Your Computer Screen May Need To Be Colour Calibrated

Your computer screen may need to be colour calibrated. Mine sure did. I bought a new laptop which seems to have a nice enough screen, but I could tell by looking that it suffered from a blue cast. It’s specifically a Dell XPS 13 (yes, a Dell, forgive me), but blue-ishness seems to be a common characterisitic of laptop screens. I’ve noticed it on several, and I recall photography spaz Ken Rockwell had the same problem. It’s not an issue if you aren’t doing photography or graphic design, but if you are it is. Not knowing the actual colour of the image you’re making is a real pain if you’re planning on printing it or showing it on somebody else’s screen.

Calibrating a screen has a hard part and an easy part and a hard part. The hard part is swallowing the idea of paying non-trivial sums of money for an obscure hardware thing that will sit briefly on your monitor before being forgotten in a desk for months or years. The easy part is actually running the procedure once you’ve installed the associated software and have plugged the device into your computer. The hard part is knowing what to do with the calibration profile file that procedure will produce. The calibrator I use installs a little program that loads up with Windows and automatically applies the profile file when the system boots, which seems easy. But I notice that program sometimes fails, so I have to override it and use the built-in Windows color management controls anyway. It’s less of pain in Vista than it was in XP, but it’s still a pain. Mac and linux may have better systems, I’m not sure. In any case it means digging through control panels and pondering what will happen when you plug multiple differnent monitors into your computer, if you’re into that sort of thing.

A litte Q&A:

What is a colour calibrator? What is a colour profile? A calibrator is a little USB puck that has a basic spectrometer built into it. The associated software produces an image on your screen that cycles through some colours. The spectrometer puck precisley records what colour your screen is actually generating. The software then compares those output values to what it was feeding into the screen and makes a little file with numbers the operating system can use to correct the difference. With that correction applied the result should be a nuetral colour response.

Why don’t screen manufacturers test their screens and give out profiles? I don’t know. My old external monitor actually did come with a factory-made profile, but I only discovered it by accident while digging around the utilities cd. Maybe because every screen coming off the production line will have slightly different colour response and they can’t be bothered testing each screen individually. Maybe because they figure it’s too much to expect owners to know how to apply the profile file within their particular operating system. Maybe because they figure nobody cares. Maybe nobody does.

Is there any such thing as truly nuetral colour response? Yes. But if you start to think too much about that it gets complicated.

If everybody’s screen is blue-ish, shouldn’t you keep yours blue-ish so you’ll know what your photos will look like on theirs? That’s depressing, next question.

Shouldn’t you do this for your printer too? Yes. But that gets complicated. And expensive.

Will the printer at the photo store you send your prints to have a nuetral colour response? Maybe, but they will hopefully have it calibrated if it doesn’t. But that gets complicated. For now, just worry about your screen.

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