desktop monitor, laptop screen, smart phone, tablet, projector, TV, etc displays images differently. The same image displayed on your monitor can look vastly different when displayed on your friend’s monitor (or maybe even a contest judge’s monitor). This is because each type of device typically has different capabilities. Even devices with the same or similar capabilities may be adjusted differently resulting in how images are displayed (ie; Normal verses Vivid, etc). These adjustments may not only effect how colors are displayed but also how contrast and sharpness are viewed.


So how do you get “true color” between different devices so that your images will display consistently across different devices? This is a challenge as you do not have control over other people’s devices. Nonetheless, by calibrating your display (monitor) you can establish a commonality with other devices that are also calibrated. This is a highly recommended process you should take, especially before doing any type of photo editing. Calibration will also help when preparing an image for printing as you will want the colors sent to your printer to be as close as possible to matching that printers color settings.


What is Monitor Calibration And What Tools Do I Need?

Monitor calibration is the process of measuring and adjusting the colors on your monitor so that it will match a common standard. To do this you will need some type of sensor device that measures the values put out by your monitor. Such devices are called spectrophotometers or colorimeters and there are many on the market to choose from. You will also need monitor calibration software that works with your device.


Note: Some devices (usually very specialized commercial display devices) are calibrated at the factory and/or have self-calibration capabilities. These are typically extremely expensive and are not normally available to those of us doing photography for fun and profit.


Some computer systems, like Windows 10 and MacOS, offer calibration tools built right into the computer’s operating system or have software programs that do not require sensor devices. The problem with these tools and programs is they rely on the user’s visual perception to make intricate monitor setting adjustments. This is problematic as these types of adjustments can only be as good as your own visual capabilities and usually will not match the settings of other calibrated devices (it is believed that as many as 1 out of 12 men and 1 out of 255 women have some form of color vision deficiency).  Also our vision and perception of colors and hues may be perceived differently based on the lighting around us, our gender, our age and our level of tiredness.


For the most accurate colors you will want to invest in a monitor calibration kit.  This type of kit typically includes a spectrometer (or colorimeter) sensor device, software and instructions. These types of tools do not rely on a user’s visual perception to make adjustments.  A monitor calibration kit compares the monitor’s color output with known colors through a combination of hardware and software that are specifically designed to work together.


How Do I Calibrate My Monitor?

There are various steps you need to take to successfully and accurately calibrate your monitor. These can seem very technical and complex but once you understand the steps and have practiced them a few times, it will become more familiar and easier.


Each computer and display (monitor) combination may produce somewhat different results and may require somewhat different steps, but there is commonality between all of these. To help guide you through the process, I will describe the steps I take with my Windows PC and my NEC PA272W monitor.



Pre-Calibration Steps

Prior to calibrating your computer’s monitor, there are several steps you should take to ensure your computer’s components are at the latest updates and will therefore take full advantage of your monitor calibration settings. Below is a short list of these pre-calibration steps. More detailed step-by-step instructions can be reviewed in the Appendix section of this White Paper.

  1. Make sure your Computer has the most recent Microsoft Updates.
  2. Make sure your computer’s graphics card has the most recent, updated driver.
  3. Make sure your computer’s Monitor has the most recent, updated driver.
  4. Make sure the Monitor Controls on the actual Monitor (NEC PA272W) are properly set as follows:
    1. Mode                                          =             AdobeRGB
    2. White                                         =             6500k
    3. All Other Settings                   =             Monitor Default
  5. Purchase a Monitor Calibration Kit (Sensor, Software & Instructions) and install the software.

Note: There are several excellent available Monitor Calibration Kits currently available. Each has its own capabilities, weaknesses and advocates but basically, they can all do a good job provided you have followed the Pre-Calibration Steps and correctly follow the steps provided with the calibration software.

Some of the more common Monitor Calibration Kits available are:

  • Datacolor Spyder5PRO (S5P100)
  • Datacolor DC S3P100 Spyder 3 Pro
  • X-Rite i1Display Pro – Display Calibration (EODIS3)
  • X-Rite ColorMunki Smile (CMUNSML)
  • X-Rite ColorMunki (CMUNDISCCPP)
  • Wacom EODIS3-DCWA Color Manager
  • NEC SpectraSensor Pro Color Calibration Sensor
  • ViewSonic CS-xRi1 Color Calibration Kit

Some of the newer calibration software kits now have the ability of evaluating the measured capabilities of you monitor as well as reporting on its display consistencies. After you have performed your monitor calibration, you should review these reports, so you are more aware of your monitor’s strengths and weaknesses.

Datacolor’s SpyderX Elite – Additional Capabilities, Tests & Reports

When looking to upgrade my monitor calibration device and software (the last time I had purchased one was in 2011), one of the reasons I chose Datacolor’s SpyderX Elite for monitor calibration is its for many of its advanced capabilities. One of these is the ability for the software to analyze my monitor and report what percentage of various color gamuts my monitor is capable of and if it falls short, where in the gamut’s spectrum it does this. The software also has the ability to compare different displays and to determine which has the best color reproduction.

As I am mostly concerned about my photography work using both the sRGB and AdobeRGB color gamuts, I see my monitor has the following color capabilities:

  • sRGB – According to Datacolor’s SpyderX Elite software, my monitor is capable of producing 95% of sRGB’s color values.
  • Adobe RGB - According to Datacolor’s SpyderX Elite software, my monitor is capable of producing 89% of AdobeRGB’s color values.

Although I originally purchased my NEC PA272W monitor in 2015, at matching 9% of AdobeRGB’s 16.7 million colors, it still seems capable of meeting many of my current photography requirements (although lower than the marketing hype of 99.3% of the AdobeRGB color gamut that it was supposed to meet).

The Datacolor’s SpyderX Elite software is also capable of producing many other tests. 

Each of these tests would be useful in helping to evaluate my current monitor, its capabilities and shortcomings. Given today’s technologies I wonder how much more color gamut I would be able to utilize using a newer 4k or 8k monitor (and if making such an investment would be of any use in helping to make my images better). This may be a question I would answer given anticipated upcoming sales promotions and the holidays…





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