Hardware & Tools, Working With Colors

Why You Need to Calibrate Your Screen

Screen Calibration has left people scratching their heads for years. Common questions like “Why do I need to calibrate my monitor if my clients aren’t calibrating theirs?” are all too reasonable and provide an interesting argument to the debate. Well, I’m here to tell you, you NEED to calibrate your monitor.

For those flying under the radar: screen calibration is the process, in which you adjust the colors, brightness and various spectrums of your monitor to get the most accurate color results for your photos. Not only is this important for print, but if your monitor is casting too warm or too cool colors, the majority of your clients will be far less impressed with how the images you retouched on that screen look.

There are two major contenders in the screen calibration game – the Datacolor Spyder system and the X-Rite Colormunki. In all honesty, comparing the two screen calibration systems is much like comparing a Ford and Chevy Truck. While there are minor differences between the two, they both largely do the exact same thing – which is correctly calibrate the colors and brightness on your monitor.

First, lets talk brightness

There is no correct or incorrect brightness for your monitor.

This is because the settings are completely dependent on multiple variables, such as monitor light output, and ambient light. Calibration systems come with both a sensor system to read your monitor’s brightness, as well as an ambient light sensor, to insure your brightness is correct for the room, in which you’re editing.

Having this correct means the brightness and exposure of your images will be accurately displayed on the monitor, instead of showing you photos that are actually overexposed or underexposed as if they were at their goal exposure.


Certainly built-in histograms help you to decide where your white point and black points are within the image. However, one thing a histogram cannot accurately give you is a color readout on your images.

Accurate color rendering

Another key component with screen calibration is print accurate color rendering, it will fix any color issues your monitor may have.

Basically, monitors are designed to have a 6500K color temperature and a brightness at 100cd/m² for their default settings. These numbers are great for retouching, however monitors are mass produced, and are unable to hit these number with pinpoint accuracy.

A slight shift in these numbers means that you’re left with images that may be too warm or cold in color temperature, resulting in inaccurate readouts during editing.

Whether you’re retouching images for your own portfolio or for a client, you certainly don’t want to be editing in the wrong color temperature from the get go, without realizing it.


 Misconceptions About Calibration

IPS Monitors and Apple Monitors Do Not Need Calibration

False. While these types of monitors are highly regarded as the best for retouching and color accuracy, it doesn’t change the fact that they need calibration.

The term IPS monitor, for example, just means that the monitor has a large viewing angle, so that despite looking at the monitor at an angle, you won’t run into issues with color inconsistencies. While these monitors are typically at a higher price point and calibrated upon the manufacturing process, this does not mean they’re still calibrated after a few weeks or month of use.

Most calibration software recommends that you recalibrate your monitor(s) every 2-6 weeks to ensure color accuracy. Think of it like general maintenance for your monitor.

Overtime, LEDs and pixels will weaken, and a calibration system will simple make sure everything is still running with the correct brightness and accuracy.

Phone/Tablets Have Accurate Color Output

Again, false. Phones, tablets and other mobile devices usually have even more color inconsistencies than your run-of-the-mill computer monitor.

Screens built for those mobile devices are designed to be cheap as possible, so color shifts often occur during the manufacturing process.

Aside from that, how often are you adjusting your smartphones brightness throughout the day? During daylight, my phone seems almost unreadable at the highest brightness, at night, that same brightness feels like a blinding spotlight.

RELATED: How to Color Calibrate All of Your Devices for Accurate Color

If you’re not willing to invest in a calibration system, the best way to makeshift calibrate your monitor is through the use of a print. Order a large print of your work through a respected photo lab, and compare it to your monitor when it arrives. Adjust the differences to most accurately match the print.

All Monitors Are Uncalibrated – Why Should Mine Be Different?

This answer is simple – look at the rule of averages. If monitors can easily differ 500K in white balance from each other on either side (cool/warm) of the color spectrum, wouldn’t you want to hit bulls-eye in the middle of the two?

If you’re positive your monitor is calibrated at 6500K, and your client’s uncalibrated monitor is set around 6200K, it will still look better on their monitor if your screen was also uncalibrated and set around 6800K.

These seemingly subtle changes can make a drastic difference in your images.

But don’t take my word for it, just go play with the White Balance slider for a little bit in a Raw Converter.

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5 thoughts on “Why You Need to Calibrate Your Screen

  1. Yeah, I use the iDisplay Pro and calibrate the screens every every week. For he 2 minutes it takes its super fast. Plus some of them can calibrate projectors when for when I am demo’ing. Although I’ve never actually tried this yet.

    1. Haha, you’re just as obsessed as Zach, the author of this article :PnnAs for media projectors calibration – yes, when I was teaching in Italy, Marianna Santoni calibrated my screen and projector and it worked like a charm – perfectly consistent colors!

  2. Korios says:

    The color temperature numbers in the last photo are wrong. The correct order is :n6900K, 6500K, 6100K. The first image is bluer/colder, not warmer/redder, so it’s clearly the higher color temp. The reverse applies to the third image.

  3. ColliCub says:

    I’ve been trying to calibrate my Wacom Cintiq while it’s connected to my Apple MacBook Pro Retina laptop – the Retina display of the laptop itself is generally pretty accurate and consistent in both colour and brightness, whereas the brightness of the Cintiq has given me a few issues with retouch proofs I’m constantly readjusting for brightness that is fine at my end, but problematic for a client.
    The laptop does recognise the two independent screens and individual colour calibration settings. I changed my Cintiq to a default Adobe RGB (1998) just to match the MacBook’s default, but there is still a definite brightness issue. And don’t even get me started on the Yosemite upgrade bug of somehow adjusting the colour settings every time I restart…!
    I suppose my (rather naive) question is that can two very different screens/monitors, whilst connected to the same machine, be evenly calibrated by this software and device? Does anyone else have experience with these brands and their calibration?

  4. Dillon Padgette says:

    So can someone help me on this point- I just edited and color graded work from a warm and sun filled room, spent days working on it, sent exports over to a client, and on their screens, Macbook and iPhone, it is filled with much more magenta. In fact, on my Apple products it looks so different than on my NEC PA272W. I’m afraid I don’t know how to edit and color now considering the vast majority of viewers will not be on calibrated screens?? Or have I just calibrated mine wrong and it looks far off what it should? This is such a challenging divide from what I hoped would give me better insight into creating colored work with better continuity. Arg arg arg.

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