Calibrate my monitor

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The words of death are, "It looked good on my calibrated monitor."

It seems obvious that the key to good prints is having your monitor and printer match. The problem is you can't calibrate your eyes.

When you step from sun to shade, your T-shirt still looks white to your eyes, but to the camera it looks blue. When you go indoors and turn on the light, your eyes say the shirt is still white. But to the camera it becomes yellow.

That's because your eyes remove color casts, but the camera captures the colors as they really are, just as printers print what's really in your file—not what your eyes thought they saw.

Your eyes are good at comparing shots side by side, but when you stare at a portrait on your screen, your eyes do what they're best at: remove color casts so you can't see them and don't know they're there.

Fortunately, there's a simple tool that allows even the color blind to hit their colors every time with no fear of returns: the Photoshop Info window.

The lion's share of returned prints are from poor skin tones, but we've never seen a print returned when the colors fell within the range described in our pleasing skin tone help article. And the wonderful thing is you don't even need a color monitor to see that your skin tones are pleasing.

The other big reasons for returns are they're washed out or too dark, and both can largely be judged with Photoshop tools.

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Get a calibration print.

There's nothing like comparing real prints to what you see on your screen to get a feel for how monitors and prints differ. Calibration prints to the rescue! Order one and compare it to your on-screen versions.

Calibration prints are available from our photo labs. Visit our galleries for Bay Photo, WHCC or Loxley to purchase calibration prints. Alternatively, complete this form, and we'll send you a sample pack, that includes a calibration print, from any of our lab partners! Looking for details about our available labs? Check out this article.

How closely the calibrated prints match what you see on your screen will also depend on the light falling on the print. Monitors generate their own light, and it's usually brighter than the subdued lighting in homes, where most of your prints will probably be viewed. Prints depend on reflected light, so they'll look yellow and dark under household tungsten light, green under industrial lights, and blue under sunlight.

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How experts view prints.

To really make print and monitor match, you'd put the prints in a light box of known color and intensity. The problem with this is your admirers will not be viewing your prints in a light box.

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Soft proofing.

Wouldn't it be great if the printer faithfully produced your file exactly as you submitted it with no subtle changes? SmugMug offers the ability to turn off color correction for our print labs so they come close to this ideal. But there's still a shift in colors. How can you know what it is?

The answer is to download Bay Photo's ICC profile (Mac/Windows), WHCC's ICC profile, or one of Loxley's ICC profiles (depending on which lab you ask us to print through) and use it to soft proof in an application like Photoshop.

To install ICC profiles in Windows:

  • Download the profile by right-clicking the link and selecting Save Target As.
  • Right-click on the downloaded profile and a menu will appear. Choose Install Profile. If you're running Vista or Windows 7, the file should go into your color folder: C:\Windows\system32\spool\drivers\color.
  • If the Uninstall Profile menu item appears, it means you already have an ICC profile of the same name installed.

To install ICC profiles on a Mac with OS X:

  • Download the profile by right-clicking the link and selecting Save Target As.
  • Drag the ICC profile to the Users\[your login user name]\Library\ColorSync\Profiles folder.

Quit Photoshop and re-open it. Then go to the View menu, select Proof Setup, and then the Custom submenu. The dialog below will appear:

Photoshop proof setup

By clicking the preview button on and off with one of your photos open, you'll see how your print will look.

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I still want a calibrated monitor.

Here's a great reference.

Even after calibration, you can get more "snap" from monitors than you can from prints. That's because the inks don't combine to produce as black a black as a monitor can produce, and white photographic paper is not the pure white some monitors can achieve.

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