Monitor calibration & you printed products

Monitor calibration for print & you printed products

Color Calibrate Your Monitor to Your Printer

If you’re printing color photos and graphics, you’ll need to make sure your printer and monitor are in sync.

Sad to say, prints can never look like screen images. Screens are bright and display colours using combinations of red, green and blue pixels (RGB). Prints don’t light up so they can’t have the same brightness or contrast range, and they’re printed using cyan, yellow, magenta and black inks (CMYK). Calibration will help but ultimately you will want to proof your print project and or get to know your printer and their output.

Colours are also affected by the light under which you view things, which is why smart buyers take clothes and materials to shop doorways to see what the colours look like in daylight. Do you do the same thing when viewing prints? A print viewed under warm room lighting should not look the same as it does on a monitor set to the standard daylight colour temperature of 6500K, even though your brain will automatically try to compensate for the difference.

Nonetheless, photographers can learn from experience of how colours are going to be reproduced, as long as the process is consistent. I was obliged to do this in the days before personal computing, when I edited photography magazines. Today’s DSLR cameras produce images that are much like the colour slides we used to view on lightboxes, so happily this skill has transferred. However, the more variables you can eliminate, the better your guesses should be. This is where colour gamuts, screen calibration, printer profiles and, yes, standard light sources can help.

A thought experiment…

There should be a way to get the screen image closer to the print, but it would be quite a lot of work, expensive, and you probably won’t like it. First, get a calibration device such as an X-Rite i1 Display Pro (£178) or a Datacolor’s Spyder5 Elite (also £178). Next, calibrate your monitor to match the printer and paper you’re using. In other words, adjust the screen display so that the white matches the white of your paper, and the black matches the maximum black that ink can produce on that particular paper.

It’s better to print a colour patch or test card, rather than a naturalistic image where the brain can interfere with the colour rendering. Fujifilm has a good composite test card.

I’ve never actually tried this, but I imagine the monitor display would be disappointing. You’d have reduced the brightness and contrast range, and most people like bright, contrasty screens.

I’m also not sure how well this would work when using an online printer rather than your own ink-jet. If they do their own colour profiling, their software might try to compensate for yours. You could certainly ask if their printer will respect your colour management profiles (there are “preserve embedded profiles” settings for RGB and CMYK in Adobe Photoshop), but affordable colour printing is based on a high level of automation.

Colour-accurate monitors
If your monitor produces accurate colour and the printer produces accurate colour, then the results ought to be predictable, even though the images are not identical. This is the device-independent solution that underlies the traditional answer, which is to buy a monitor with an accurate colour profile. The main ones are standard sRGB and Adobe RGB. Of course, for this to work, the whole reproduction chain must follow the same standard.

The argument for using Adobe RGB is that it’s wider and includes most of the colours that a CMYK printer can print. That should be better. The argument for using 8-bit sRGB is that practically every device supports it well, and some devices don’t support anything else.

If you’re producing images for internet distribution and on-screen viewing, I think you are better off sticking to sRGB. If you’re producing images for some form of printing, there’s an argument for using Adobe RGB, as long as you can be sure it will be printed that way. You’d have to check this with your online printing service. The websites I looked at all requested sRGB.

Another advantage of using sRGB is that it sets a lower standard that cheap monitors can meet, though better Adobe RGB scores generally indicate a better quality monitor.

In passing, “the whole chain” ought to include the camera, and you can set some (most?) serious cameras – including my own Nikon D7500 – to produce Jpeg images to either sRGB or Adobe RGB standards. This doesn’t mean the colours will be accurate: most cameras give pictures a pleasantly warm boost. (You may be able to check the accuracy of your camera’s colour rendering by searching for the product name at imaging-resource.com.) However, the setting makes no difference if you work from RAW files, which can capture more colours than any colour gamut can handle, including Kodak’s ProPhoto RGB.

Possible choices
Rtings.com keeps a list of The Five Best Monitors for Photo Editing, based on its thorough tests. The Quad HD/2K Dell U2518D is the only one in your price range at £284.49, because it has been discounted from £599. Rtings notes that it “doesn’t cover the Adobe RGB color space very well,” which is something to consider if you plan to use that. (I’m quoting Amazon prices for convenience but you can shop around for better deals.)

Monitors designed for photographers tend to be outrageously expensive, but BenQ offers the 24in SW240 PhotoVue for only £399. It claims “99% Adobe RGB coverage [and] hardware calibration support for accurate colours”. The obvious drawback is the 1920 x 1200 resolution, and the ViewSonic VP2468 seems to offer the same features for only £214.41.

BenQ’s PD2700Q Designer Monitor would get you a 27in screen with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels for £289.98, which is almost the same price as Dell’s 25in U2518D. But anyone looking for a cheap QHD screen could check out the 24in L24q-10 currently on Lenovo’s website for £179.99, or at PC World for £179.

The QHD/2K resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels is now the sweet spot for most applications, including gaming. However, if you use Photoshop to edit 5568 x 3712-pixel or similar images, I’d save up for Rtings’ top pick, the LG 27UK650-W. This is a 27in 4K (3840 x 2160) monitor for £459.99. Alternatively, the LG 27UK600 has the same panel without the built-in speakers or the adjustable stand for £404.99.

It’s well over budget, but you could spend several hours a day looking at it for the next five years, or more. The price difference is only £30 a year.

Tablet or phone check?
DisplayMate Technologies is an industry leader in the business of evaluating, calibrating and optimising displays, and Raymond Soneira – founder, president and CEO – benchmarks some flagship products for colour accuracy. His tests show that the Apple iPhone X and XS Max, Google’s Pixel 3 XL and Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Note 9 smartphones “all provide close to textbook perfect calibration accuracy and performance that is visually indistinguishable from perfect”. They’re almost certainly better than any TV or monitor you own.

Colour-accurate tablets include the Samsung Galaxy Tab S and the Apple iPad Pro 9.7 (2016). The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 also impressed: it was the best ever tablet display when tested, though since surpassed.

Today, the simplest way to check a photo’s colour rendering is to view it on one of DisplayMate’s top-rated smartphones or tablets, preferably on an OLED or AMOLED screen. This is great news if you already own one, but not a cheap option if you don’t. Whether you are a professional desktop publisher, photographer, graphic artist, or a novice or hobbyist, the quality of your equipment is highly important. In fact, if you’re a professional—and your living is dependent on the quality of your work—you should, of course, buy the best equipment you can afford.