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What is the best monitor setting for color accuracy?

Having accurate and consistent color representation is extremely important for many professionals who rely on their computer monitors to do color-sensitive work. Graphic designers, photographers, videographers, and others need to know that the colors they see on their screens match the true colors as closely as possible. So what is the best way to set up a monitor for optimal color accuracy?

How Monitors Display Color

First, it’s important to understand some basics of how monitors display color. Computer monitors create colors by mixing light from three primary colors – red, green, and blue (RGB). Most modern monitors use LED backlights and LCD panels to block and pass through the RGB light. By controlling the intensity of each RGB component, monitors can display a wide range of colors.

However, not all monitors are equal when it comes to color reproduction. Even monitors of the same make and model can vary due to manufacturing inconsistencies. Budget monitors tend to have lower quality panels with poorer color accuracy compared to high-end professional monitors. Panel types like IPS (in-plane switching) tend to have better color consistency than cheaper TN (twisted nematic) panels.

Monitor Settings for Color Accuracy

Most monitors provide some basic settings to help improve color accuracy. Here are some key settings to adjust:

Brightness and Contrast

These settings control the overall intensity and range between the darkest and lightest tones. While it’s tempting to crank these up for a vivid picture, keeping brightness and contrast balanced is better for color accuracy. Excessive brightness can wash out colors, while too much contrast can clip details in highlights and shadows.

RGB Component Balance

Monitors allow adjusting the red, green, and blue channels separately. At the centered default position, all components get equal intensity. But due to manufacturing variance, one color may seem overpowered. Tweaking the sliders can compensate for tints like excess red or green.

Color Temperature

This setting controls the overall color tone, from warm (reddish) to cool (bluish). The industry standard for color accuracy is 6500K temperature, which equals daylight white. Lower K values add warmth, while higher values look cold and blue. Setting color temperature correctly prevents unwanted color casts in the monitor.

Here is an example table showing common color temperature presets and their effects on color:

Color Temp Appearance Effect on Color
5000K Warm, reddish Reds oversaturated
6500K Neutral daylight Most accurate whites and color
9300K Cold, bluish Blues oversaturated


Gamma controls the overall contrast of midtone values. Higher gamma makes midtones darker, while lower gamma makes them lighter. Gamma is important for balancing shadows and highlights. The industry standard gamma is 2.2, which matches the natural response of human vision.

Using Monitor Calibration Tools

While the above settings help, for the most accurate color possible monitors should be calibrated using specialized tools. This compensates for variances in monitors and working conditions. There are a few types of monitor calibration devices available:


This type of device clamps onto the monitor screen and reads color patches displayed. It then creates an ICC monitor profile to correct for any color inaccuracies measured. Models like the Datacolor Spyder5 and X-Rite i1Display Pro generate advanced profiles.


Considered more accurate than colorimeters, spectrophotometers use spectral analysis to measure color. This allows creating even more refined custom ICC profiles. The X-Rite i1Pro is a popular high-end spectrophotometer.

Pantone Color Access Tools

For users working with Pantone colors, tools like the Pantone ColorMunki Display allow calibrating directly to the Pantone color system. This ensures spot colors match their Pantone library values. The Pantone calibration accounts for monitor metamerism effects.

Here is a comparison table of common monitor calibration unit types:

Type Example Models Accuracy Level Price Range
Colorimeter Datacolor Spyder5
X-Rite i1Display Pro
Good $100 – $250
Spectrophotometer X-Rite i1Pro Excellent $500 – $2000
Pantone Access Pantone ColorMunki Display Very Good $470

Software to Manage Color Profiles

To fully utilize monitor profiles generated by calibration devices, you’ll need software to manage the profiles. Here are some top options:

X-Rite i1Profiler

This program comes bundled with X-Rite calibration devices. It creates profiles and allows easily switching between them for different use cases like photography, design, etc.

Datacolor Spyder5Elite

Like i1Profiler, this software comes with Datacolor calibrators. It sets up monitor, projector, laptop and printer profiles. Features include before/after previews and ambient light monitoring.


This open source program works with many calibration devices to generate and switch ICC/ICM profiles. It offers both basic presets and advanced controls for fine tuning calibration parameters.

BasICColor Display

Made specifically for BasICColor devices, this software comes highly recommended by color professionals. The advanced options allow dialing in extremely precise calibration tailored to specific monitors.

Proper Setup Conditions

To ensure you get the best results from calibration and profiling, be sure to follow proper setup conditions:

  • Perform calibration on a fully warmed up monitor after it’s been on for at least 30 minutes.
  • Use the monitor’s native resolution for calibration and work.
  • Make sure the monitor hood or viewing environment has neutral gray surroundings.
  • Calibrate and color proof files under consistent, high quality lighting. 5000K LED bulbs are ideal.
  • Avoid having light sources or colored objects reflected on the monitor.
  • Follow any specific calibration instructions provided for your display.

Regular Recalibration Schedule

Monitor performance can shift over time, so regular recalibration is recommended. Here are some general guidelines for recalibration frequency:

  • Office displays: Every 4-6 months
  • Professional graphics displays: Every 1-2 months
  • LCD displays: Every 2-3 months
  • Laptop displays: Every 2-3 months

Critical color proofing may require recalibrating every week. Follow manufacturer recalibration recommendations for your specific monitor. More frequent profiling maintains better color consistency over time.


Following the tips in this guide will help optimize your monitor for the most color accurate display possible. The essential steps are:

  • Adjust brightness, contrast and RGB balance settings
  • Set proper color temperature and gamma
  • Use a calibration device to profile the monitor
  • Install software to manage color profiles
  • Recalibrate on a regular schedule

Combined with proper viewing conditions and display setup, accurate calibration allows creatives to trust what they see on screen and make the best color decisions.