Your Monitor – Is it Calibrated? Is it Profiled?

Summary – Did you know that calibrating and profiling a monitor are two different things? Today’s post discusses calibration. Profiling, a different beast, is on tap for tomorrow. You NEED BOTH.


Color managed workflow begins with your monitor


You read constantly “Calibrate your monitor!!”

That’s only 1/2 of the story

If your monitor is not properly calibrated AND profiled

Little else in your image editing workflow matters



Simple Beauty


The problem (part 1)

If your monitor is not calibrated correctly

You have no idea what the image’s true colors & contrasts are

This means that there is virtually no chance of

A print of the image matching what you see on your monitor

(what you see is visual garbage) 😦

Assuming that you want a match between monitor & print

You can see what the problem is with uncalibrated monitors

(There are other problems as well)


Part 2 comes tomorrow – (very short and sweet)

Calibration doesn’t automatically imply profiling

You need a profile for your calibrated monitor

If you want your printer to know

What the monitor’s true colors are

Creating a monitor profile is a separate step

Done following the calibration


Is your monitor calibrated? Calibrated well??

Below are two images

Each has three rows

Four squares each in the top row & the bottom row

A single long rectangular row in the center

The top image shows 8 levels of light tones

240 through 254

Divided in the center with pure white (255)

The bottom image is similar except for dark tones

Pure black (0) divides the 8 dark squares

The numerical values, if you haven’t guessed, are

Lightness values from the standard 0-255 scale


Bright ambient light may affect what you see (or don’t see)

Also, have no bright lights shining on the screen

Another tip – move back several feet & squint your eyes

The top & bottom rows may appear as gray bands

Which is what you want to see

Without this I have problems seeing the bottom dark row



Here’s the question(s) –

For the light toned image –

What is the highest numbered square where you can see

A difference between that square and the pure white center?

Similarly for the dark image –

What’s the lowest numbered squared you can

Distinguish from the black center?


The answers are one indication of

How well your monitor is calibrated (or not)

It’s only part of the story, but a very important part

If this is off, everything is probably off

(Color accuracy is the other part of the calibration story)


For light tones, you should be able to distinguish between

The white center and 251 (250 at worst)

A perfectly calibrated quality monitor will differentiate between 254 & 255

For dark you should see 15, ideally 11, separate from the black

A perfectly calibrated monitor sees 5 separated from 0 (black)

If your monitor fails these tests

You need to calibrate

or get a new monitor if yours is a “poor performer”

Check some reviews to see where yours stacks up

Mine is a moderately priced Dell that got good reviews

After calibrating just now (I do it monthly)

I can see all eight light blocks, and

Seven of the dark (8 with wishful thinking 😉 )

[Update 8/15/13 – upgraded my profiling hardware and now can see all 8 dark squares, too]

You don’t have to spend a fortune

No more (less) than a good lens for your camera


Calibration techniques & tools abound

As do how-to tutorials

The world doesn’t need yours truly to add yet another

Here is a section on a first-class site about monitor calibration

Also, it has a wealth of links to much more on the subject


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3 thoughts on “Your Monitor – Is it Calibrated? Is it Profiled?

    • Good morning. Sounds like you’re ahead of the game. The next couple of posts look at profiling the calibrated monitor and then ensuring that your operating system is aware of the profile – and finally ensuring your imaging software is color aware & that it, too, knows about the profile.

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