How to Calibrate Your Monitor

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Understand the Monitor Settings

Before diving into the act of calibration, it’s worth discussing monitor settings. The display I’ll be using as an example is the HP ZR30w. This monitor lacks a built-in video processor, so the only physical adjustment you can make on such a model is the brightness of the backlight. You handle any other adjustment through the graphics card's software controls. AMD, Nvidia, and Intel all offer software controls to tweak color balance, contrast, and so on.

Most monitors do have built-in video processors, and give you a host of physical controls for the display. This can lead to adjustment confusion: Do you use the monitor controls for brightness, contrast, gamma, color, and so on? Or do you use the graphics card control panel?

My personal preference is to avoid relying on the monitor controls. I prefer to put the monitor at some standard setting; if, for instance, it has a default setting for D6500 (which means a color temperature of 6500 kelvins), I use that. I turn the brightness and contrast down fairly low, as well; if I have the option, I’ll set the brightness level to roughly 200 cd/m2 (you may see this setting reported on some sites as 200 nits, though the units aren’t exactly the same).

If you’re working with an automated calibration tool, such as the Spyder 3 Express I’ll use as an example later, typically it will load all the calibration data into the graphics card instead of the monitor. Some professional calibration tools coupled with certain professional-grade displays can actually adjust the LCD panel itself, but those combinations are often very pricey--though they do ensure very accurate calibration.

If a monitor doesn't offer a specific color temperature number, I usually use the 'warm' setting. I also alter the preset to something like 'photographs' or 'video' if those presets exist. Beyond that, I rely on the graphics card control panel.

Since we're trying to keep it simple, let’s look at how you can easily make changes without getting too intimate with either the graphics control panel or the monitor display controls.

Set Up Windows 7 Color Calibration

First, bring up the Windows Screen Resolution control panel by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting Screen resolution.

Click the Advanced settings link. You should see the advanced display control panel. Click the tab labeled Color Management.

Now click the single, large Color Management button.

Before you click the big Calibrate display button, it’s worthwhile to take a little time and examine this panel more closely.

In this example, since I have an HP ZR30w LCD screen without a built-in video processor, I need to use the graphics card control panels for adjusting color. Also note that I’ve set the viewing conditions profile to 'WCS profile for sRGB viewing conditions'. This selection uses the ZR30w profile--installed from the driver CD-ROM packaged with the monitor--rather than the system default.

Now that you have your gamut settings in place, it’s time to calibrate the display.

Next page: Calibrating a monitor in Windows 7

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