When photographers complain that their prints are "off" or don't match their screens, David Saffir first asks them to clarify exactly what they mean. In most cases, the prints look too dark. "In the majority of cases, this happens because the screen is too bright," writes Saffir. "Frequently, the display has been set at the factory to be two or three times brighter than needed for image editing." In this post, he explains how monitor calibration and profiling can help resolve this issue and give you a more accurate look at the colors in your image.
Lately I have seen more and more displays that, according to the manufacturers’ claims, produce a wider range of color than less capable or older models. Often referred to as wide-gamut displays, these displays are frequently more expensive than what we might ordinarily choose for everyday business use. The question is, are they good enough to be worth the money?
The bottom line: Yes! If you are serious about photography and image editing, and you want to print your images at a high level of quality, you should consider a wide-gamut display.
Many mid- to lower-cost, or older LCD displays produce color only in the sRGB color space, which was developed quite some time ago. The sRGB space covers a relatively small portion of the colors that are visible to us, and most of the newer pro-model inkjet printers can print a much wider gamut than sRGB.
More recently, display manufacturers (such as Eizo, LaCie, HP, NEC, and others) have been producing displays that have greater color capability. Many can display Adobe 98 RGB, which is significantly larger than sRGB, and others can produce an even larger range of color, such as NTSC. (NTSC in this context does not refer to television standards, but to a specific, very large color space.) When displays are designed to show Adobe 98 RGB or NTSC, we are able to see many more colors on screen.
Additionally, many of these displays use 10-bit color, rather than the older 8-bit system. A 10-bit color monitor can display over a billion colors and color variations; an 8-bit system can display millions. As a result, I have not seen banding or related artifacts on a 10-bit display.
Also, many of the wide-gamut displays allow you to adjust the white point without distorting colors or clipping the dynamic range. Most of these monitors use the new LED backlights, instead of the older cold cathode fluorescent technology.
So, what about the argument “Why bother with a better display, when I can’t see or print those colors anyway?”
Fact is, one can certainly see Adobe 98 RGB, and many inkjet printers handle it quite well. In fact, the engineers at HP told me I could use an ever wider color space—Pro Photo RGB—and I could send the image file as is to a Designjet Z3200 printer.
But the best reason to use a wide-gamut display is control. The more colors you can see, the greater control you will have over the range of color in your images and over highlight and shadow details. In general, a wide-gamut display will give you much greater control over the process of editing your images.
I have the HP Dreamcolor LP2480zx 24 inch display, running on an Intel Mac, Snow Leopard, Photoshop CS5. Once it’s calibrated, I get a highly accurate screen-to-print match. My proof printing is at a minimum, because I have learned to trust what I see on the display. I have no issues, even with high contrast/high dynamic range images or highly saturated colors.
But wait, there’s more! Displays in this class have a very good angle of view (178 degrees), a matte finish screen, and a height-adjustable stand that swings, tilts, and swivels. Additionally, the screen can be rotated 90 degrees to portrait view if needed. I’ve found that these superior ergonomics reduce fatigue and improve productivity. If you spend even a moderate amount of time editing images, you’ll feel and see the benefits right away.
Plus, as competition continues to increase in the wide-gamut display market, prices are becoming much more reasonable. From time to time, I’ve helped others find displays offered with promotional rebates, lightly used demo models, and the like. If you’re interested in one of these devices, it pays to shop around.
So which one should you get? Here are a few tips:
See one before you buy. Check out the image quality, including the evenness of the illumination and color from corner to corner, and from different angles of view. Note some of the ergonomic features and controls. A complete set of on-panel controls is important, too. As for finish, I prefer a matte-finish display. Glossy displays give me headaches from reflections.
At minimum, get a display that can handle 100% of Adobe 98 RGB. If the manufacturer offers specifications referencing NTSC, go for 100% (or more) if possible.
Check out the connectors. Connectors should include DVI-I, HDMI, DisplayPort, Component Video, S-Video, Composite Video, and USB. Many offer a USB hub, which is very convenient.
Look for a unit with a three-year warranty. Many displays have only one-year coverage.
In my view, a wide-gamut display can be a very good investment. In most cases, it will increase your productivity and help you get the most out of your inkjet printer. It’s an option well worth considering.
By Marc Aguilera
If you want to get prints that match what you see on your screen, an important first step is to calibrate your display. Then you can use output profiles and the soft-proofing tools in Photoshop to preview how your edited image will look on the type of paper you plan to print to. This method works whether you are printing images yourself or sending your files to a photo lab or print shop that uses ICC profiles.
I calibrate my displays and create ICC profiles for my papers because it’s the only way to accurately predict print results. When I preview on screen how my prints will actually look, I can make whatever image adjustments are needed to get the absolutely best possible quality from my printer.
Calibrating your monitor isn’t time-consuming or difficult. It simply involves tweaking some of the variables so that your display consistently conforms to some known conditions.
Some of the variables you need to control are the white point, luminance (brightness), and gamma. Each of these variables can affect how you perceive the colors in your image on your display.
Whenever you see colors on your computer screen that can’t be reproduced by the combination of inks and paper you use on your printer, you are bound to be surprised and/or disappointed by the results.
To calibrate your display, you need to use an instrument and software. I use the X-Rite i1 Pro Spectrophotometer and i1 Match Software in an all-inclusive profiling package called i1 Extreme.
However, there are many other solutions available with different price points and capabilities. Some packages, such as X-Rite ColorMunki, have easy-to-follow on-screen instructions that will guide you through every step of the process.
If you are calibrating and profiling your display with an instrument that gives you more advanced controls, here are some of the tips and settings that I find most helpful.
Edit your images in a room where the ambient light is minimal. Essentially, your display should be the predominant source of light in the room. What little amount of ambient light exists in the room should be daylight balanced in order to have a neutral affect on the environment.
Some color-management instruments enable you to measure the ambient light in your room. I keep the ambient light in my editing room to less than 32 lux.
Adjust the white point. The “white point” is the specific color of the maximum white R255 G255 B255 on your display. This white is what you see as “background white” on your display, and it affects the look of all of the other colors you see because this background white actually has color and luminance.
When you calibrate your display you effectively alter the white point and make it conform to a known white point measured in Kelvin. Typically white points range between 5000 Kelvin to 6500 Kelvin.
The white point you choose will depend on what you are trying to do. My best screen-to-print matches with my own personal equipment have come from calibrating to a white point closer to 6500 Kelvin than to 5000 Kelvin because I tend to print with satin and semi-gloss photo papers, which typically have a “bluish” white point. Setting my white point to 6500 Kelvin gives me a closer screen to print match because the “color” of a 6500 Kelvin is more blue than a 5000 K white.
If I were an editorial or advertising photographer who shot images for magazines, I would choose to calibrate to a 5000 Kelvin white point because a 5000 K white point is similar to the coated paper stock that runs through typical web presses used to print thousands of copies of magazines.
So the white point you choose depends partly on the type of photography work you do and how your images will be viewed and printed.
Adjust the luminance. Luminance is a photometric measure of light intensity within a given area and affects how bright your images will appear on screen. If luminance is too high on your display, then you will be seeing colors that are typically much brighter and more vibrant than your printer will be able to produce. Most new displays start out with really high luminance defaults, and display images on screen that are impossible to match what you can get in a print.
In my previous post I suggested a luminance level of 110 to 130 cd/m2 (candelas per meter squared). Lately I have been having better success with a 90 to 100 cd/m2 luminance - especially when I work in very low light conditions.
Adjust the gamma. Gamma is simply a relation of input value to output value and it generally curve based. When you work with curves in Photoshop you are working with gamma curves. The higher the gamma on a display, the more contrast you will see in an image. Most displays available today have a native gamma of 2.0 to 3.0. Previous norms were 1.8 for Mac displays and 2.2 for Windows based PC’s.
When you calibrate your monitor, it’s best to calibrate to the native gamma of the display. If you calibrate to a non-native gamma, you can introduce banding in gradients or other artifacts that affect the look of your image.Typically. 2.2 is the native gamma for most displays, even Apple Cinema Displays.
Soft proof in Photoshop. To avoid wasting ink and paper making multiple test prints, use the soft-proofing feature in Photoshop. This lets you preview on screen how your images will look when printed on the type of paper that you will be using with the type of printers you will be printing to. In order to soft proof, you will need an output profile that describes how the printer produces colors on different types of papers.
The Designjet Z3200 printer includes a built-in spectrophotometer that will create a profile of whatever type of printing material you would like to use as long as it is compatible with the ink system. If you use other models of printers, you can obtain profiles from the companies that provide professional inkjet papers. Or you can use tools such as the ColorMunkiPhoto or i1 Extreme to make your own profiles. Jon Canfield will be writing about these tools on another post.
If you are confused about monitor calibration, output profiles, and soft proofing, check out some of the documents and tutorials on X-Rite’s new website, .
The site was specifically designed to help photographers get the best possible color quality from the time you take the shot until the time you print or display your images.
Companies that reproduce fine-art or print publications must be totally confident that the colors in their prints will match the images they adjusted on their computer screens. So they not only calibrate their monitors and control the ambient light, but also use light booths to provide the daylight-balanced viewing conditions needed to evaluate how accurately the colors in the print match the colors on the screen. Shown here is the prepress department in Harvest Productions in Yorba Linda, CA.
This is my own personal setup. I work in low ambient light and use a portable viewing booth to compare how the image on the screen compares to print. The image is soft proofed to a custom profile I built for my Z3200. You can read more about setting up a digital darkroom in my previous post.
First let’s talk about viewing conditions in the digital darkroom. Note that if you really want to go deep into this subject then I recommend you purchase the ISO Standard 3664:2000 entitled Viewing Conditions – Graphic Technology and Photography. If you would simply prefer the ‘just-tell-me-what-I-need-to-know’ version, then continue reading.
ISO 3664 basically states the obvious: (1) Light affects color; and (2) Your individual experience of color ultimately is subjective. It also states that while color measurement plays an important role in color control, color measurement will never replace the human observer for final assessment of quality. Furthermore, without question the best viewing condition is one which the final print will be seen, Nevertheless, ISO 3664 aims to provide a standardized specification for illumination and viewing conditions that when properly implemented ”...will reduce errors and misunderstandings caused by such deficiencies and inconsistencies.”
In other words, adhering to certain standards for viewing conditions within a digital darkroom makes it possible to achieve the best possible environment for making critical comparisons between transparencies, reflective photographic or photochemical prints, as well as overall appraisal of images on color displays which are not viewed in comparison to a hard copy.
When creating your digital darkroom, pick a light source that has the spectral power distribution of D50 - Daylight – 5000 Kelvin. You can get these types of lights from a variety of sources, including Solux, Just Normlicht, GTI, and X-Rite. The light source is crucial if you want images on your display and prints to come close to matching. The most economical way to go is to go with a Solux Task Lamp, although I prefer a well designed light booth. If you decide to build your own light booth be sure to minimize specular reflectivity and be sure the color of the booth is neutral. The color rendering index of the light source shall be 90 or higher and the illumination shall be 2000 lux +/- 500. The most important things to remember are that: (1) Light can greatly affect how your experience color; and (2) The best light source for viewing is D50 with minimal reflectivity, neutral colors for the apparatus, and 2000 lux of light.
Shown here is the digital darkroom of Harvest Productions in Yorba Linda, CA, an encompus color services account for which I provide training and consultation in the integration of ISO 3664:2000. It is a non-manipulated image of a typical workday. The original paintings and inkjet-printed reproductions are compared under a D50-balanced fluorescent light from GTI. However, the light source is reflected at an angle to reduce specular reflectivity. This was a custom design by Harvest.
This image is on location at the Color Control Freak Seminar sponsored by X-Rite and PANTONE. To demonstrate ISO 3664 principles, I brought along my Just Normlicht mini 5000 light.
ISO 3664 states that the area immediately surrounding the displayed image shall be neutral, preferably dark gray. Also, the display should be situated so there are no strongly colored areas (including clothing) directly in the field of view because these may cause reflections in the display screen. Ideally all walls, floors, and furniture in the field of view should be grey and free of any posters, notices, pictures, wording or any other object which may affect the vision of the viewer.
As far as any interior paint is concerned ISO 3664 does not mention a particular paint or even Lab* value as long as it is neutral gray. My personal preference is the equivalent to Munsell N5 Gray, which in a PANTONE interior paint translates to 17-4402 TPX Neutral Gray and sells for $135 with Key Primer. If you’d rather go for a less expensive but equally good paint try Dunn Edwards Galax-z DE 1087 Dash of Ebony for around $45 per gallon.
I should also stress that the level of ambient light (the light in the environment surrounding your display) should be quite low. In fact, ISO 3664 states that ambient light should be under 64 lux and preferably under 32 lux of light. You can use an instrument such as X-Rite’s i1 Display and i1 Pro with free software called i1 Share to measure the amount of ambient light and its color temperature.The more ambient light there is in the room the more your display will have to compete with it, making the the likelihood of screen-to-print match that much more difficult. Do what is necessary to lock out the ambient light, even if this means shielding windows or turning off the surrounding lights.
Display Calibration and Profiling
It goes without saying that when creating a color-managed digital darkroom the display must be calibrated and profiled. The question really becomes what set of criteria do we calibrate to?
Essentially when you calibrate, you should choose a particular white point. ISO 3664 uses D65 as a white point and luminance must be over 75 cd/m2 (candela’s per meter squared) and should be over 100 cd/m2. I prefer 110-130 cd/m2. Also gamma should be set to 2.2. You may prefer a white point of D50 and gamma 1.8 if you send most of your work to publication but this is a choice you must make.
I learned years ago from one of my teachers in color that your viewing white point must match your display white point in order for the colors to really match. This advice has been important. Sometimes a display white point needs a bit of tweaking in order to get the best screen-to-print match. At encompus, we all have our displays calibrated to D65, 120 cd/m2, gamma 2.2. I get a decent screen to print match with my Just Normlicht mini 5000 light box.
The major advantage of creating a digital darkroom is that you will gain efficiency in precision editing, especially when viewing color on screen compared to color on your print. Your viewing environment greatly affects how the eyes perceives color. A neutral environment with the correct lighting and positioning combined with a calibrated and profiled display and ICC workflow are the key elements in creating a color-managed digital darkroom.