Okay, so now we have gone through why colors differs between applications, why color management has become such an important concept these days and hopefully I’ve successfully explained how everything that happens with colors fit together.
The first step to get started with a color managed workflow is to have the display profiled and calibrated. This is a very important step of the color managed workflow, because without measuring the color characteristics of the display and creating an ICC profile for it, there is no way for a color aware application like Photoshop to make the appropriate compensations to show the correct colors. Most displays comes with an ICC profile on disk or to be downloaded from the vendor’s website, which is better to use than nothing. But it is a compromise. No two displays are ever the same, not even within the same batch, so to get a profile that is as correct as possible you have to profile it yourself.
Using a Spyder 3 Elite
I decided to go with the Spyder 3 Elite from Datacolor to take care of my needs, it’s very easy to use and gives me a great result, so I really don’t have to care very much. It does some basic calibration, which consists of getting the display as close as possible to a target gamma and white point value, and then it profiles the display and stores the profile for color aware applications to use as well as assigning it as the default system display profile. Even though I am using a Spyder, any calibration device from another vendor will probably do just as fine.
If you are using a Spyder 3 with Windows Vista, don’t use the software that comes on the CD, but download the latest version directly from Datacolor instead (Version 3.0.7 when this article was published). The version on the CD is not fully Vista compatible, and won’t overwrite an existing profile already on disk, so any ReCAL done after the initial Full Calibration won’t be saved. It took me a few weeks to notice that the actual file never had been updated even after several ReCALs. This is as mentioned fixed in newer versions of the software.
Spyder 3 Calibration Settings
If it’s your first time calibrating your display, it can be hard to know what settings to use, so I’ll make a quick walk-through how I use the Spyder software.
Some of the first questions the software will ask you about is what controls your monitor provides (image to the right). I’ve seen a few questions of what to check there, but the thing is, no matter what you set there, it doesn’t affect one bit how your display gets calibrated or profiled. What these settings do however, is if your screen by default is so far away from your target calibration so it can’t be fixed in software it will use your settings here to tell you what knobs to dial to get a better starting point. So depending on what you have set here, and how far off your display is, you might get told during the calibration how much to adjust those settings directly on your monitor.
I left my Dell 2408 WFP with the default factory settings (and checked brightness and contrast in the Spyder software just in case). The factory settings where not that far off, so during the calibration I didn’t have to adjust anything with the monitor’s controls. Most of the time, leaving the display at the factory settings before calibration is the best bet.
When the software asks about the calibration target, go with Gamma 2.2 and a White Point of 6500K which is more or less the industry standard for this kind of imaging work. Here you could actually set the calibration target to a sRGB color space, but that would kind of defeat the purpose of having a Wide Gamut display, as it would limit the available colors, especially if you intend to work in Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB.
That’s it, now you have everything configured to get a decent calibration with a correct profile to go with it. All that’s left to do is to attach the Spyder to your display and let the software work for a few minutes, and you are ready to go and enjoy seeing the correct colors in all color managed applications.
Most color aware applications will use the system default assigned display profile, but in some cases you might have to tell the application yourself what display profile you are using, and using Windows Vista 32 or 64 bit you will find your profiles in this location, if needed:
Spyder 3 Elite Validate Calibration
When you have calibrated and profiled your display, if you are using a Spyder 3 Elite like I do, there is an option to check that the calibration turned out okay. In the Elite calibration software you will find it under the Actions menu – cleverly titled Validate Calibration.
When running this action, you need to hook up the Spyder again, and it will measure your current calibration and compare it to the target you had selected. At the end of the validation you will be presented with information how close you are to the target.
The results shows the difference of the target White Point versus the measured value. Any value less than 3 is acceptable, but below 1 is very good. The 50% Gray value is how much the measured gray differ from the target White Point. Ideally the color of gray should be very close to the target White Point. As can be seen in the screenshot, my Dell 2408 WFP calibrates very well with the Spyder.