Display Brightness Setting


Today’s Question: I have an iMac with two displays: an integrated 21″ monitor and a Dell UltraSharp 2401. Originally I set different brightness levels for Internet viewing (Apple monitor) versus printing (Dell). The Dell brightness was therefore set quite low. I now want to recalibrate so that the Dell is for images to be displayed on a digital frame with (hopefully) Adobe RGB color space. For accurate reproduction according to use, where should I set the brightness level for each monitor?

Tim’s Quick Answer: For the display being used to evaluate adjustments for printing I would still recommend using a relatively low brightness value, on the order of around 90 to 120 cd/m2 (candelas per square meter). For the display used to prepare images for a digital display it is reasonable to tend toward a value closer to around 200 cd/m2.

More Detail: There are two issues at play here. First, when evaluating a photo on your monitor display for purposes of preparing that image for print, it can be very helpful to use a relatively low brightness setting. The reason is that the final print doesn’t emit light the way your monitor display does, and so will naturally appear less luminous. By using a darker display you’ll have a preview that is closer to your final print, and thus will be able to make more accurate decisions about the adjustments you apply.

The second issue is that all of the other digital methods of sharing tend to involve non-calibrated displays with a wide variety of brightness settings. Those brightness settings tend to be significantly brighter than what would be recommended when preparing an image for print.

The result is that you can’t ever be completely sure what the final image will look like in a situation where the image will be viewed on a display you don’t have control over. My personal approach in these types of situations is to prepare the images with the display set to the maximum brightness setting.

For something like a digital photo frame, you have the added advantage of being able to evaluate the result. You could, for example, share an all-white image on the digital frame, and then compare that to an all-white image on your computer’s display. If you adjust the brightness on your monitor display (or the digital frame if it is so equipped) then you can then use the monitor display to accurately adjust the overall images so they’ll look good on that digital frame.

It is important to keep in mind that you also want to ensure color accuracy, along with being able to fine-tune the tonality based on your intended use. For that purpose I recommend a product such as the ColorMunki Display from X-Rite, which you can find here:


And hopefully we’ll one day have a situation where everyone is calibrating their displays, so we can always count on our images being displayed accurately!