Why you should calibrate your computer monitors

Content creators stare at screens for several hours a day making calibrated monitors a must.

Content creators: How many hours a day do you stare at a monitor as you work on your creative ideas? Better yet, how often do you switch monitors and devices to work on cloud-based projects?

With the ability to work on-the-go, it's important that content creators ensure that their monitors are properly color calibrated.

Why calibrate?

When you deal with spreadsheets or documents on your workstation, it's ok that your monitor isn't properly calibrated. It's just text. However, when you're an illustrator, a photographer, or a video colorist, proper color calibration of your monitor is imperative. You wouldn't want your photo prints or video submission to not have its blues or reds properly displayed.

SEE: Software quality control policy (Tech Pro Research)

With today's on-the-go workflow, it's not unusual for a content creator to spend time on multiple monitors or multiple computers trying to finish a project. These monitors should be calibrated. If you're working on your cinema display in the morning but decide to finish on your laptop at the coffee house in the afternoon, make sure the colors are matched. Resolution is important, but color tones matter more.

I recently came across this issue as I covered Adobe Max a few months ago. At the time, I had a new laptop to work on for my editing and footage. I noticed that each time I worked on a project, I felt as if I were pushing my color grading more than usual. It's because I was used to my previous devices and the color profile it had. I was able to successfully produce my footage and images, but it was definitely a noticeable change in my editing flow because of the calibration inconsistency.

Calibration tools

There are a handful of OEMs offering monitor calibration solutions. I've got my hands on the Spyder5 from Datacolor. The way this company walks you through the calibration process is simple and only takes a few minutes. Just follow the prompts from the Spyder5 software.

In my instance, I'm using the Spyder5 Pro software for Windows and the Spyder5 calibration hardware (Figure A). Allow me to walk you through the calibration process.

Figure A

Image: Ant Pruitt

This device is connected via USB to your computer or laptop. It will connect to a USB hub connected to your computers, but it's best to connect it directly to a USB port on your laptop or computer for more accurate calibration. It's also important to make sure your room doesn't have harsh light shining directly on your displays. Also, make sure your displays are set to their default settings. Not a "cinema" profile or whatever your display manufacturer assumed is the best one-click setting to run (Figure B).

Figure B

Image: Ant Pruitt

You want the calibration to take place during your usual time of editing and color grading, meaning ambient lighting is under control and any lamps or overhead lighting is considered. Part of the process from Datacolor is to take note of how much light your editing station has. The analysis is completed simply by placing the hardware on your desk in front of you. The Spyder5 has an integrated light sensor to collect this data (Figure C). This process takes roughly ten seconds to complete.

Figure C

Image: Ant Pruitt

Once you assess your room lighting, the calibration process can begin. Just follow the prompts and place the Spyder5 against your display. You can drape it over the top of the monitor to have it hang in the designated spot. In my case, I just held the Spyder5 on the screen with my hand just to see how long it would take (Figure D). If my arm became fatigued, then (in my opinion) the calibration process was taking a considerable amount of time. Fortunately, the calibration took roughly two to three minutes. The process that took the most time in my calibration was changing my monitor brightness to make the recommended setting, which again, was only minute or two.

Figure D

Image: Ant Pruitt

Once completed, you're greeted with a prompt that allows you to see the "before" and "after" calibration results. It's quite impressive. In my case, I noticed a warmer color tone on the display and grabbed 100% of the sRGB color space (Figure E).

Figure E

Image: Ant Pruitt

When you're ready to calibrate another display, just make sure you have an available USB port, and the Spyder5 Pro software installed. The software is compatible with Windows and MacOS.

Fire off the calibration software and allow only a few minutes to get the display properly calibrated. I calibrated three monitors well within a half an hour. Nice work, Datacolor. You can get your hands on the Spyder5 calibration tool and software starting at $129.99. There are other tools available for use within other tiered price points on the website.

Are you calibrating your displays? I hope so. It really makes a difference in color accuracy first and foremost, but it also makes the editing process a lot faster.

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About Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.

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