Monitor calibration tutorial

Apple Cinema HD Display color setup and calibration

Monitor calibration tutorial

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Proper monitor calibration is critical to the process of accurately proofing your image prior to printing. White Points, Black Level, Contrast, Color Saturation, and Hue all play a part in determining your monitor's ability to reliably portray your image as it will look once printed. All of these parameters must be in precise balance to each other in order to present an accurate approximation of the final output.

Cinema HD Display calibration, preferences and gamma settings

First we will walk through the process of using the "advanced" monitor calibration located in your "System Preferences" under "Displays." Although Apple's out-of-the-box monitor calibration tools have come a long way, this will only be the first step in accurate calibration. THE ONLY WAY to truly calibrate your monitor is with after-market calibration hardware and "profiles" OR to do a direct comparison between your monitor and the final output. Using the latter method will cost you little and will produce the same results as the expensive calibration hardware.

Step one in the initial calibration setup is to open the "Displays" dialog box in your "Monitors" system preferences folder. Click the "Calibration" button (Fig. 2) and the "Display Calibrator Assistant" window will appear. Check "Expert Mode" (Fig. 3) and hit "Continue".

Monitor display calibrator assistant

The next several windows to appear will be related to "Native Gamma" and "Target Gamma" (Fig. 4). You will go through five steps to adjust the "Luminance" of your display. You will make your adjustments to the center box (horizontal lines with Apple) by operating the blue slider buttons in the left and right control boxes. The left control box adjusts brightness levels and the right control box adjusts hue or color.

Cinema HD native gamma

Luminance Settings - Brightness, Contrast, Hue

The next six examples show how the control buttons affect changes to the Apple icon in the center box. The objective in each of the next five steps is to make the Apple icon disappear or blend into the surrounding horizontal lines. Move your head away from the screen and squint slightly to achieve the best results.

Technical Note: The term "Luminance" is Apple's catch-all phrase for the Cinema HD display's Brightness, Contrast, Black Levels, and Hue, being adjusted globally under the Luminance setting.

By dragging the blue button upwards in the left control box, Fig. 5 you are brightening the Apple icon in relation to the horizontal lines. By dragging the blue button in the right control box, Fig. 6 you are altering the hue of the Apple icon in relation to the surrounding horizontal lines.

In the next two examples you will adjust the White Balance. When dragging the blue button downwards in the left control box Fig. 7 you are darkening the Apple icon in relation to the horizontal lines. In Fig. 8 you are repeating the step of altering the Apple icon's hue in relation to the surrounding horizontal lines. Always try to make the Apple icon blend into the surroundings.

Cinema HD Luminance calibration setting

In Fig. 9 and Fig. 10 (above) you will set the Black Level by scrolling the cursor on the lower left and right dialog boxes. In each of these steps you should aim for a result that is similar to Fig. 10, where the Apple logo begins to disappear in relation to the background field..

Target White Point color temperature settings

The final step is to adjust the "Target White Point." Think of the "White Point" as the color and brightness of a piece of unprinted paper stock. Different papers have varying white points, but the general industry standard for press proofing is D50. The standard out-of-the-box setting for Apple's Cinema display Fig. 11 has a White Point of "D65," which is commonly referred to as the monitor's "Native White Point" (see check box in Fig 11).

Technical Note: "D65" is shorthand for a color temperature of 6500° on the Kelvin scale (also shown as 6500k). A color temperature of 6500k closely approximates natural sunlight. The higher the color temperature, the "cooler" (blue end of the color spectrum) the color cast. The lower the color temperature, the "warmer" (red end of the color spectrum) the color cast. High (blue) color temperature has a "short wave length", and low color temperature has a "long wavelength".

Target white point calibration

Although Apple's standard D65 setting (Fig. 11) may seem "pleasing" to the eye, it is NOT a good representation of what the final output will look like. A setting of D50, however, is too warm using these Apple monitors (Fig. 12). I have found a setting of around 5750° Kelvin to be a close approximation of the final printed output (Fig. 12). Keep in mind that different printers, printing machines, and paper stocks all have varying results in relation to your monitor's rendition.

If you have made all of these adjustments correctly, you will have a close approximation of the average printed output. To achieve the highest level of calibration, you MUST compare the final output to the monitor's image (see next section).

Cinema HD display calibration at D50 color temperature
Cinema HD display calibration at 5600k color temperature

Display comparison to final printed output

To accomplish this calibration procedure, you must first create a color swatch test sample in Illustrator or Photoshop. Your test sample should be created in CMYK format and contain pure primary colors (Yellow, Cyan, Magenta, and Black), several shades of grey, and some pastel colors. You should also include a couple of images that contain neutral grey tones, pure black, and pure white.

Save this test sample in CMYK and have your local Color Separation House create a "Match Proof" from the sample. Place this Match Proof directly next to your monitor and open your sample file. This way you can make a side-by-side comparison of the two. Redo all of the calibration procedures that were covered in the previous steps, but this time be mindful of the monitor's rendition of the image in the Match Proof.

Technical Note: This procedure should be preformed on a cloudy yet bright day with no direct sunlight hitting the monitor or sample proof. Technical Note 2: A "Match Proof" is a printer's test proof that is made directly from the color separation and is considered the highest standard for color accuracy within the printing industry.

Comparing to a match proof

If you have preformed these steps correctly, you will now have a calibrated monitor that you can safely rely on to give you the true picture of what your image will look like after it has been printed.

As stated in the beginning of this tutorial, different printers, printing machines, and paper stocks will have varying results in relation to your monitor's rendition. However, now if your printed piece does not look correct, you will be able to confidently make the argument that your monitor is correctly calibrated and therefor, there must be an error in the printing process.

Display calibrator assistant

Dual monitor setup

If you are still working with a CRT "tube" monitor, stop. Unless you spent a small fortune on a Barco Reference Monitor & Color Reference Calibrator, you will be amazed at the difference in sharpness, clarity, color accuracy, and "flicker free" eye-strain relief that comes with a good flat panel monitor as compared to any CRT monitor. Additionally, the curved screen on a CRT monitor gives off a lot of distracting reflections.

In order to reduce eye strain it is important to use the "zoom" feature in your graphics program. Frequently look away from the computer screen and towards a distant field of view, blink your eyes before returning your gaze to the screen.

One solution to the problem of eye strain is to have dual monitors of different resolution Fig. 1. Your main monitor is the one that you will use to draw and paint with, therefor it should be a "High Resolution" "High Definition" or "HD" monitor in the largest size that is practical. This means that it will have a higher DPI (dot per inch, or pixels per inch) rating than a standard monitor. Standard monitor resolution is 72 DPI. Apple's high definition monitor, the Apple Cinema HD series, has 96 DPI at 1920x1200 pixels.

Dual monitor setup

The main reason to use monitors with different resolutions is that you can put all of your software's palettes and Dialogue Box's in the smaller (lower resolution) monitor, so that they appear larger and easier to read. The additional benefit is that you can keep all of that screen real-estate clear of clutter so that you can focus on the image you are working on. You will want to keep your tool and layer palettes along the edge that is closest to the main monitor. This will keep wrist movement to a minimum when changing brushes, colors, layers, etc.

Position your desk and monitor so that the ambient light from the room does not change dramatically throughout the day or into the night. Drastic changes in room lighting from direct sunlight and artificial sources of light will change your color and contrast perception and may necessitate different monitor calibration settings at different times of the day. Always avoid direct sunlight washing across the surface of your monitor.

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