Today’s Question: Recently I read an article by a photographer in which he suggested using 6000K [Kelvin] as the target color temperature for monitor calibration, since he felt that temperature produced the most accurate image reproduction. As for me, I’ve never come across that before.
Tim’s Quick Answer: I would actually (mostly) agree with the recommendation to use a slightly “cool” color temperature target for a monitor display. Even though the “standard” illuminant for a print is a slightly “warm” 5000K, I recommend 6500K as an appropriate color temperature target for your monitor display.
More Detail: When it comes to a color-managed workflow for photography, the key is to ensure consistent and predictable results. That includes making sure that you are viewing an accurate image on your monitor display, and that you are producing prints that are an accurate reflection of the image file you are printing.
The “standard” illuminant for evaluating prints is a 5000K light source. This is a relatively neutral (though arguably slightly warm) light source used as the basis for printer profiling, for example. Naturally you won’t always display prints using a 5000K light source, but color management standards generally revolve around this illumination color temperature.
It might seem reasonable to assume that if you will evaluate prints based on a 5000K light source you should also calibrate your monitor display to a color temperature of 5000K. However, doing so will produce a very yellow and dingy appearance on your monitor display.
Instead, I recommend calibrating your monitor display to a color temperature that is closer to the native white point of that display. I recommend 6500K as that target value. The result will be slightly shifted toward blue, especially compared to a 5000K illumination source. But the result will be a more accurate rendition of your image on the monitor display.
Keep in mind that there is always a degree of interpretation involved when comparing an image on a monitor display compared to a print. This is in large part due to the dramatic difference between emitted light (with a monitor display) and reflected light (with a print). This is part of the reason that the calibration target values are different for monitors versus prints.
Of course, if you’re not calibrating your monitor display, then you can’t expect accurate prints. A great tool for display calibration you might consider is the ColorMunki Display from X-Rite, which you can find here: