If the color on your display doesn’t look quite right, it might not be your eyes. Many displays need to be adjusted, which is a process called calibration. The SpyderX Pro from datacolor makes calibration easy!
That’s Not the Right Color!
Most of us have looked at a photo on a monitor and thought, “There’s something a bit off with the color.” It’s especially frustrating when you’ve spent serious money on your monitor and expect near-perfect color reproduction.
While manufacturers have a general idea of the way its monitors display colors, your particular monitor might not conform exactly to the vendor’s profile. This can be because of manufacturing tolerances, or just because the monitor’s response changes as the display and its internal components age.
But how do you know if your monitor is displaying the colors in your file correctly? And if it isn’t, how do you fix it? I tested one solution—the SpyderX Pro calibration tool from datacolor.
Bridge the Gap
Without getting technical, there are times when the software expects the monitor to display a particular color, and the monitor misinterprets that color and displays something close to it. This makes the image appear a bit “off.” Or, the monitor might think it’s displaying the color, but because of the factors detailed above, it’s not. There’s a disconnect between the color values in the file you’re working on, and what you see on the display.
The industry became aware of this pretty early on and developed a method of tweaking the display file, so it aligned better with the actual image file. This was done under the auspices of the International Color Consortium (ICC), and the results are called ICC Profiles. An ICC Profile adjusts a graphic file to the known characteristics of a peripheral device, such as your monitor.
For most people, the ICC display profile supplied by the monitor vendor is sufficient to give you acceptable images. You might not need a more specialized device to get acceptable color.
But if you want the best color output possible from your display, you can create your own display profile. And one of the best (and easiest to use) tools for that is datacolor’s SpyderX Pro.
Another Piece of Hardware?
The SpyderX Calibration tool comes in two models—I tested the more reasonably priced Pro version. But if you really want to fine-tune your display to its absolute best, there’s a SpyderX Elite that’s about $100 more. The only difference between the two models is the software—the calibration tool is the same for both.
The Elite model is marketed toward photographers and other graphics professionals. The Pro model is more of a “prosumer” device, for the serious designer or photographer who doesn’t need all the advanced features of the Elite. It’s available for both Mac and Windows computers.
The calibrator hangs over your monitor, and the software displays test colors. The sensor in the calibrator interprets the test colors. The software then computes the difference between what the color frequency should be and what is displayed. An ICC Profile is created to make the conversion, so each of the basic primary colors (Red, Blue, Green) displays correctly. The custom profile then installs on your computer, and you’re good to go!
Perform a Calibration
After you install and launch the software, it’s time to position the calibration tool. The small, semi-triangular sensor hangs in front of the screen. It has a lens cover that—when removed—becomes a counterweight for the sensor, so it remains stationary on the screen throughout the calibration process.
The software shows you where to hang the sensor to begin the calibration process, which takes you through a series of operations.
As you get started, the software displays a flowchart on the left, which shows where you are in the process. The steps that perform the calibration are in the center, and interactive help is available on the right.
You can run a new calibration, a recalibration, or a check to see if you even need to calibrate. Once you’re familiar with it, the entire calibration process only takes about two minutes. So, you’ll probably recalibrate the monitor every time you use the SpyderX Pro.
The sensor measures the light level of the room and walks you through how to use the monitor’s controls to set the brightness. The rest of the calibration consists of a series of screens that flash different levels of the three primary colors. This is the actual process of calibration. The software measures the difference between what your monitor displays and the actual color values.
After the software flashes all its test screens, it computes and creates a new custom profile for your display in just a few seconds. The software notifies you after it completes the new profile and automatically installs it. Your display is now calibrated and produces much more accurate color.
The screenshots below show examples of colors before the calibration and after.
There’s a subtle, but noticeable, difference in the way some colors are displayed. In the uncalibrated display on the left, the reds and oranges appear muted; they’re noticeably brighter in the calibrated display.
It’s the same in the color panels in the four corners of the color matrix images. If you’ve gotten used to the slightly “off” colors, you might think the calibrated display looks oversaturated at first. It might take some time to get used to the new display response.
Once the display is calibrated, you can see a graphic of the display’s color gamut. This graph shows which colors are in the color space, and which of these the monitor can display, both before and after the calibration. Note that a more expensive ($500-plus) IPS monitor performs much better and usually has a larger color space than a cheap one from a big box store.
You can select which color space you generally work in from the four choices on the right. Most likely, only professional photographers or graphic designers will have much use for this information.
Does Calibration Matter?
Not everyone needs to calibrate their display to the extent offered by the datacolor SpyderX Pro. If you have a cheaper monitor, and you rarely edit images or do any graphic design, this device is probably overkill. The built-in calibration capabilities of your operating system or graphics card will probably serve you well.
But if you’ve spent hundreds (or even $1,000) on a high-end display, you owe it to yourself to make sure it’s functioning as perfectly as possible. Even if you’re not a professional, and you just want the best, most accurate images on your display, the SpyderX Pro is an excellent way to do that.
Here’s What We Like
- Easy to use
- Gives the most accurate color the display is capable of
- Works with multiple monitors and PCs
- Provides before and after calibration comparisons
And What We Don't
- Operating system or graphics card calibration is usually enough for most displays