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How do I balance the color between monitors?

Having consistency in color between different monitors is crucial for designers, photographers, videographers, and anyone else who relies on color accuracy in their work. However, most monitors come with default settings that are often inaccurate and inconsistent from one device to another. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to calibrate and create a uniform viewing experience across monitors.

Understanding monitor color

Before calibration, it’s important to understand some basics about monitor color. There are three main components that make up the color displayed on a monitor:

  • The LCD panel – This is the actual screen that displays the image. Different panel types like TN, VA, and IPS inherently differ in color reproduction capabilities.
  • Backlight – Monitors use LED backlights which have different color properties based on the LED materials. This affects the brightness and white point.
  • Color filters – Thin films are used to filter the backlight to produce the red, green, and blue light. The quality and characteristics of the filters impacts color gamut.

So even two monitors of the same make and model can output different colors depending on variances in their LCD panels, backlights, and filters. To compensate, monitors have various controls for adjusting brightness, contrast, RGB levels, gamma, and more. Calibration involves properly configuring these controls to achieve color accuracy.

The importance of monitor calibration

There are a few key reasons why monitor calibration is so important:

  • Consistency – You want the colors you see on one calibrated monitor to match all your other calibrated monitors. This avoids errors where colors don’t translate properly between devices.
  • Accuracy – Calibration allows your monitors to adhere to a certain color standard like sRGB or Adobe RGB. This gives you predictable results across applications.
  • Worfload optimization – With accurate colors, you avoid wasted time having to re-check your images and videos on secondary devices while editing.
  • Print matching – Calibrated monitors will be much closer to achieving WYSIWYG between screen and print output.

Without calibration, you can end up with inconsistent colors that lead to visible color shifts, banding, low contrast, and other issues affecting image quality and work productivity.

Choosing a calibration tool

The most accurate way to calibrate a monitor is by using a dedicated calibration device. Here are some popular options:

Calibration Device Price Range Key Features
X-Rite i1Display Pro $250 – High accuracy sensor

– Works with laptops

– Software has advanced controls
Datacolor SpyderX Pro $170 – Fast calibration

– Ambient light measurement

– Before / after previews
NEC MDSVSENSOR3X $200 – Simple standalone device

– Designed for NEC monitors

– Affordable option
BenQ Palette Master Element $120 – Automatic calibration

– Works with BenQ monitors

– Portable and easy to use

These devices use colorimeters to take readings of the colors displayed on your screen, then generate an ICC profile to make corrections. The software allows you to customize settings like white point, luminance, gamma, and more. Many also include features like ambient light monitoring and before/after previews.

The calibration process

Here is an overview of the typical calibration process using a colorimeter:

  1. Warm up your monitor – Let the monitor run for at least 30 minutes to allow it to reach a stable temperature and output level.
  2. Reset your monitor – Go into the monitor’s settings and select factory reset to clear any existing custom profiles.
  3. Set brightness and contrast – Adjust monitor brightness to 120 cd/m2 and set the contrast to maximum.
  4. Run the software – Open the colorimeter software, select your monitor, desired settings and start the calibration.
  5. Place colorimeter – Attach the device to the middle of your screen as directed.
  6. Allow measurements – The device will display colored patterns while taking readings.
  7. Preview and adjust – Review before/after previews in the software and tweak settings.
  8. Generate profile – Finally, create and save the calibrated ICC profile.
  9. Assign profile – Go to Color Management and set the new profile as your monitor profile.

The process takes around 10-15 minutes per monitor. You’ll need to repeat it separately for each monitor you want to calibrate. The final profile compensates for the specific color response of that monitor to achieve consistent results.

Software settings for calibration

Within the calibration software, there are a few key settings you’ll want to be mindful of for optimal results:

  • White point – Set to 6500K which is the industry standard white point for monitors.
  • Gamma – Aim for a gamma of 2.2 which is recommended for most uses.
  • Brightness – 120 cd/m2 is a commonly recommended monitor brightness for color work.
  • Black level – Set it as low as possible while maintaining detail.
  • Color gamut – Select your monitor’s native gamut, usually sRGB or Adobe RGB.

Some calibrators have more advanced controls like hue saturation adjustment and 3D LUT generation. Regardless of settings, remember your goal is a neutral grayscale and minimizing color difference between monitors.

Post-calibration tips for consistency

Here are some steps you can take after calibration to maintain consistent colors across your monitors:

  • Recalibrate every 1-2 months as monitor performance drifts over time.
  • Visually verify colors match between monitors displaying the same image.
  • Use a monitor hood to block ambient light and reflections.
  • Work in a room with consistent neutral lighting conditions.
  • Ensure graphics card and software color settings match between devices.
  • Disable auto brightness and True Tone adjustments on monitors.

Also, be aware that factors like viewing angle and aging of your monitors can affect uniformity. Using monitors of the same make and model will provide the most seamless matching experience.

Achieving accuracy with hardware profiling

For the highest level of color critical work, software profiling alone may not suffice. Monitor hardware profiling offers another level of accuracy by creating a 3D color lookup table (LUT) programmed into the monitor itself. This provides color management at the hardware level rather than just within your operating system.

For example, the NEC PA series monitors have built-in calibration sensors and 3D LUTs allowing automatic self-calibration. Other monitors may need an external profiler like the X-Rite i1Profiler to generate and program the 3D LUT.

The advantage to hardware profiling is it corrects for differences in monitors at a fundamental circuitry and signal level. This avoids distortions from the operating system and graphics card. It is an ideal solution for color perfectionists and graphics professionals working in color critical applications.

Matching colors across different brands

For the best color matching, use monitors of the same make and model. But in some cases, you may need to match colors across different brands or models. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Prioritize matching brightness, white point, gamma, and black levels.
  • Aim to match grayscale gradients as closely as possible.
  • Use a colorimeter to calibrate all monitors to a common standard.
  • Select a restricted color gamut like sRGB for wider compatibility.
  • Use third party software like DisplayCAL to help match ICC profiles.

Even with these steps, getting perfectly identical colors across different monitors is challenging. Having monitors from the same product family will make producing uniform colors much more achievable.

Troubleshooting calibration issues

Here are some common calibration issues and ways to troubleshoot them:

Issue Potential Solutions
Colors look washed out and inaccurate after calibration – Reset monitor to factory defaults and retry calibration
– Confirm brightness and contrast settings are correct
– Try a different calibration device and software
Colors still don’t match between calibrated monitors – Confirm monitors are set to the same color temperature
– Reset graphics card color settings
– Retest monitors side-by-side with the same image
Colors shift on a monitor over time – Recalibrate monitor to refresh its profile
– Check for causes like aging backlights or drifting OSD settings
prints don’t match monitor colors – Calibrate your printer using IT8 color profiling
– Ensure your workflow is color managed end-to-end
– Use proper print viewing conditions

Getting satisfactory results may require some trial and error. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different calibration tools and settings. Consistency comes with patience and practice.

Maintaining accuracy for color-critical work

For color-critical work like photo editing, video color grading, and graphic design, maintaining perfectly calibrated monitors is essential. Here are some best practices to ensure accuracy:

  • Calibrate using high-end colorimeters like X-Rite i1Display Pro or Klein K-10.
  • Have monitors specifically designed for color accuracy like Eizo ColorEdge or BenQ SW.
  • Use monitor hoods and controlled lighting to minimize ambient interference.
  • Create monitor presets for common color spaces like Adobe RGB and sRGB.
  • Verify calibration regularly using test images and patterns.
  • Invest in monitor hardware profiling for precision results.

Also be sure your entire workflow is color-managed, including using color-accurate printers and scanners. With careful calibration and high-performance gear, you can achieve incredible color precision.


Calibrating monitors for consistent, accurate color is critical for professionals working in photography, design, video, and other color-sensitive fields. By understanding monitor color science, utilizing colorimeters, following proper calibration techniques, and implementing ongoing calibration maintenance, you can banish inconsistent colors and work with total confidence in your displays. Consistently balanced monitors enhance visual quality control and greatly improve overall productivity.