Colour tutorial: How to make your monitor display colours accurately

Read this simple guide to setting up colour management on your monitor.

Ever wondered why the colours on your prints don’t match those you see on screen? The answer is, of course, that you are probably not colour managed. Annoying isn’t it? Even more so if you’ve just spent hours getting that front cover image ‘just right’.

The solution is to set up a colour correct workflow. In simple terms this means using colour profiles – small calibration adjustments that tell your devices (displays, printers, and so on) how to alter their output to a uniform colour environment.

The key step on the way is to start with your computer display(s).


Hopefully you’re lucky enough to have at least one display that can show as much of the Adobe RGB space as possible. This is a larger colour space than sRGB, and as long as your screen can show it, you have a wider colour gamut to work in.

Even if you’re only able to see sRGB (the gamut most modern laptop screens can display), you can still calibrate what colours are output by using a colorimeter. Datacolor’s Spyder is one such market-leading device.


Before calibrating your display, you first need to do some simple housekeeping. The human eye is a wonder of evolution, but is easily misled by surrounding conditions such as room lighting and colour backgrounds.

As a result, the first step on the way to colour management is to standardise your retouching/viewing conditions as much as possible.

Try to reduce changeable lighting by not putting your machine next to windows, doorways or movable lights. Declutter your desktop and choose a neutral grey background. Set your display brightness and contrast, and then don’t change them.

For more advice on pre-calibration set up check out Datacolor’s free eBook All About Color Management.

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Now run the Spyder software that comes with your Datacolor Spyder, following the simple step-by-step process to profiling and colour managing your display. It starts with a reminder to make sure no light is falling directly on your monitor.


The software takes you through some pre-calibration settings, allowing you to set parameters such as Gamma (usually 2.2 for Adobe RGB or sRGB) and white point (normally 6,500K to emulate midday light).

Consult the Datacolor website or support line if you want more expert advice, but generally the default settings are a good starting point.


If you’re already acquainted with colour management there are advanced settings where you can fine-tune. If you’d like more advice on this, refer to the free All About Color Management eBook or hit the Help button.

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After the initial steps, the software will show a screen with an area marked for where to place your measuring device.

Hang the Spyder by its wire over the top of your display using the counter balancing weight to position it over the marked area. Hit the Next button and calibration will begin.


Once the calibration is complete remove the Spyder. You’ll have the chance to name and save the profile it creates.

TOP TIP: Put the date/time of the calibration in the profile name to compare profiles over time.


You can now move to the next step – SpyderProof. This allows you to see a multi-image target with and without the new profile applied. Clicking on any quarter of the initial 16-image target enables you to zoom in to see first four and then a single-image target in more detail.

The target quarters are split for different types of work: saturated colours, skin tones, black and white, and landscape.

Right you can see the difference between an uncalibrated screen (above) and a calibrated one zoomed in to see more detail (below).

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As already mentioned, the human eye can play tricks, hence calibration is improved if you choose to run the Ambient Light Analysis option.

This provides guidance as to whether the ambient light is optimal for calibration and if it varies over time. It also makes corrective suggestions for best results.


The final screen allows comparison between different profiles and with sRGB, Adobe RGB and NTSC colour spaces.

In the examples shown right, the the current screen shows 98% of sRGB but only 74% of Adobe RGB. This indicates the monitor’s physical limits and if a colour space is fully visible or invisible in the stronger saturated colours.


With your display calibrated so you can trust that the colours you see are the ones you are retouching, the other significant step is to know the colour space you intend to output in.

In the example right, you can see the sRGB colour space (top) compared with a generic CMYK (print) colour space (the coloured area of the graph bottom). This shows the difference in visible colours between what you can see on screen and what you can generally print on a printing press. Knowing the specific output colour space allows you to accurately map colours and also soft-proof your images in an emulation of their final printed state.

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If you’re sending your work externally, you could use a generic ICC profile for the type of output environment you’re using; for example, web offset or gravure. Or if you use a specific printers or publishing house they should be able to supply specific profiles for you to use to soft-proof your work.

If you print your own work, you are in a position to to ‘close the loop’ and produce your own specific profiles, tailored to your specific printers, stocks and inks by using Datacolor’s SpyderPRINT device (right).


Similar to the Spyder for profiling displays, the SpyderPRINT software produces colour swatch targets that you read with the SpyderPRINT device to produce a profile for specific printer/stock/ink combinations. You can then use the profiles produced to accurately print with.

Whether you’ve created them yourself or use supplied profiles, software such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, or Datacolor’s SpyderPRINT allow you to emulate your output device and soft-proof. Adobe’s applications allow you to adjust colours and tonality to get the best from your images in the output environment.

Right you can see the difference between how a photo is displayed in Lightroom with its Softproofing feature turned off (above) and on (below).


With both your display and output ends profiled, you’re now in an almost perfect colour managed environment. Products such as the SpyderCUBE (right) and SpyderCHECKR (far right) allow you to extend this all the way to image capture enabling calibration, right from Raw image capture in camera and onwards.

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About Datacolor

Datacolor is a global leader in colour management. It offers leading-edge, affordable solutions for calibrating monitors, cameras and printers. The Spyder product range provides essential tools for photographers, designers and imaging experts, so they can manage colour throughout the digital workflow.

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Free eBook

Learn everything you ever wanted to know about colour management over 180 pages. Get comprehensive tips and tricks on colour management from the perspective of a photographer – for simply better pictures.

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Whether you’re new to colour management or a seasoned professional, the free Spyder webinars will help you understand the ins and outs of a colour managed workflow.

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