How to Calibrate your Monitor

What Screen Calibration Does

If you don’t use your computer for photo or video editing, there’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of color calibration. Even if you’re just getting started in photography, it may read as a foreign phrase. But if you plan on doing any photo or video editing, you’re going to eventually want to learn about the monitor calibration process.

Most cameras you use are going to try to provide you with the most accurate color balance possible whenever you record photos or videos, but there’s an additional element added once you bring those photos or videos into the editing process. That’s because all but the most serious and dedicated monitors for photo and video editing are going to offer some variance in colors. Some monitors may emphasize blue, while others may emphasize yellow, and that’s going to throw off the looks of your photos and videos in potentially serious ways.

Calibrating your monitor can provide a pretty efficient solution to that problem. The color calibration process will change your color settings to create something more standardized. That means that whatever format your viewers watch your videos and photos on, you can count on the balance of your color to match a universal standard. By creating a consistent experience that matches the photos and videos of other users, you can rest assured that your monitor’s color display isn’t going to look weird when it’s produced in other formats, whether that be a phone screen or a print.

Who Needs Monitor Calibration

So when do you need to make sure to calibrate a monitor? For most people, display calibration is only going to matter if you’re a serious photographer performing editing. If you’re still an amateur photographer or don’t practice photography at all, you won’t need to make sure your monitor can display the proper color levels. Instead, you can just adjust your monitor to suit what looks good for you.

Calibration will be most useful for photographers who are producing results for customers and intend to use computer software to edit their results. If you’re working with other editors and want to create consistency between your different photos or videos, you’re planning on printing out your images and want them to look accurate on the page, or you’re a product photographer who’s meticulous about their results, you may want to make use of a calibration tool to change your display settings. But the majority of consumers don’t need to worry about calibration.

The quality of your monitor will also determine whether or not you need to make use of a calibration tool. Some monitors are simply not sharp and detailed enough that using a display calibrator will have any real impact. A laptop monitor will almost never require calibration, and unless you’re buying an expensive monitor tailored towards photo editing, it won’t make that much of a difference. But using the Windows or Mac display calibration software can create a more vivid experience when gaming or watching movies.

Before You Calibrate a Monitor

Before you can start making use of the built in features of your OS or your third party software, you need to make sure that your computer is working at peak condition and ready to accomplish your goals without distractions. For that reason, you’ll want to make sure that all your updates are properly installed and perform a full reboot of your computer just so that you’re sure that everything’s ready.

You’ll then want to give your monitor about half an hour to warm up. This ensures that your contrast and brightness settings will be working at full power and reflect a typical creative environment. You’ll also want to ensure that you’re in a room without direct sunlight. Creating a controlled environment will help you be more accurate, and that’s especially true if you’re not using a spectrometer or colorimeter since you’ll be making adjustments by sight alone.

Calibrate Your Monitor in Windows

 

Windows 10 makes the calibration process easy, and you can rest assured that when you use calibration for your Windows display, it will be accurate to established standards without having to rely on your own eyesight. Here’s what you need to know when you’re looking to calibrate a monitor on Windows 10.

  1. Open the Settings Menu. You can accomplish this by navigating through your menu or by using the Windows Key + I at the same time to jump to your control panel via shortcut.
  2. Click on the Display tab that runs alongside the left panel of the Windows Settings
  3. Scroll down in the Display menu until you find a link labeled Advanced Display Settings. Click on it.
  4. Double check the resolution. While you can change it later, using the recommended screen resolution for your particular display will make sure that your color calibration is as accurate as possible.
  5. Click next. This will automatically begin the process of calibrating the monitor. This will lead you to the Calibration Wizard which will easily walk you through every step you need to worry about.
  6. Windows will now guide you through the steps to get access to your display color. Windows will suggest reverting to the default colors to adjust the monitor more easily. We recommend you do this, but save any configured color adjustments in case you want to revert back to them later.
  7. Windows will then guide you through the process of adjusting gamma settings. Having the appropriate gamma settings will ensure that the hues you see on the screen match the values of the source image. You’ll want to adjust the screen until the dots displayed are only barely divisible, then click Next.
  8. Now you’ll move onto brightness settings. Brightness makes sure that your picture doesn’t display as too dim or too overexposed. To start the brightness calibration, you’ll need to adjust a picture that so that it displays black and white as starkly as possible. Click Next.
  9. Brightness and contrast are pretty similar, but the next portion will ask you to adjust the latter. You’ll be presented with the same picture as you were in brightness settings and try to adjust the parameters so that you can’t see the wrinkles in the exposed shirt. Click Next one more time.
  10. The final test will be color balance. You’ll be asked to adjust the settings of your monitor so that all of the gradients on the screen show up distinctly.
  11. You’ll finally be asked whether you want to keep your old system preferences or revert to the new settings. Once you’re satisfied with the correction, you can click finish to accept the new configuration.

Calibrate Your Monitor in MacOS

 

Macs are especially well regarded for their value to creatives, and while there’s a different calibration procedure than with Windows, the two processes are really pretty similar. We’ll show you how to get to the Mac control panel and adjust your calibration even if you don’t have any technical knowledge.

  1. You’ll first want to navigate to the System Preferences. You’ll then want to click on the Displays link to identify your specific monitor.
  2. From the Displays menu, you’ll find a button labeled .. You’ll need to click this to start calibrating your monitor. Apple should guide you through the steps, but we’ll cover the important details just to be safe.
  3. Adjust the brightness of your monitor to its highest level. You’ll also want to put your contrast at max. This will provide you with a starting point for adjusting with your LCD monitor.
  4. You’ll then select a target white point. Mac will make a suggestion of the white point, and for all but the most experienced users, we suggest you make that your preferred point.
  5. You can then determine whether you want to make these calibration standards the default for all profiles. If you have multiple people using the same computer, you may want to turn this off. But setting it as the default will mean you’ll get the same precise results regardless of whatever profile you use.
  6. After this, you may be able to change the gamma levels and luminance, but this will vary depending on the year and model number of your Mac.
  7. Once you’ve found the color levels you’re happy with, you can assign them to a profile and use them whenever you need them. If you want different profiles for gaming, watching movies, and photo editing, you can set up multiple profiles using the same method.

Calibrate Your Monitor with Third Party Software

Computers that run on Windows or Mac will each come with their own calibration tool built in, but there are plenty of third party monitor calibrators you can use if you’re a professional and looking for a higher level of precision. There are a ton of different options available to you, and the right choice will depend on your job, your budget, and your needs. But there are plenty of sites that break down the advantages and disadvantages of each in more discreet terms,

Calibrate a Monitor With a Calibration Kit

 

The big disadvantage of using a purely software based solution to adjust display settings is that it relies on your own sense of vision to reach something approximating a standard. Not everyone sees color the same, and factors like gender, age, and level of fatigue can all have an impact on how color looks through your eyes. Even the lighting in your room can throw off the accuracy of your brightness and contrast.

That’s why the most serious artists and editors make use of a display color calibration kit. It makes use of similar software to that found on Windows, MacOS, or from third parties, but it also includes a colorimeter or spectrometer. These physical devices provide you with a point of reference to calibrating a display, and that makes them the most accurate choice possible if you want to make sure that your photos come out looking as good as you want them to. Just keep in mind that a decent calibration kit is going to cost you a few hundred dollars.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Calibrate My New Monitor?

That depends on how accurate you want to get. Windows and Mac both come with system settings built-in that you can use to test your device hardware, but they’re only scratching the surface of what’s available. if you want professional level precision, you should check out our guide to calibrating a display above.

How Can I Tell if My Monitor Color is Accurate?

It can be hard to tell the accuracy of a monitor at just a glance. If you’re worried about it, you can hop into the system preferences or control panel of your operating system and adjust your calibration manually. And if you decide that you need something more precise, there are plenty of third party options. You can catch up on everything you need to know in our guide above.

How Often Do I Need to Calibrate My Monitor?

If you work regularly with photo editing software, you’ll want to treat calibration as a regular routine. After all, your monitor is going to be one of the most important tools at your disposal, and you need to make sure that it works the way you need it to. For those that use their monitor for photo editing on a daily basis, you should use a calibration utility to adjust your monitor settings about once a month.

How Do I Adjust My Monitor?

Whether you’re running on a laptop or a desktop, a Mac or a Windows machine, you’ll have built in utilities that allow you to make adjustments. We walk through the process step by step in the sections above, but if you want something more in depth for your photography gig, you may want to make use of a calibration kit or at least some third party software to provide truly professional results.

Wrapping Up

Once you’ve read this guide, you should have a pretty confident understanding of calibration and how you can achieve it, but the right solution for you will depend on your needs. If you’re just looking to improve your gaming or cinematic experience, the built-in OS solutions should work, but you’ll want to upgrade to third party calibration tools if you’re venturing into the world of serious photo editing. And dedicated professionals will almost certainly want to make an investment in a kit to provide consistency in their photos and videos.