Display Calibration Options


Today’s Question: Two quick (I hope) questions about monitor calibration, based on an answer you provided recently: 1) You seem to suggest that I should disable the feature for my calibration software (ColorMunki) that will cause the display to adjust based on the current lighting conditions at my computer. Is that true? And 2) How often should I repeat the calibration for my display? The software seems to suggest every two weeks is necessary.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I do indeed prefer to disable the automatic ambient lighting adjustment for the display, and calibrating about every three months is more than adequate for a digital display, provided nothing has changed about your overall computer configuration.

More Detail: I fully appreciate that in theory it is a good thing to have your monitor display updated automatically to reflect the current ambient lighting conditions. For example, when the lighting in the room gets brighter because of the sun shining through the windows, the display will get brighter to compensate. The same holds true for the color of the display, again to compensate for the color of the ambient lighting conditions.

However, there are two basic reasons I prefer to disable this automatic adjustment. First, it introduces a degree of variability, and I very much prefer consistency in my color management workflow. Second, in my opinion it is much (much!) better to work in an environment with consistent lighting conditions, preferably in a relatively dark environment where outside light sources aren’t interfering with your monitor display. In other words, I prefer to make sure my working environment remains as stable as possible, rather than having my display calibration tool apply an automatic adjustment based on changing conditions.

As for the frequency of the calibration and profiling, this is something that changed dramatically when we transitioned from analog displays (such as CRT monitors) to digital displays (such as LCD monitors). Digital displays are much more consistent over time, and so you don’t need to calibrate and profile the display as frequently.

With analog displays I used to recommend calibration every one to two weeks, but I also knew photographers who would calibrate their display every single day. With digital displays, frankly it is perfectly reasonable to only calibrate every few months or so, provided there hasn’t been any change in the hardware or software configuration that would impact the appearance of the display.

The primary issue with digital displays is that they fade in brightness over time (although not very rapidly under normal circumstances). The color doesn’t tend to shift much at all, at least until the display starts to get toward the end of its useful life. Therefore, in most cases, calibrating every few months will ensure an accurate and consistent display.

Need a tool for display calibration? Check out the X-Rite ColorMunki Display:http://timgrey.me/colormunkidisplay