Color Calibration for Your Devices


We’ve all experienced it at one point: we’ve created an impressive digital work, and wanting to show it off to other people, decided to print it. But after seeing the printing job, you are horrified to see that the colors are off, the brightness, contrast or saturation is all wrong. You’ve realized that your screen’s calibration is wrong. The image you see on-screen is a lot different from what you see when an image is printed.

In simple terms, color calibration is the process of correcting the display color information of your devices. Simple calibration involves adjusting the Brightness and Contrast settings on your monitor. In most cases this may not be enough–you may also need to calibrate your printer, camera, scanner and other devices so that what you see on-screen, as well as what you scan, print or take a picture of–is as similar as possible. For professionals who need proper calibration, high-end and precise calibration devices are available.

How to Calibrate your PC

For basic printing and web-based works, simple calibration may be enough. For simple calibration just make sure your monitor is in 24 bit mode. With normal room lighting inspect the screen without reflections or glare. Using the buttons on the monitor, make the necessary changes with the brightness and contrast. You can check by looking at a series of black, grey, and white squares.

But for more serious design work that needs accurate colors and settings, you need programs and devices that are created for calibrating your devices. If your monitor is already calibrated using software or hardware methods, don’t make the following adjustments. It could mess up your carefully achieved calibration.

Why You Need to Calibrate your Devices

1. Better viewing experience.

If you notice that photos look murky, dull or too bright and saturated, now may be the time to calibrate your computer. How can you tell? Most of us don’t bother editing the monitor settings–we’re so used to it that nothing appears to be wrong. Here’s a quick test to find out:

Look at the photo above. What do you see? Do you see a rectangle that’s all black? or dark gray? Can you make out the dark gray heart located at the center? If you can’t see the heart, then it may be the perfect time to calibrate your monitor.

2. Consistent images when printing.

With proper calibration, what you see is what you get. I myself have been a victim of bad color settings. Since I get headaches with hours of staring at the screen, I have a dimmer monitor because I adjusted my brightness and contrast settings to low. Then I proceeded to work on a project that required cloning and stamping. What appeared very clean and polished on the screen appeared the opposite in print. I didn’t notice that the smear strokes I created to clone the background were so obvious.

I learned a lot from this experience, every time I have a project to work on, I make sure my devices are all properly calibrated.

How to Calibrate your Mac

Mac users don’t have to worry much about calibration because it has a built-in color calibration utility. This is by going to System Preferences, choose Display and then Color. Select Calibrate, and from there, you can tune your screen’s color channel, brightness, contrast, etc.

How to Calibrate your Printer

When printing photos or documents on your printer, use the correct print profile to get the exact colors. The fastest way to ensure that your printer is properly calibrated is via the printer’s software. Every printer manufacturer is different, just follow the instructions carefully.

How to Calibrate your Scanner

Scanners are another device that need to be calibrated. Some designers prefer drawing their initial work by hand, rather than working with a tablet and stylus. After drawing manually, they will need to scan their work on a scanner–and this is when the trouble begins. If the colors are off, photos are too dark or too light, then it’s time to calibrate your scanner.

All you need is to buy a scanner profiling chart, available online or at a local computer store. Install the software that comes with it (we’ve all installed something, it’s a no brainer). Next step is to make sure your scanner glass is clean before scanning anything–clean it with water and use a lint-free cloth. Place the chart on the glass and scan. Open the software and choose the image file of the profiling chart. Load the scanned photo, crop and select to have the image analyzed. It will then automatically be saved into a color profile for your scanner.

How to Calibrate your Camera

Photo by TechProne

If you need to constantly edit or adjust your digital photo settings, it may be time to calibrate your camera. You can use color images via your scanner if it has already calibrated it; but if not, you can calibrate it easily in just a few steps.

First make sure that the monitor has been calibrated. Afterwards, by using a neutral gray card and a camera profiling chart–preferably the same brand of color calibration package you used for your screen. Set the gray balance on your camera at the same values. Use the software that comes with the camera profiling chart. With good, proper lighting, take a picture of the camera profiling chart. Save the file you created–from then on, the digital camera’s image color information will be automatically adjusted to fit the color profile.

Other Tips for Proper Calibration

1. Buy monitor calibration software or hardware.

As mentioned, for more serious work that requires accurate colors, you can buy monitor calibration software. There are a number of brands available, such as Spyder 3., LaCie or GretagMacbeth. Some calibrators can even support dual monitors.

2. Correct the gamma setting of your display.

Correct the gamma setting of your screen for it is an important factor of how the final printed output will look like. The 50% grayscale display should look the same as 50% dithered gray on screen. You can adjust the slider so that the grayscale display and interleaved dither will look approximately the same.

3. You will need to use the program often.

Most of us think that once we’ve used the monitor calibration tool, we don’t have to use it anymore afterwards. But color settings can shift in a short period, typically as short as two weeks. It’s important to recalibrate as often as you can–it takes around two minutes to do it, plus you will be reminded by the software so there’s really no excuse for you to forget.

4. Choose the right paper.

Image by NW Link

Do you know that the type of paper you are using–whether it’s glossy, matte, colored or satin–can affect the colors of your print? Make sure to select the correct printer settings before printing in order to set the color profile properly. To maximize the color quality, you need to buy the type and brand of paper recommended by the printer manufacturer found in the manual.



  1. Totti

    So this must mean that the new 27″ imac screen is a load of crap. I’ve been testing all kinds of different calibration settings and the only times I was able to see the heart in the picture was when some settings that made some colors look all f**ked up. Windows also has a simple calibration somewhere on the control panel, then screen (or visualization) options, but right now I’m on a mac and I can’t tell exactly where that option is.

  2. Deano

    Thanks for the tips, I really must purchase some pro calibration hard/software.

    When adjusting the built-in Apple calibration for my 30″ACD and following all the “advanced” instructions perfectly I still couldn’t get the heart to show in your first image unless I set the gamma to about 1.5 which shows the heart nicely but blows out everything else on the screen (I normally have it set around 2.0, mid-way between Mac 1.8 and PC 2.2).

    What am I doing wrong? – Deano

  3. Thanks, But i just bought a Compaq Presario CQ62-112TU and i think i made a mistake as it shows me very light colorseven when i visited your website i cant see the comment box form design at all.

    I dont know what to do now???? Please help me I’m a graphic Designer and now i dont know what im designing on this laptop….. Please mail me any solution for this….. Thanks :)

  4. Danny

    Any recommendations for Windows users? You say PC but then only mention Macs :-p