In the 4k vs. 1080p debate the key is knowing how to calibrate these displays. It doesn’t matter if your monitor is low-end or high-end: without suitable monitor calibration, or without using the right monitor calibration tools, even the latest and heftiest 4K display won’t be of much use to you.
While it’s also important to learn about things such as TN, IPS, or VA (and other monitor-related tech jargon), monitor calibration is the fastest and most automatic route to get the most out of your monitor right here, right now.
How to Color Calibrate Monitors
Not checking to calibrate monitors for photography can be a disastrous thing, both for photographers or any other creatives that deal with prints, getting feedback on prototypes and samples, or working with different mediums where consistency between these displays and forms of pictures are important.
Luckily, the process has never been cheaper – and easier. While post-production software can enhance the image itself or offer built-in “calibration” tools, there are so many factors going into your art: color saturation, contrast, monochrome tonality, color cast, and color balance.
Of course, it’s not just artists that need to color calibrate their monitors. Gamers and film buffs might notice a lack of color, washed-out tones, inconsistent palettes, and way more visual weirdness without a properly calibrated monitor.
To calibrate a monitor for photo editing (taking that as the ultimate end-goal possibility for color correction), the magic tool is a color calibrator, also known as a colorimeter. Stick these on to the front of your monitor and let technology work its magic.
What is a Colorimeter?
Colorimeters make for accurate and consistent continuity, taking the guesswork and head-scratching out of color calibration.
While a typical colorimeter has pretty standard rules on how to operate it, such as presented in many online guides, the variations of your specific product will still be minor deviations with easy-to-follow steps that’ll make your work easier, instead of more complex.
Color calibrators also work better than taking it to a professional and getting a one-time tune-up. This is because colorimeters can even detect ambient lighting in the room and base the accuracy of your colors on the environment that you’re in, no matter how much that changes.
This also helps reduce eye strain, making these important not just for creatives, but any job where you’re used to long hours in front of the screen, be it in a design firm or an accountancy firm!
Most users will find the X-Rite ColorMunki colorimeters appropriate for a wide range of needs, with their Smile model being a great plug-and-play budget tool and the Design tool being… well, designed with the needs of the strictest professional in mind, with the ability to calibrate projectors and printers as well, along with all sorts of customization and synchronization for your specifically-designed and saved color palettes.
Another popular option is the Datacolor SpyderX Pro, priced in-between the two X-Rite models we mentioned, and yet another is the Pantone ColorMunki. Your choice will depend on your specific needs.
Calibrate Monitor in Windows 10
If you’re worried about having to spend upwards of a hundred dollars (although not necessary) for a colorimeter, especially when you just paid for a Windows license, Microsoft comes to the rescue for users of their latest OS with a built-in tool.
A simple search for “calibrate” in the search box next to the Windows icon on the taskbar should bring up an option titled ‘Display Color Calibration’. The process is intuitive and guided, giving instructions on each step telling you what to do.
There’s also an option for ClearType present after calibrating, which will help make the written text more legible on your screen and make sure your monitor is working at its native resolution.
The Windows calibrator tool helps you adjust gamma, brightness and contrast, color cast, and any remnants of bad display choices that you might not even have noticed are affecting your work and experience.
A word of advice: make sure your computer screen has been on for at least half an hour before you set about calibrating it so that the display is at its normal operating conditions (such as temperature) and your eyes are used to how it ‘looks right’. After the process is done, you can compare the before and after images.
However, it is important to note that this will only make your display look better to you in the present moment. This is the issue with software calibration, as we can’t compare how it should look with real colors or optimum preferred colors. It’s also speedier and can be done reliably and often.
How to Calibrate Monitor for Gaming
If you’ve read this far, you might be able to tell that calibration is basically the first step in setting up a monitor, perhaps after literally physically setting it up with wires and all that. As such, no monitor looks perfect freshly unboxed and plugged in.
For gamers, sites such as TFTCentral should be your go-to for monitor reviews that’ll let you know the ideal ICC color management profiles for your choice of monitor. Most websites provide these ICC profiles for download: once download, you can install them from Color Management in the Control Panel.
Some sites are offering manual tests (Lagom and Blur Busters) which are well worth your time if you’re a gamer looking to get the maximum out of your investment. They can help you manually calibrate your monitor and tell if it’s working as you want it to.
Everyone should know how to calibrate a monitor regardless of what they use their computer for. Whether it’s the best gaming monitor or an ultrawide monitor you’re going for, knowing how to treat them right is primary. With this guide, you’re now all set on the basics, with near-infinite room to play.