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Ok, before we start any calibration process, it's important to make sure all the basics are in place and that we're fully ready to go. A little bit of preparation can save a lot of pain!
Here's a check-list of what should be in place before you start any monitor calibration process.
At the end, we also discuss what are the goals of calibration, and give you some specific scenario examples that may be useful.
You need, at least, one power and one video connection to your monitor.
In addition, you may need a data connection as well.
Lack of a data connection is the most commonly missed step with direct hardware calibration monitors, so definitely do check this!!
Note the video connection should be direct from your computer to the monitor. Do NOT use a hub - most hubs will interfere with calibration.
(If you must use a hub, first get things working with a direct connection, i.e. without a hub, then once all is confirmed working, plug in to your hub afterward. And if you then later receive errors during calibration or validation, go back to a direct connection).
Your monitor should be connected to your computer using a modern, digital connection - this is the connection that video data travels over.
Read our information about monitor connectors if you need advice on this.
A separate data connection is needed if:
If the calibration software can't make a data connection to your monitor, you will get a message:
- With Eizo ColorNavigator or NEC SprectraView - saying something similar to 'adjustment capable monitor not found'
- With BenQ PaletteMaster Elements a rather obscure message about 'Are the FTDI drivers installed?'
If you see these messages, it means the vendor software can not communicate with the monitor, so go back and check the notes above and your connections again.
(A good trick, if your monitor has USB ports or an SD card reader, is to plug a known working USB/SD into one of these, and see if the key comes up on your desktop - if not, you don't have a working data connection).
Your monitor's panel must be spotlessly clean.
Seems minor, but we want to make sure our calibrator measures the colour in the most accurate way possible.
Don't use any old cleaning method for this, always use the official good stuff. And be gentle - your monitor's panel surface is delicate!
Start by uninstalling any old monitor calibration software you may have previously used. This includes and related tray/menubar/startup utilities. Have a good poke around. Common problems from not doing this include messages about software not being able to find calibrators - this is because some legacy thing on your system is hogging the connection to the device.
If you're calibrating multiple monitors, you can later re-install the other calibration software if you must, but the cleaner you start the less likely your are to hit odd issues.
We need to make sure your computing environment is correctly set up. There's a few things to check.
Disable HDR modes
Check your video card settings and display preferences to make sure HDR modes are turned off.
Note that, annoyingly, MacOS Catalina and above have HDR turned on by default. This is just stupid.
Here's an Apple note about turning it off.
Check HDMI Video Levels
If you have connected your monitor using an HDMI cable (ideally, use USB-C or DisplayPort if you can instead) - then make sure your video card is outputting full range RGB (0 to 255) and not 'limited range' or 'video' colour (16 to 235) to your monitor.
Disabled interfering operating system features
We don't want your screen's appearance to be modified in any way during the calibration process, so at this time you should also:
Once calibration is complete, you can of course turn your screen saver and power management settings back to where they were (but leave the others off!).
You should install / update your calibration software to the latest version.
This is important - with operating system and video card updates, things can and do change, so it's important to keep up to date with your calibration software too.
Eizo ColorNavigator - latest version here.
BenQ Palette Master Elements - latest version here.
NEC Spectraview - latest version here.
(Note these applications will actually also install drivers for compatible calibrators, thus you don't generally ever need to install the software that came with your external calibrator if this is the only monitor you are calibrating).
We're almost ready to start. Now, let your monitor warm up, ideally for half an hour, before you start.
This is a good moment to think about what we're actually trying to achieve with calibration.
It's important to be aware of what we're trying to achieve through calibration.
At a basic level, we're trying to make your monitor as accurate as possible for the display of colour. But what IS accurate? As with just about everything, the answer depends on context.
In reality, we're trying to make your monitor the best possible tool
for you to produce your work accurately. In practice, this generally means making
your monitor be the best predictor of the final output form of your work.
Here's a few possible common scenarios to consider:
Still Images - Print
If you're working on still images, and the final destination is print - be it fine art print, or commercial - we want to match the screen's display as closely as possible to this final output, so that we can get as close to 'working directly on the print' as is possible - that is, what we're seeing is very much like the final print, so that any adjustments we make are reflected on the screen just as they will be in the final print.
This generally means that we want to, for example, match the white tone of the monitor fairly closely to the white tone of our paper. And we want to drastically reduce the monitor's high native contrast to something that is a better visual match to the much lower contrast of print (prints don't use power to emit light, they only reflect light, so where modern monitors might have contrast of 1000:1 or more, prints will at most have about 200:1 contrast).
Still Images - Web
the other hand, perhaps we're preparing our work for screen output -
most like on the internet. In this case, we want our monitor to be a
predictor of that output (in as much as this is possible since not
everyone has such a lovely monitor on their desk as an Eizo ColorEdge).
In general this means full contrast, relatively high brightness, and picking sensible defaults such as a whitepoint of 6500K and a gamma of 2.2. We might want to set up two calibrations for this - one with the narrower, sRGB gamut of older monitors and phones/tablets etc, and another with a modern wide gamut like P3 (as found e.g. on most current Macs). We can't match every monitor in the world, but if we choose sensible defaults and get things looking good on those, we should be in good shape generally.
Video Output - Web
If you're producing video output for the web, you'll want to keep things very standard most likely. The bulk of footage in this context is HD - 1920 by 1080 and in the Rec.709 colour space. Reasonably high brightness and contrast, but people don't have their computer screens jacked up to quite the levels of their home TVs.
Video Output - TV UHD
Modern video standards are moving to 4K (well, UHD 3840 by 2160) - and also to new colour standards like Rec.2020. Plus there's HDR to consider.
TVs in real lounge rooms are invariably very bright, very contrasty and very saturated.
And TV gamma is often more like 2.4 in practice. If we're mastering for this environment, then we want to make sure out stuff looks good when viewed on these screens.
Having updated, cleaned, polished, and thoroughly checked your system, you should be good to go.
Please follow on to one of our comprehensive guides to calibration:
- Tom L -
Best email I've ever received,b rilliant explanation of colour management, and has put me on the right track to produce prints that hold no unpleasant surprises.