Today’s Question: I still need to calibrate my monitor – but I also read that just by bumping up the brightness to 20%-30% more, would be good enough to compensate for monitor brightness?
Tim’s Quick Answer: As far as I’m concerned, increasing the brightness of an image for the sole purpose of correcting for a print that is too dark is something that should be considered a last resort. Such a step should only be taken after troubleshooting the real reason the print is too dark and not being able to properly resolve that issue. While making an adjustment can certainly result in a print that better matches what you see on your monitor, I would generally regard this approach as representing a bad color management workflow. Also, the monitor should absolutely be calibrated before even trying to consider whether a print is too dark in the first place.
More Detail: When it comes to producing an accurate print, the desired result is often described as having a print that matches the monitor display. That is certainly our goal when printing, but it doesn’t quite explain what’s really going on. And I think that additional detail can be helpful.
What we’re really doing when printing within the context of a color-managed workflow could better be described in two steps. First, we want to make sure our monitor is presenting an accurate display of the information contained within our image, so that the adjustments we apply are based on an accurate view of the photo. Second, we want to make sure that the printer is producing an accurate print based on the information contained in the photo.
When the print doesn’t match what we see on the monitor display, the first thing to be done is figure out why the print doesn’t match the monitor display. If your print is too dark, it is quite possibly the result of the display being too bright. So if your monitor display is inaccurate, resulting in a print that is inaccurate, to me it makes absolutely no sense to change the print settings so that the printer is no longer producing a print that matches the information contained in the photo.
In other words, if your monitor is too bright, the solution is to set the monitor to an appropriate brightness level, not to make the printer produce lighter prints.
The first step then, is to calibrate and profile the monitor display so that what you’re seeing is an accurate reflection of the information in your photos. Most monitors with their default settings are about twice as bright as they should be. That is a full stop of light too bright. Calibrating the display will provide compensation for this issue, so that the brightness of the display is appropriate. That, in turn, will help ensure that the adjustments you’re applying are appropriate to the actual photo you’re working on.
You also want to make sure, of course, that you’re using a good profile for the printer, ink, and paper combination you’re using for printing, and that you’ve established correct settings in the software you’re using to print and in the printer properties dialog.
The bottom line is that you want to be sure that any work you’re doing in the context of color management is helping to make all of your devices (monitors and printers, for example) more accurate. Taking this approach will help ensure predictable and consistent results both when making prints yourself, and when sending photos to someone else to be printed.