Graphics professionals used to be the only ones who needed to worry about the color accuracy of their monitors. These pros make their living working with images in one form or another. Making sure the colors they see on their monitors are the same colors seen in a project's final form can mean the difference between keeping clients and losing them to other graphics pros.
Display Calibration For Everyone
Nowadays, just about everyone works with images, although not all of our livings depend on them. We keep a library of photos on our Macs; we print images using color printers; and we use digital cameras that can make capturing images as simple as point and click.
But what happens when that bright red flower you remember seeing in your camera's viewfinder looks a bit muddy on your Mac's display, and downright orange when it comes out of your inkjet printer? The problem is that the devices in the chain - your camera, display, and printer - aren't working in the same color space. They haven't been calibrated to ensure that a color remains the same throughout an entire process, no matter which device is displaying or producing the image.
Getting photos on your Mac to match the colors of the original images starts with calibrating your display. The best calibration systems use hardware-based colorimeters, devices that attach to a display and measure the way it behaves in response to various images. Colorimeter-based systems then tweak a graphics card's LUTs (lookup tables) to produce the correct colors.
Hardware-based calibration systems can be very accurate, but most of the time, they're a bit on the pricey side for casual use (though inexpensive models are available). But that doesn't mean you have to suffer from bad colors. With a little bit of help from software-based calibration systems, you can ensure your monitor is at least in the right ballpark, so that under careful scrutiny, the images you see on your display are a pretty close match to the original versions.
ICC Color Profiles
Most displays come with ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles. The calibration files, usually referred to as color profiles, tell your Mac's graphics system how to accurately display images. Your Mac is more than happy to use these color profiles, and in fact comes pre-loaded with dozens of profiles for popular displays and other devices.
When you buy a new monitor, it will probably come with a color profile you can install on your Mac. "So," you may be wondering, "if my Mac already has and recognizes color profiles, why do I need to calibrate my display?"
The answer is that color profiles are just a starting point. They may be accurate the first day you turn on your new monitor, but from that day forward, your monitor begins to age. With age, the white point, luminance response curve, and gamma curve all begin to change. Calibrating your monitor can return it to like-new viewing conditions.
Let's get started with the software-based calibration process, using software that comes free with a Mac.