Monitor Calibration 101

As a photographer, color is very important to your business.  Calibration, therefore, is critical to your post-production workflow. Whether you correct your own images or have Post do it for you, a calibrated monitor is the only way to ensure that you’re seeing your images as they really are.

What is monitor calibration?
When you calibrate your monitor, all you’re trying to do is get it displaying colors as close to the accepted standard as it possibly can.  This helps ensure that other people (such as labs) can see and print your images so they look similar to what you see on your own screen.  That’s not to say every monitor can be made to look exactly alike, though.  Each monitor is different, so variations will always occur.

Should I calibrate my monitor?
Almost certainly yes, but as with most things, it really depends.  If you are not terribly picky about your colors and have no intention of correcting your own images, then you could potentially get away without it.  Post, for instance, has many clients who prefer to spend their time on other photography matters and leave the color and printing to us.  In these cases, the photographers simply send in their out-of-camera images and we take care of the rest.

For those who do correct their own images, however, monitor calibration is crucial.  Correcting on a non-calibrated monitor can result in prints and online galleries which look nothing like you intended.  If you want your prints to look like the images on your monitor, you absolutely must calibrate that monitor. And even if you do have someone else handle your color correction, you’ll probably want a calibrated monitor so that you can accurately view the work they’ve done.

How do I calibrate my monitor?
This one is easy to answer because we’re not going to get into too much detail.  There are several calibration devices on the market, and their instruction manuals will tell you all you need to know about how to use them.

These devices are called colorimeters, and they use a combination of hardware and software to read the colors produced by your monitor and make adjustments as needed. You might find a software-only calibration solution out there, but you really need a hardware component that can actually read the color coming off the monitor.

There are any number of these devices, but we recommend the ColorMunki Display by X-Rite as a good starting point. Here at Post, we use the X-Rite i1 Pro and i1 Display Pro.

Anything else to keep in mind?
There’s always more:

  • You don’t just calibrate once and forget it.  Calibration should be done at least once a month, or even once a week.
  • Once you have your monitor calibrated, you should take care to view it under the proper conditions.  A dim, windowless room is best.  You don’t want a lightsource reflecting off your newly calibrated screen and distorting your pretty colors.
  • Monitors actually take some time to come up to working temperature, so it’s recommended that you leave your monitor on for 30 minutes to an hour before you begin color-sensitive work.
  • This is a bit more advanced, but if you want to get into the calibrator settings, here are our recommendations:
    • Gamma  2.2
    • White Point D65
    • Luminance 100-120 cd/m2

Many people don’t bother with monitor calibration because they think it’s difficult or unecessary.  In fact, it’s quite easy to set up and use a calibration device, and the process is absolutely necessary if you do your own editing.  So go get a calibration kit and start calibrating.



  1. Using the color Munki…can one calibrate the
    Monitor w/o having to go through the color printing process? Technically yes right if
    One sends everything out to print!?

  2. I disagree that calibration doesn’t require printing. Calibration should always involve matching prints to your monitor. This is really the only way to tell if you’ve got it right. And recommending 6500K won’t work for clients who use a printer with different settings. For example, Millers uses 5000K. It really involves more than just purchasing a calibration tool and using it to someone’s suggested settings. My monitor has to be set at 90 for luminance to match my printer. Each monitor is going to be a little different. By calibrating to your prints, you will truly get images that represent what you intended them to be.

    • Tammy, thanks for sharing your process. There are multiple valid approaches, and this is certainly one.

      Keep in mind that calibrating to a specific printer makes it more difficult to print with different labs. When using multiple labs (or multiple printer types within a lab), you may prefer to use a calibration device to correct your monitor to a “standard” and then use printer profiles to prep images for specific printers.

      Our approach is a simpler one, and one that has worked well for our clients: If the photographer and the printer both correct to the “standard,” then the prints will match well enough (monitors always vary, as do the lighting conditions around the monitor, so nothing’s perfect).


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