Who knew something as simple as setting your external monitor so that you view it at eye level when sitting at your desk could have such an impact on the colours of your image and your print. No? Let’s rewind a few days.
As a photographer, who edits a lot of images (mine as well as other photographers), who also runs a printing company, I’ve come to understand that a proper, colour controlled environment is a must. There are a few things to consider when building a setup. One of the criteria is a good external monitor and how best to position it, then getting your monitor calibrated is a must. This ensures that what you see on screen can be reproduced as close as possible in print. You can buy a device for calibrating your screen such as a ColourMunki or Spyder. Another option is to get a professional in to calibrate your screen, and also possibly create custom profiles for your printer, ensuring you get optimum results from your paper choice and inks.
When looking at a monitor you don’t want to go too small. You should going as big as your budget can afford. You also want to be certain you can adjust more than just the brightness. On my monitor I can adjust anything from the brightness and contrast all the way to individual RGB values. This helps a lot when calibrating as it gives you much more to work with, thereby getting a much more accurate result. A monitor that can display a wide colour gamut is a good thing to look for too. There’s no point in working with a 16-bit file and your display cannot display the subtleties within the image. A screen with a digital connection is important too. Look for connections such as a DisplayPort, HDMI, or Thunderbolt.
Makes of monitors worth looking at could be Samsung, Asus or Dell. The Dell UltraSharp U2715H is a good monitor to consider. It has the best picture
quality of many monitors on the market. Along with many of the display connection mentioned above it also has a USB 3 hub, can tilt, swivel and the height can be adjusted. The monitor also has HDMI and DisplayPort input so you can daisy-chain a second monitor.
Monitors such as Eizo monitors are top-end monitors and pack a punch when it comes to cost. Unlike like most common monitors the Eizo monitors come with a built in calibrator and as a photographer it’s always a good idea to fine-tune your monitor so you can get the best results. This is where the ColourMunki or Spyder comes in, if you’re using something like a Dell or Samsung. These devices usually hang over the monitor and will take readings from a series of coloured patches that flash on the display. The software will then create a custom ICC profile for your monitor which you can turn on in your display preferences on your computer. The more advanced calibrators will also take ambient light readings.
My print looks different to what’s on screen
Now it’s all very well having an external monitor and having it calibrated. But what happens when you print an image and it comes out looking different to what you have on screen? First thing to consider is, have you printed correctly? Did you select the correct ICC profiles for the paper you’re using through Photoshop/Lightroom as well as on your printer? Is your monitor sitting at eye-level? Have you let it warm up for at least 30 minutes? You might not think that’s important, but do an experiment. Pull up an image on your screen and view it large. Now stand up, and move up and down, side to side. Notice how the image changes? This might not be so noticeable on newer displays but if your display is getting on a bit, you might see a bigger change. So go grab two phone books and put your monitor on top.
Once you’ve determined that the correct profiles have been chosen, your monitor is set up correctly and at the right height, now consider your choice of paper. How white is the white in your prints? Obviously without white ink, the whitest part of print will be the paper.
Some papers have brightening agents in them which absorb UV light and re-emit it as blue light. This can be quite bright when viewing in daylight, but completely missing when viewing your print under tungsten light. Other papers are called warm-tone papers and are free of brightening agents. This means the paper is an off-white colour and looks slightly warm.
Should I worry about calibrating my monitor then?
I think the short answer is yes. Calibrating your monitor will definitely help. Having a colour managed workflow eliminates a lot of variables. So when things go wrong, you have an easier time pin-pointing what might have gone wrong.
Trying to match your prints to what you see on screen is not really the way to do it. If having prints is what your goal is then viewing the images on the screen is only a part of the process in a colour managed workflow, from capturing the image to the final print.
I think you should stop worrying that your print might look different compared to whats on screen and rather focus on print quality and working with a set of quality inks and papers, as well as making use of test prints, so you can see if you need to make adjustments for where you want to ultimately end up.