Monitor Calibration: The Only Guide You’ll Need

Thankfully, with today’s LCD/LED technology, monitors are more accurate and consistent right out of the box than CRT’s of yesteryear. Gone are the, strangely now popular vampire complexion and Canadian tourist heading down south to tropical climes for winter vacation and falling asleep on the beach the first day for seven hours tan that would make Hellboy envious… for the most part.

For the discerning power user or those in the graphics and photography fields, we require some form of calibration. There are basically two ways to do this: visually or with hardware-based devices.

A few things before you start:

Reset your desk and chair to be perfectly comfortable for long session, the guide on DeskView should help you if you don’t know how. Reset your monitor to factory defaults as it’s best to start from a zero or neutral position. This can be done through the menu system or by a combination of button presses. Check your manual… you kept it, right?

  • Let the monitor warm up for at least 10 minutes.

  • Any ambient room lighting should be turned off, plus avoid any direct or reflected sunlight.

  • Set the monitor’s resolution to its highest setting i.e. 1280 x 960 and the colour depth to 24 bit. On a PC, right click on the Desktop and choose Graphic Properties. On a Mac, go to Preferences, click on Displays and then choose Colours: Millions.

  • Colour Temperature and Gamma – if your monitor has these options, set the Colour Temperature to 6500°K (D65) and Gamma to 2.2. More on this below.

Colour Temperature and Gamma

You’ll need to select a colour temperature to work with. PC video cards and monitors are usually shipped with a white point set to 9300°K. This gives a bluish tint to everything. It is often used for video games where maximum colour contrast is desired. For graphics and photography, a better choice is 6500°K (D65) as it produces a slightly warmer image and more closely matches prints from a lab or photo quality inkjet printers.

Gamma is kind of hard to explain. I can assure you it’s not the same DNA-altering gamma that plagued Dr. Bruce Banner. Essentially it is the contrast of the midtones in an image, which are all the shades of gray between pure black and pure white. If gamma is set too high, middle tones appear too dark. Conversely, if it’s set too low, middle tones appear too light.

You may have read advice telling you that Macs should be set to gamma 1.8 and PCs to 2.2, however, Apple has adopted the 2.2 gamma with its latest operating system, Snow Leopard, so stick with 2.2.

The Eyes Have It – Visual Calibration

The most common, though least effective method of calibration is to use your eyes. Test patterns consisting of colour swatches and various grayscales found all over the Internet, are used to help you calibrate the monitor by eye. By making adjustments to the Brightness, Contrast and if you have a quality monitor, Colour controls, you build a profile for your particular monitor.
Owners of iMac’s, with their nuclear-bright screens, will have to make due without Contrast and Colour adjustments… ‘cause they don’t have ‘em.

Cheap ‘n Easy

The image below shows 24 shades of gray plus pure black and pure white. You should be able to differentiate the tones between each box. If you can’t, you need to adjust your monitor’s Brightness and Contrast settings until each shade appears separate from its neighbour.

Adobe to the Rescue – sorta

Adobe, the maker of Photoshop, used to include a handy utility called Adobe Gamma for both Mac and PCs. Primarily designed for CRT monitors, Adobe Gamma took you through the calibration process by following a series of on-screen images and menus where you made adjustments to Brightness and Contrast from which the program generated the profile for you.
I believe Adobe stopped including Gamma in version 7. Check the Control Panel in Windows – you may already have it installed. If you can find an older copy of Photoshop, you may be able to install it from the CD.


For PC users there is an interesting application called QuickGamma, which takes you through a calibration process similar to Adobe Gamma. I have no experience with QuickGamma, so use it at your own risk.

PC Windows

If you’re running Windows 7, you may want to take its own Colour Management tool for a spin. Locate the Control Panel under the Start menu and click on Colour Management. Under the Advanced tab, click the “Calibrate display” button.

Follow the on-screen instructions to automatically create the colour profile for your monitor.

Have an Apple, Mac

For us Mac users, Apple includes a monitor calibration tool called Display Calibrator Assistant. It can be found in the System Preferences > Displays. Click the “Colour” button, then the “Calibrate” button.

Follow the on-screen instructions to automatically create the colour profile for your monitor.

“Make it so, number one.”
– Calibration Hardware

The most accurate (and most expensive) method of calibration is hardware-based. Typical pricing ranges between $130.00 to $400.00. Unlike the visual calibration methods above, which require judgment calls that are often not repeatable, a hardware device, or puck, is precise and consistent.







When attached to the monitor, usually with suction feet, the application is launched and proprietary software displays and analyzes the various colours and shades of gray. Information read by the device is compared to known values for each colour and what is essentially a prescription is automatically applied to colour and gamma via software and utilized by the computer’s operating system.

To maintain an accurate and consistent profile, calibration should be repeated once or twice a month. Three popular packages are listed below (I have no affiliation with either retailer).

Final Thoughts

Which is best for you? Visual or hardware-based calibration? Well, if you use your monitor for watching movies, viewing photos of friends and family or PC gaming, then calibrating your monitor visually is probably all you need. However, if you are a power user, graphic artist or photographer, you’ll want your monitor to display images and artwork as accurately as possible… pass the puck.


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