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Sat, Oct 29 2011 18:05:30 UTC

How to calibrate your monitor

When you're making digital art, whether it's drawing in Photoshop, adjusting a picture, or even 3D painting, it's important to recognize that every screen is slightly different, and that the result will look different on other people' monitors. That's why calibration is important. There are many features that modify how a screen shows a particular image, some of which can be modified, like contrast, and others that are built in, like how wide the color gamut is.

First, regardless what you do, it's important to realize you can never get it perfectly right. There will always be a difference, and if you put two screens next to each other, especially from different manufacturers, they will look slightly different, even if you use expensive calibration equipment. And there are expensive equipment you can buy, like this $500 spectrophotometer which does a pretty good job in calibrating monitors. There's also cheaper, $35 solutions that some people find work just as good.

Most often though you just want to do basic calibration of your monitor settings so it's not overly saturated, and the contrast and brightness isn't out of wack. If you want to change the settings manually instead of buying software to do it, you can use this online LCD test which shows you a series of images and explains what you should be seeing. Then, by adjusting the settings in your monitor and graphics card options, you can get a pretty good result.

Contrast is perhaps the most important setting, and is the difference between shadow and light. Your monitor should be able to display a completely black image as black, but as you turn the RGB values up, you should distinguish each different color properly. Along with the brightness setting, this sets the perceived gamma of the screen. By setting the gamma right, it allows you to see images as they should be in the sRGB colorspace. This is not technically part of the calibrating process, but is important nonetheless.

Past the adjustments that can be done with monitor settings, the only true way to do color calibration is with a physical device called a colorimeter, which is placed in front of the screen, shielded from all ambient light, and receives color codes from the software running on the computer. This will determine the offset of the monitor and create a color profile.

Of course, there's only so much you can do. If you have a cheap laptop monitor you just won't get the same quality as on a big screen, expensive studio display. There's charts out there that show how each monitor compares for various features, but overall if you have an Acer 1810T, it just won't compare with the much more expensive Dell Studio XPS 16.

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