Screen Calibration

What is screen calibration, why is it important, and how can it help you process and print professional images for commercial or domestic projects?

Firstly. Let’s start from the beginning. Before Microsoft, Apple and Dell excelled in the consumer market; screen calibration was not essential. In some computer models, colourimeters did not exist.

In addition, digital photo processing was only starting to take off (c1990). Most photographers were still shooting using old film format cameras, of which photographers processed images in a dark room.

However, digital photographers needed more power to process their images hence the initial release of Adobe Photoshop on the 19th of February 1990. Apple and Microsoft still provided their customers with various options to calibrate their screens. Unfortunately, there weren’t many decent and affordable consumer products, such as the humble colourimeter invented by Louis J Duboscq (c1870) or the spectrophotometer created by Arnold O. Beckman (c1940).

Fortunately, the technology behind the colourimeter and spectrophotometer soon caught up with the likes of Adobe, Microsoft, Dell, Apple etc., and leading digital camera manufacturers hence the birth of the consumer colourimeter for photographers and videographers.

But why do you need a screen calibration tool for? Simply put, most monitors come out of the box with the brightness set too high and with oversaturated colours – plus, they degrade over time.

Furthermore, working with properly calibrated monitors can save you a tremendous amount of time and frustration. Colour-correcting and grading your finished project on a poorly calibrated monitor can make it look unprofessional when displayed on a properly calibrated monitor. This can significantly affect audience response and even hurt your reputation.

What is screen calibration?

Screen or monitor calibration is the process of measuring and adjusting the colours on your computer monitor to match a common standard.

Credit: Datacolor

To measure the colour, you’ll use a spectrophotometer or colourimeter that hangs off your screen. The device works through computer software to maintain the colour of your images.

Why is screen calibration necessary?

Calibrating your monitor is essential to produce a neutral white with no colour shift. It’s also vital that other colours be as accurate as possible with the ambient light conditions you’re working under.

If your monitor is not correctly colour calibrated, you are most likely not seeing everything in the images you view. For example, a smooth and beautiful sunset might appear pale, and a black and white picture might appear too dark or too bright.

Credit: Datacolor

Monitor calibration is therefore essential, not just for you and your portfolio but for your customers. Clients will not purchase images that look dull or pale or black and white photos that are too black or bright.

In recent years I’ve found that correctly calibrated monitors help reduce the time you spend at your screen post-processing. Furthermore, a calibrated monitor and printer reduce paper and printer cartridge waste.

How does screen calibration help in post-process?

As mentioned above, a correctly calibrated monitor screen will reduce the time you spend processing, thus giving you more time to take pictures and build your portfolio.

Monitor calibration and profiling help to edit your images. This process helps to get consistent colours and luminosity while processing the photos. If you print the picture, you may also want to perform printer profiling. However, I’ll write more about printer profiling in my next article.

Regularly calibrating your monitor is essential to create prints that accurately represent what you see on your monitor. However, there’s still a chance that the colours look wrong. The most likely reason is that your images are saved and printed in the wrong colour space. In addition, your printer may need profiling too.

How often should you calibrate your monitor?

Most manufacturers recommend calibrating your monitor monthly with a trusted calibration tool, especially if you’re working commercially.

Regarding printers, manufacturers recommend profiling your printer once or twice a month for hobbyist work and once weekly for frequent printer use. However, for professionals who rely on accuracy, it’s recommended that you profile your printer daily.

Signs of an Uncalibrated Monitor

  • A washed-out view or effect. You will notice this when pictures on the monitor look normal, but they seem to have too much saturation when you print them.
  • Over saturation. This sign is the opposite of a washed-out view. When you compare printed images with what you see on your screen, the printed picture will look bland and lifeless compared to the image on the monitor. When your print looks like it’s been sat in the sun for a few years, it’s time to calibrate.
  • Colour banding. This effect happens when your computer doesn’t display gradients correctly. When you start seeing different shades of colour in bands across the screen, instead of a smooth transition between colours, it’s time to calibrate your screen.
  • Overexposed. An overexposed display means that its brightness setting is too high. This can lead to missing details in bright pictures, extra glare from your monitor, and even eye strain. It’s similar to a washed-out screen, but when printing pictures, they’ll be too dark instead of oversaturated. An overexposed screen is probably the most common sign that your monitor needs calibrating.
  • Dark display. A sign of a dark display is being unable to see details in the dark areas of your screen. This is especially true when you’re playing games or watching a movie and night-time, or dark scenes look too dark. If your screen does this, it likely needs to be calibrated.
  • Whites don’t look white. When viewing a white screen on your monitor, it’s time to calibrate if you notice a subtle grey tint.

It takes a lot to get a perfect shot, so a wrongly calibrated monitor should not be a barrier to producing an exceptionally great image with the correct colours. To have the right colours, monitors need to be calibrated, and there are various colourimeters available in the market; however, which tool works best?

Top 4 Colour Calibration Tools

Several brands of colour calibration tools are on the market, starting from £125 up to £450+. If you’re like me and occasionally like a bargain, please take some sound advice here and do not purchase a used calibration tool. The four best colour calibration tools for domestic and commercial use are listed below.

Prices start from £125 up to £200

The SpyderX Pro is rated as one of the best colour calibration tools used by hobbyists and professionals on the market. It’s easy to use and install, and it’s fast.


The Datacolour SpyderX Pro cannot be upgraded. In addition, the low light performance can be quite behind compared to similar colourimeters in the market with the exact specifications and price.

Credit: Ben Harvey Photography

Price: £255.95

The Calibrite ColorChecker Display Plus offers excellent value and is rated as one of the best monitor calibration tools in the £250 range.

The Calibrite Display Plus comes with excellent hardware quality, best-in-class measurement performance, and a proven platform with over ten years on the market.

This is an аdvаnсеd dіѕрlау саlіbrаtіоn ѕоlutіоn thаt оffеrѕ соmрrеhеnѕіоn сuѕtоm саlіbrаtіоn соntrоl fоr рrоfеѕѕіоnаllу саlіbrаtеd mоnіtоrѕ, lарtорѕ, mоbіlе dеvісеѕ оr рrојесtоrѕ. Іt аllоwѕ уоu tо еdіt аnd ѕhаrе уоur wоrk wіth соnfіdеnсе and is more than suitable for hobbyists and professional photographers that require consistent quality.


Calibrite is still a relatively new company on the market with a thirteen-year history of specialising in and manufacturing colour calibration tools.

The most common negative reviews regarding the company range from poor customer service and software and hardware compatibility issues. Several customers on Amazon have complained that the Colorchecker Display Plus cannot read reds properly.

In addition, this device does not have an option for printer profiling, struggles to read Windows sizes, and is not compatible with Windows 11; however, the latter concern is believed to have been addressed by the company.

Credit: Olga Dekell

Price: £339

The Datacolor SpyderX Capture Pro is rated as one of the best colour calibration tools for semi-professional and commercial photographers and videographers.

The Capture Pro is super fast and comes with an integrated reference guide containing stacks of information. In addition, the sensor comes with a protective cover to prevent damage when not in use.

This package contains the Spyder LensCal, Spyder Cube, Spyder Checkr and SpyderX Elite.

Credit: Mike Hagen

Spyder LensCal (seen in the video above) allows you to check whether your camera lenses are focusing at the correct point so that you can make minor adjustments to compensate for any bias. This is particularly important for photographers who frequently use wide-aperture lenses, as these can sometimes miss the mark – and with these lenses capturing such a shallow depth of field, this can cause subjects to be rendered slightly out of focus.

If you’re working in a commercial setting, this tool might be for you.


Several customers on Amazon have reported that the device does not come with a CD to install software, of which users will require an internet connection to download and install key software components. In addition, customers have also raised concerns that the device does not come with written instructions.

The USB-A connection is not ideal for newer laptops. The counterweight/cover could be heavier. The Capture Pro-Kit is also pricey too.

Credit: Mark Galer’s Alpha Creative Skills

Price: £445

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Тhе рurроѕе оf thіѕ unіt іѕ tо rеmоvе thе ѕtrеѕѕ аnd fruѕtrаtіоn оf сhесkіng соlоurѕ frоm уоur ѕсrееn tо уоur рrіntѕ. Ultіmаtеlу, thіѕ dеvісе орtіmіѕеѕ bоth уоur рrіntеr аnd dіѕрlау ѕо thаt уоu ѕаvе mоnеу аnd еnd uр wіth hіghеr quаlіtу аnd mоrе ассurаtе іmаgеѕ.

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This is an expensive unit if you don’t have a printer, projector or scanner. The unit is also quite bulky and has an underwhelming tablet calibration.

Most customers have reported that the device does not come with a user manual, and the instructions are available in English only. That said, the product does exactly what it says on the tin.

Credit: Mike Hagen

Are Colour Calibration Tools Worth It?

Most professional and hobbyist photographers and videographers opt for colour calibration tools over their system’s built-in screen calibration. So, in my opinion, they’re worth every penny.

However, buying a colour calibration tool is pointless if you’re not selling prints or publishing videos.


There are two methods for calibrating monitors: software calibration and hardware calibration.

Software calibration is conducted using a general-purpose calibration kit and the monitor’s standard colour-adjustment function. Users adjust the monitor colour themselves, following the program’s instructions included in the kit. An ICC profile is generated automatically.

Hardware calibration is carried out using specialised software and sensors. Hardware calibration is conducted by controlling a monitor directly via a calibration function.

As many calibration kits are available on the market, software calibration is very well suited to general monitor use. Also, software calibration allows users to improve colour by adjusting white points, luminance, and gamma curves.

Since monitor adjustment is conducted by the user, problems with precision can occur, with minor variations occurring each time calibration is undertaken. It can also take a while to grasp how the software works, making it time-consuming until the process is completed a few times. In addition, some calibration kits offer only low precision in adjustment and rougher profiles.

When conducting software calibration, gradation deviations, tinting, and other gradation damage can also occur. These deviations and effects can make it impossible to display minor colour differences or may affect gradation display overall. As a result, care must be taken when using software calibration. 

All-in-all colour calibration software is essential for professional photographers that work in a commercial environment. They’re also useful for photographers that shoot competitive photography.

Thank you for reading.

Published by J. J. Williamson

Prints, frames, stock images and portrait services.

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