As both a web and print designer, I have never seen the need to calibrate my displays. Especially for web design, I wonder why I should spend several hundred euros to calibrate when I can instead test my colour choices on multiple uncalibrated displays in different lighting conditions. Only a handful of users are going to look at my colour choices on an accurately calibrated screen while under the same lighting as I had when I stuck my ColorMunki to my screen.

For print design, I understand that you can calibrate your screen to display an RGB approximation of CMYK as accurately as possible. But it's still going to be an approximation—it's never going to be perfect because of the fundamental differences between the two colour models. After some initial surprises in my beginner period, I have gotten a gut feeling for how my work is going to come out. Especially after a test print on my desktop printer. So why calibrate?

I know that I am asking a rather fundamental question here, which many of you will want to answer with "But of course you must! Everybody does it!" Call me a rebel, but by default, I am genuinely unconvinced of doing anything that people say "everybody does it" about. Therefore, I am looking for objective reasons and arguments. Forget the feelings and the tradition, just tell me why.

Even though this question looks like it's asking what I am, it only goes into finding an affordable way, and not the why..

  • Relevant : Is Color Calibration Necessary in Web Design?
    – J...
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 21:35
  • Insight: Buy a decent monitor first step. Pro monitor generally close out the box (like a good guitar set up at the factory) so you don't have much to do. But like a guitar, its a good investment to understand the process (read answers below). For print I set up a proof chart with my regular supplier(s) digital / litho and tweak my screen to these. Then I know with reasonable certainty, how my colour will print with them. I run a MBPro with HP Pro screen for web work - never calibrated that but check the design on multiple screens early dev. Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 11:12
  • @Applefanboy I'd upvote that if it were an answer.
    – Vincent
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 11:15
  • Related: How can I make sure that my on-screen colors are consistent? Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 8:34

4 Answers 4


For web you are fairly correct, most screens are different, and testing on multiple devices is the only way to really see what the user does.

For print however you might be surprised by the dramatic difference it makes. I used to run a print shop, and people would bring in a file saying they had designed it in publisher (Shudder) and took it to another printer and the colours were way off, the red was brown, the green slightly blue etc.

They will be, because their monitor, like yours Vincent is not calibrated.

The point is that to get the results YOU EXPECT, you NEED to have a calibrated workflow. When you have a calibrated workflow (that is Monitor -> software -> soft proof -> Print) You can then optimise the artwork to actually look as you want/expect when printed.


You have read this joke before.

One man is driving and listens on the radio:

"A drunk man is on the highway driving on the opposite way!"

And the man says, "One? there are a lot of them!"

Well, you do not want to be the drunk man.

I have never seen the need to calibrate my displays

This is probably because your displays are decently calibrated already.

My main two arguments in favor a minimal calibration (A. Color temperature on the monitor, and B. Gamma on the graphics card) are 1 "reproducibility" and 2 "starting point".

On a print design, depending on what system you are using, of course, you could end tweaking the file to match the print sample. In an ideal world, you do not need to tweak anything...

But of course you must! Everybody does it!

No! the problem is that not everyone does it, not even people that should! If you have a problem with one provider you know the problem is on the provider side, not one "no man's land" problem. (You want to be sure you are not the drunk man)

If you have a good starting point to tweak methodically your file, then that provider needs X amount of extra saturation and Y amount of extra contrast.

This starting point is first of all to yourself.

If your camera or monitor one day wake up feeling sad, you will have a blue display on your monitor and you would correct it warming the file a bit... if the next day this monitor wakes up angry... dang, the warming you did the other day, plus the warm color of this day... you do not have consistency on your own workflow.

(You want to be sure your monitor is not drunk one day)

  • This is brilliant. Don't be the drunk guy. I like it.
    – J...
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 2:57

First we have to make a very clear distinction. Seeing exactly what you expect is not required for the vast majority of work. Especially as a professional designer where changes are going to be minimal. What I mean is even if I, or likely any professional designer, works on a display that isn't calibrated I can still know pretty close what my colors are. I know that if it says CMYK (0, 20, 50, 10) it's going to be an almost gold-like color. I know this because I understand that I've added some Magenta to Yellow and then darkened it a bit.

If I see it as Bright Blue then I know my display or my brain is seriously screwed up. Because the Color Wheel never lies. RGB (255, 255, 0) is always going to be yellow, no matter how I perceive it.

Now let us say we're working on a website and print materials for a makeup company. They, being the client, send us a sample of a few lipsticks. We're going to use various tools such as a colorimeter or colorchecker passport, etc to find out what best represents that exact lipstick. Often in these cases the client will even tell you. It then makes little difference if my display is showing it correctly; as long as I sample the color and see the values are correct. To put another way, if my client tells me to use Pantone Red; I'm going to use Pantone Red. If it looks a little orange on one of my displays and a little magenta on another, I don't care. It's Pantone Red.

The more important thing is Contrast and Gamut. Ensuring that none of your colors fall outside of the color range the end product will be in, that your blacks and whites are where they need to be, and ensuring that banding isn't going to occur. This has nothing to do with color accuracy and everything to do with a wide gamut display with excellent contrast.

So then why should you calibrate? Well if you want to be a perfectionist its a lot easier to do when things are accurate. That's really it. Especially if you're working on high end print campaigns for fashion or makeup companies; or a client that has a very specific brand color. The other usage is mostly in cinema where you want to ensure the film is going to look identical in theaters as it does on the standard TV. That means color grading it for both.

You can absolutely get by as a photographer or a designer without ever calibrating a monitor. Do you have to do it? No. Does it help? It can. If you're going to spend money on something do a high end display first though otherwise you're just wasting your money trying to calibrate a low end display.

  • Clients dont allways have a colorimeter by having one (the calibrator is a colorimeter) you can provide this service. The color wheel most certainly lies outside the cardinal directions.
    – joojaa
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 3:50
  • You contradict yourself. Going by the "numbers" to anticipate what colour is rendered IS a kind of "seeing" what to expect, in effect. Also, when is wanting accuracy being a perfectionist? "Ish" and "close-enough" work is less that professional IMHO.
    – Stan
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 19:30
  • @Stan when its irrelevant to the value of the product you're working on.
    – Ryan
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 21:18
  • @Ryan Nope. That statement answers a different question. Yours is the answer to why you don't need to calibrate your screen. For example, I can make a web page with no screen at all, a keyboard, and a word processor.
    – Stan
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 18:22

Why: With a properly calibrated display, the system and other software that uses it can better display images in their intended colours.

Display includes both screen (soft proof) and print (hard copy proof).

This (working with known points of reference) can be attained over time by highly repetitive work with stable equipment in a stable environment.
Some call it experience.
It's highly subjective and not repeatable when you change studios (your environment) or have a change or upgrade of software or equipment.

How nice it would be to have a known set of references (shared among all your colleagues and clientele) that was accepted and used. Imagine how quickly you could retool and start producing regardless of the monitor you were using. Imagine how confident you would feel knowing that the print you just made, that looks correct to you, will look the same to the one you send the file to—All this without second guessing—the first time. Imagine, your prints come out looking just like they did on your screen!!!

That's some of the why you should (profile and) calibrate your output devices.

There are some procedures to follow and recommendations, best practices, etc. to ensure that there is some heightened consistency in the execution of our work.

Some systems require more complexity than others to ensure colour accuracy. The expenditure to ensure tighter tolerances than necessary are neither productive nor profitable. For example; matching car enamels requires some of the most sophisticated equipment and techniques to measure and proof; Web, some of the least.

One more thing™ Have you ever left to go to a specific destination without knowing where you are to begin with? Think about it. Not even an exact map is of any value.

  • Right, you can fly with instruments but if your not calibrated then your eyes are not being used in fuil capacity
    – joojaa
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 20:09

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