I am a relative novice when it comes to colour management. I have used devices to calibrate my monitor previously, but it’s fair to say that I’m far from an expert. That said, colour management is certainly an important part of today’s world of computer-based digital photography and it’s well worth attempting to get to grip with the basics. So what exactly is colour management?
Despite sounding like some kind of washing powder technology that stops your colours running and still keeps whites whiter than white, colour management is all about ensuring that what you see on your computer monitor is what you get out of your printer.
Introducing the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo
The ColorMunki X-Rite Photo is a device that helps you manage your colours, and one that is excellent on several counts. Firstly, it can be used to calibrate both your monitor and your printer, making it a complete colour management solution. Secondly, as a monitor calibrator it is able to calibrate dual screens. Not all monitor calibrators can do this, and if you are a dual screen user (like me) this feature is essential. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it is by far and away the easiest colour calibration tool I have used to date.
The ColorMunki comes with a Quick Start Guide, but to be honest, the actual process itself is made so incredibly simple that it’s really not needed. With the software installed on my PC (a simple process that does however require an internet connection), I was ready to get down to the Munki business.
Calibrating the monitor
The first screen asks what it is you want to calibrate: your monitor, your printer, or both. At this point I just wanted to profile my monitor so selected the “Profile My Display” option.
The ColorMunki automatically detected that I had 2 monitors attached and gave me the choice of which one to profile. Each is calibrated independently of the other, so once Display 1 was calibrated I could repeat the process on Display 2.
I was then asked what type of display I had and how I wanted to calibrate it. The Easy option will be more than enough for most uses, but the Advanced option adds some useful tools such as allowing you to set a required luminance level or, as I chose to do, set the monitor levels depending on the ambient lighting conditions.
The first time the ColorMunki is used it will need to be calibrated. There are basic details about this in the Quick Start Guide, but the on screen instructions tell you exactly what to do. The image of the ColorMunki on screen changes depending what position you have the switch in and tells you where to move it to if it is in the incorrect place. There are also helpful video instructions if you need to see exactly how to move the switch of the ColorMunki, although I have to confess that I did not feel the need to use these, the switch posing no more of a challenge than a door handle.
With the switch in the correct position, the on-screen instructions prompt you to click the “Calibrate” button to continue. Once calibrated, the ColorMunki needs to be switched to the ambient light measurement position. Again, the on-screen instructions tell you exactly what to do, and once in the correct mode, you are prompted to place the ColorMunki next to the screen you want to calibrate.
Once the ambient light levels have been measured the ColorMunki will choose the appropriate screen luminance for your display.
After another screen indicating a change of switch position, you are instructed to place the ColorMunki over a yellow rectangle in the centre of the screen.
Now, my screen, like most screens, is vertical, and the ColorMunki possesses no Spiderman-like ability to cling to a smooth, upright surface. However, Munki by name, monkey by nature, and if there’s one thing a monkey does well, it’s hang. The ColorMunki Photo is supplied with a holder bag which has a weighted strap attached to it. With the ColorMunki in it neoprene case and the weighted strap draped over the back of the screen, it can be hung in position over the yellow rectangle.
The next step the ColorMunki takes is to determine the brightness of your screen under its current settings. The screen changes to white and a dialogue box appears on the left hand side with the current luminance measurements, the target luminance and instructions on what to do.
This is perhaps the most awkward step of the process as, if your screen is anything like mine, the control panel for changing the brightness settings will pop up directly under where the ColorMunki is hanging, making it a little difficult to see. You can of course carefully move the ColorMunki to one side to view the panel, but be sure to move it back once you’re done. The ColorMunki dialogue box updates in real time, so once you close the screen settings pop-up, it only takes a second or two for the Munki to re-read the luminance and display it onscreen.
After this, it’s time for the ColorMunki to measure the colours currently being output via your display. To do this, the entire monitor screen goes through several colour changes, including various shades of red, green, blue and white, and making my sterile desk-top feel more like a 1970s roller-disco.
Following this slightly psychedelic experience, the calibration process is complete and you are asked to input a name under which to save the profile. You can also view a before and after comparison to see how much of a difference the calibration has made. Finally, you can choose how often you are prompted to re-calibrate your display. Screen luminance can change over time, so it’s well worth getting into the habit of regular calibration.
Whilst I can’t show you an exact replica of how my screen looked before and after, I can give you a rough example:
Calibrating the printer
Happy with the results from my monitor calibration, I decided to have a go with the printer, selecting the “Profile My Printer” option on the ColorMunki start-up screen.
The first time calibrating a printer requires a new profile to be created. Subsequent calibrations can be used to optimise the existing profile. At this point you need to select the printer you want to calibrate and create a profile name for the paper being used. Different paper types will produce different colour results, so each paper type you use should ideally have its own profile created.
The ColorMunki software will produce a colour test chart that you will need to print off to scan with the ColorMunki itself. This is simple process that involves positioning the ColorMunki at the start of the line of colours, holding the button in on the side, sliding the ColorMunki along the colours (much like running an iron over a shirt) and then releasing the button. The video instructions come in quite handy here!
The on screen prompts show you which line to scan by highlighting it in a yellow rectangle. If the scan is successful, the yellow box moves on to the next row.
If unsuccessful, the yellow box turns red for a few seconds, before reverting back to yellow and prompting you to scan the same row again.
With the information gathered by scanning the first colour chart, ColorMunki produces a second chart tailored specifically to your set up, which then needs to be scanned in exactly the same way as the first.
This is the last stage of the process and following this scan you will be prompted to save the profile. The name is automatically generated from the printer and paper type you inputted at the start of the process, but you can choose an alternative if so required.
The ColorMunki software gives you the option of automatically applying this profile to prints made in Adobe Creative Suite, QuarkXPress, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4 and Corel Painter X. Alternatively, the profile can be saved and activated manually via your PC or Mac settings.
And what became of the Munki, Munki, Munki, Munki……?
Quite simply, then, the ColorMunki has proved to me that colour management is not some kind of dark art, performed only by the photographic elite with an understanding of physics to rival that of Stephen Hawkins. In fact, it can be a relatively simple process, given the right tools, and one that’s well worth performing for anybody who uses a computer to create digital art, from keen amateurs right up to the pros.
There are several tools available for colour management, from those that are specifically for monitor calibration or printer profiling, to those that are designed to offer a general all-in-one solution, such as the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo. Many of these are very good and deserve consideration, but I for one have absolutely no hesitation in recommending the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo.
So simple, a chimp could use it.