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Solving Monitor Profiling Problems

There are a number of hardware/software monitor profiling packages on the market from vendors such as X-Rite and DataColor. Most users are amazed at the improvement the first time they use one. But occasionally I hear from someone for whom things didn't go so well. If you've had problems profiling your monitor, here are some possible fixes.

The first thing to do is to make sure you have allowed your monitor enough time to warm up before you try to profile it. Especially if you are still using a CRT monitor, give it fifteen minutes to half an hour to stabilize after you turn it on before using it. Otherwise, the colors and brightness will continue to shift even as you run the profiling software.

The next thing to do is to make sure you are following the instructions carefully. These things are really quite straightforward to use once you understand the process, but if you're new to this whole color management thing, read the directions. Many packages ask you to place the device on a black surface to calibrate it before starting, and all of them ask you to check that you position the unit roughly in the middle of the screen. If your monitor pops up on-screen menus when you adjust it, make sure you keep the device clear of that portion of the screen too to avoid biasing your measurements.

Room lighting can cause problems too. If the room is too dim your monitor will appear overly bright. If you have a bright light or window right next to your computer it can wash out the image displayed on your monitor. Strive for even and consistent lighting when profiling, and make sure it matches the conditions you will actually be working under.

Different monitors provide different controls with which to adjust them. Higher end monitors tend to offer more than less expensive models, and CRT's generally have more controls than LCD monitors. Some users get into difficulties if their monitor lacks controls the profiling software asks them to adjust. If you can set the target white point for your monitor, you will generally be advised to pick 6500K, but if your monitor doesn't color temperature adjustment, don't panic. While setting the monitor closer to the desired target would make it easier on the profiling application, you can still pick 6500K when profiling and the program will pick up the slack. The same goes for monitors that lack hardware brightness/contrast settings. If you have such controls on the monitor, the program can probably guide you to set them optimally, but if you can't set them just choose the "profile only" or similar option that skips the calibration steps. You should generally resist the temptation to adjust these by means of the bundled control panel applet from ATI, NVIDIA, or whoever made their graphics card since most such programs do a poor job of controlling the hardware. Leave these sorts of settings at their defaults and leave the job of correcting your display to the monitor profiling package instead.

If you still have a copy of Adobe Gamma or another similar application running automatically when you boot your computer, remove it. Such programs only serve to fight with true monitor profiling programs. Adobe used to install this thing on Windows systems without even asking so don't be ashamed if you have one and didn't even know it.

Sometimes you can face problems caused by bugs in your computer operating system. Microsoft has since fixed the problem, but many Vista users used to report frustrations with their display colors shifting every time the User Access Control prompt popped up. It seems the secure desktop that is part of how UAC works was unloading the custom monitor gamma settings created during profiling. Windows Defender can also interfere with the loading certain start-up programs, sometimes including the gamma loader program installed with your display profiler. Other firewall and so called "malicious" program blockers might do the same thing so look to see if whatever you are running is blocking your profiler loader.

If you've checked everything I've outlined here and are still having problems, don't fall for the temptation to manually tweak your display by eyeball. Doing so is almost never actually productive even when it may look like it improves things. If you have manually adjust your already profiled monitor to get your favorite image to look the way you think it is supposed to, you either missed some step during profiling or else your favorite image doesn't really look the way you think it does. If you initially worked on that image before you got a monitor profiling program, all you really know is that it looked good when viewed through the biases your monitor had before profiling it. Even if you could print it successfully you may have just been duplicating those biases in your printer driver choices. It's a fact that there's no objective way to know what an image looks like until you look at it on a profiled screen. You may just have to accept the fact that you've been misadjusting your images all along, but after all, isn't that why you got a profiling package in the first place?

Date posted: January 17, 2010


Copyright © 2010 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Related articles:
Color Management: Monitor Profiling
Adobe RGB is not a Monitor Profile
The Monitor Color Temperature Question
So Where Does Your Monitor Profile Go?
Help! All My Images Are The Wrong Color!

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