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Monitor Calibration
By Arthur H. Bleich

The most-asked digital photography question? Why don't my prints match the colors I see on my monitor? In answering that question, let's cut through the fog and leave most of the theory behind so you won't get glassy-eyed and I won't fall asleep at the keyboard. Near-perfect prints are easy to make.

You'll note I said "near-perfect." That's so you don't get unreasonable expectations. Colors displayed on your monitor will never look precisely the same as those output from your printer. Monitors use light to display colors while printers mix colors from inks; the two processes are not compatible. And then there's the type of illumination used to view your pictures. Daylight will make them look bluer while looking at them under incandescent lighting will add more red to them.

Bearing that in mind, what you want to aim for is a finished print that doesn't have purple skin tones or yellow skies (unless you want it to). Don't become a "tweaker," going for the penultimate color match. It just doesn't exist in the real world; excessive tweaking in search of perfect color will only lead to early insanity.

Let's say you shoot a bunch of pictures with your digicam and toss them up on the monitor to view them in your imaging program. They look a little too red but Photoshop (or whatever your imaging program) can take care of that easily enough, right? You just go to the appropriate menu and adjust the color, putting in a bit more blue or whatever it takes to neutralize the red.

Then you run your first print. Whoops! That doesn't look anything like what's on the monitor– it's now too blue. OK, you can go back to your image and make some more color adjustments and you can even fiddle with some advanced color controls on the printer.

About five prints later (if you're lucky) you get an acceptable print– well, it's not really what you'd like it to be but you'll take it because it's getting late and you can't spend all night at it, besides which, using all that ink and paper is becoming expensive.

You probably go to sleep muttering something like "technology sucks." Not so. Technology is doing exactly what it should and here's why your prints turned out lousy: Your printer doesn't print pictures from the colors displayed on your monitor. It prints them from the color information in your picture file– in other words, from the actual camera image. So if your monitor doesn't correctly show you the colors that are in your image file, you can't possibly make any color adjustments to that file with the assurance that they're going to be right.

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