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Monitor colour calibration: What, why and how

Monitor calibration is an important part of any workflow for broadcast, production, post-production and design. It ensures that all the monitors in your facility or studio reproduce colour consistently, so the final product matches your (and more importantly, your client’s) expectations.

 

Conal Siddall

However, monitor calibration can often be overlooked, with some seeing it as too costly or time-consuming to halt their day to day workflow. And with the vast range of displays commonly in use in facilities, such as Plasma, LCD and OLED, ensuring these different displays are all colour consistent is made even more challenging.To help you understand why monitor calibration is so important, we put together this guide.

 

What is monitor calibration?

Simply put, monitor calibration is adjusting the settings on your monitor to ensure that it displays colour to a known standard – some calibration can be done by eye using the right test material, but for correct calibration a pro-grade colour probe (a photometer) is required.

There are a few main colour settings that are changed with monitor calibration: the whitepoint, luminance and gamma.

Whitepoint

Typically measured in Kelvin, the white point is the setting that determines the colour temperature of the brightest white. 6500K is the standard for most monitors.

Luminance

This setting controls the amount of light emitted from your display. The optimal luminance setting is affected by the brightness of your working environment, with brighter working environments potentially requiring values that exceed this range.

Gamma

This setting controls the rate at which shades appear to increase from black to white. This makes a given image appear brighter and darker for lower and higher gamma values, respectively, but does not change the black and white points.

Ensuring these settings are calibrated is important for professional users because they’re working to specific guidelines, and clients’ brands have to be strictly adhered to – it wouldn’t look good if a Jaguar advert didn’t have the iconic British racing green. You need to make sure the work you deliver matches the client’s specifications exactly.

 

Why monitors need calibrating

If you were to hold up a printed version of an image to your screen right now, how closely do you think your current display would match the colours? Chances are the colour is slightly different, and you may have been compensating for imperfections in your monitor that others won’t see. Even if you buy a top of the range monitor, there are several factors that cause the colour to be inaccurate.

Changes over time

Under continued use, a monitor’s white colour temperature and brightness change gradually, so need monitoring to ensure they’re still accurate. To maintain stable colour over time, you should be conducting calibration once every 200–300 hours of use.

Individual monitors vary

Unfortunately, even if you’re using two monitors of the same brand, purchased at the same time using with the same settings, there will be differences in colour. This is because each monitor will have its own colour characteristics from the moment it’s built at the factory.

To avoid this, professionals use self-calibrating monitors, like the EIZO ColorEdge range, or a third party probe to gain accurate colour and consistency across their displays.

Different environments produce different results

Another important aspect you need to consider when calibrating your monitors is the environment your monitor is used in. If you edit in a bright environment, your monitor’s brightness will need to be higher to compensate and vice versa. Ideally, you should be controlling the ambient light within the facility to ensure that the monitors are the brightest source of light in the room, and no direct sunlight is hitting the screens. 

 

 

Dangers of not using a calibrated monitor

But does a small difference in colour really matter that much? Let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls of working with uncalibrated monitors.

Missing the right ‘tone’

Although subtle, not getting the correct colour tone in your work can dramatically influence the mood of your image or video – altering the impression it makes on the viewer.

Retouching down the line is costly

This is probably the biggest risk. Even if you have produced the perfect design, hit every detail of the brief and impressed the client, they’re still going to ask you to retouch the colours if they don’t fit the specifications or their brand colours. You also have to consider the extra pressure this will put on your staff. When your team are working to hit strict deadlines, the last thing they need is previous work coming back for retouches.

Disappointing the client

It’s also important to think of the wider implications this can have on the business’s reputation. Getting clients’ work wrong can affect their trust in you to get the job done. This can cause them to use another facility or, in a worst case scenario, actively discourage their peers from using your business. An example of this is Netflix, where continually not producing work to agreed standards means you’ll be blacklisted and not used for their productions.

More resources needed within the team

If you’re working for print, one alternative to calibrated monitors would be to use a calibrated printer, so you can print out your design and look to see whether the colours and tone are correct. However, aside from the costs of purchasing a high quality printer, calibrating it and replacing ink and paper, this can take up a lot of time and disrupt employees’ workflows. Ideally, checking the final printing quality would only be done during the pre-print process if working for print.

 

How to ensure your devices are colour accurate

Using a colour management system (CMS)

A CMS is an integrated system to enable uniform reproduction of colours across all your devices, taking into account the colour characteristics of each device. This basically creates a colour reference profile, characterising each device’s colour reproduction, standardising the values to create a reference, and then using this information to translate these settings to each device. This is done through software such as EIZO’s ColorNavigator 7, free with some displays!

However, calibration devices and software can be expensive, and you may not have the expertise or time within your team to consistently calibrate your monitors. In which case, you may benefit from a monitor calibration service.

Self-calibrating monitors

Self-calibrating monitors, like the EIZO ColorEdge CG2730, are designed specifically for creative professionals who require high levels of colour accuracy. These monitors feature a sensor housed within the front panel, which can test your display to ensure it is still reproducing accurate colours. This also speeds up the calibration process, as the sensor can check at intervals and make small adjustments to your monitor’s settings without user input.

EIZO self-calibrating monitor

 

Professional calibration

If you go for a professional monitor calibration service, a technician will visit your site to calibrate your monitors for you. For our monitor calibration service, we check that the ambient lighting in your work room is set up correctly, then use a photometer (that reads the colour of the light coming from a monitor) to test your monitor, adjusting its settings to make it correct. Finally, we use test footage to ensure the pictures look good.

Ensuring your monitors are colour accurate is important, so talking to an expert to learn about the best methods for you is essential. If you’re a little lost on what to do next, our team of experts can advise on the best hardware, software for colour accurate work, and the best methods for keeping your equipment calibrated, so get in touch.

 

If you want to know more about monitor calibration, or enquire about our monitor calibration service, get in touch with our team by filling in the form, calling us on 03332 409 206 or emailing DandP@Jigsaw24.com. For the latest news, follow us on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter.

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