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Recently I've begun giving more thought to display calibration. I'd previously ignored this practice largely because:

  • I worked with really cheap monitors at work.
  • I work mostly with web graphics, and there's really no way to know how the end user's monitor will be calibrated. Just going from computer to computer, device to device at the office, the color reproduction varied greatly.
  • I have a DoubleSight DS-2700dw at home, which is an S-PVA display, but it's not exactly "high end". The original had 3 stuck subpixels and died within a year of purchase, and the replacement also has at least as many dead subpixels, as well as other problems (such as a cracked stand and requiring multiple restarts and a series of well-timed key presses to actually start working). So a $300 monitor calibration system feels a bit pointless.
  • All of the solutions I've looked at seemed to be targeted at photographers (even moreso the cheaper units) and print design.

But I also didn't really know how to choose between the different models. I'd rather not go on price alone, given that, if it's worth investing in, I'd rather invest in a professional grade calibration system that will serve me well than an entry-level solution that won't give me the full benefits of display calibration.

So what differentiates the various color calibration units? Will all professional grade systems pretty much serve you equally well except when used in high end photography or dealing with ultra wide gamut displays?

Does it really make sense to even invest in a hardware color calibrator if you're primarily doing web design?

What features are consider "must haves" when shopping for display calibrators?

What else does someone new to display calibration need to know?

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From a practical standpoint, I can't think of a reason to be concerned about calibration for web work beyond setting the gamma somewhat accurately to 2.2 and your display to 6500K (sometimes labeled D65). These will allow you to display as much of the sRGB gamut, which is the web standard, as your monitor is capable of.

You can do all this without shelling out your hard-earned cash for calibration hardware. Set the monitor profile to the one supplied by the manufacturer and check the gamma and brightness (which is all that's relevant on a digital display). To make any adjustments, you can use the calibration utility that comes with your GPU, or the one built into Windows. Mac OS probably has one, too, but I seldom use my Mac for anything beyond testing web designs, so I don't know off-hand.

CFL-illuminated displays will dim over time as the fluorescent tubes become less efficient. That's the nature of the technology, so just make it a point to recheck gamma and brightness every 6 months or so. But almost all monitors are far too bright "out of the box" (Apple displays in particular), so you actually have to dial them way down. Keep in mind that "Brightness", so called, adjusts only the black signal level, pushing everything else up in brightness to compensate.

If you get into higher-end web work, it will be worthwhile to invest in a monitor that can display the full sRGB gamut, but still keep another, consumer-grade monitor connected so you have a good idea what your pages will look like to the average home user. Even then, you won't need calibration hardware.

There is an excellent article from Ray Soneira that covers both HDTVs and monitors. It gives the real scoop on a great deal of misinformation about modern digital displays. It's lengthy, but well worth a read.

If you need color-accurate photographs, or you are designing for print, then wide-gamut calibration on a professional-grade display becomes important. Keep in mind that this requires monitor, printer and paper calibration if you need accurate prints. Calibrating your monitor alone has some value, but still leaves you without a good proofing capability. Printer calibration requires that you calibrate each paper type you will use for proofing or for prints that you want to exhibit or sell.

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