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GEN-7500 • Calibrating Your Monitor

I want to calibrate my computer monitor to display more accurate colors so I can better adjust my color separations for my screen print press.

They say knowledge is power so here comes the power. First, we will discuss what is reasonably possible. Next, understand "why" we need to do it. Finally, "how" it is done.

Closed System:

OK, we calibrate monitors to press results to create an accurate method of adjusting colors so we have predictable results on press (any press). Most commonly a computer is calibrated using a device such as the EyeOne calibrator by XRite, but you can only do this to a printer with controllable repeatable results which is what we call a "closed system". Color copiers and digital presses are good examples of "closed systems", meaning their ink lay down results are very controllable and repeatable. Their ink supplies are also developed using strict tolerances.

Open System:

Then there are "open systems" and a screen print press is certainly the poster child for that. Since palettes deflect and get our of shape, we use open heating elements, alter squeegee style Durometers, angles and pressures, change mesh counts and tensions sometimes from screen to screen and then there is the inks, sometimes mixed in-house and slightly off the mark so you can clearly see that a screen print press is like the wild, wild west of printing. Fear not, I just wanted to drive the point home, it’s not all bad and there is a way to get more consistent results by creating pre-press standard operating procedures (SOP) and sticking to them.

Color Profiles:

Color profiles are created and loaded into a graphics programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, etc. and that profile controls the color displayed and printed to a "color device". You can create a color profile for a closed system, but not for an open system. Printing a color chart from the calibration software then reading using the calibration device, saving the file and loading it into the application is the way to calibrate the system.

However, it's nearly impossible to print on a screen print press a color chart that will become your "standard" measure of results for every job due to all the variables listed above (open system).

So what can you do?

Software developed especially for the screen print industry such as Spot Process Separation Studio take special care to develop standards that closely match industry ink performance and is known to be the industries best result software but its not all about the software, your monitor has to display the color accurately too.

All monitors are adjusted at the factory to be "bright and colorful" so you will be attracted to them when first viewed, but that is for average user use surfing the web, playing with personal pictures, and writing documents.

 Handling "print" graphics on a screen (backlight technology) and comparing its results to a real world print (reflective technology) takes a little adjusting. Ambient office lighting and such makes your print appear duller than what is on screen so the key is to adjust (“dumb down") the screen.

A backlight RGB computer monitor will always outshine a press (any press) so we calibrate. Understand that calibrating a system is reducing the color range of a computer monitor bringing it "down" to the level of the press you are using. Once the print and screen match it's called calibrated.

 Now we already discussed that the screen print press can not create an ICC profile so the best we can do is adjust the monitor down to show colors as close to what we will see on a print. Because Spot Process Separation Studio is the industries "only" true RGB software mathematical technology its results are as close to what a screen print press is going to deliver which is what makes it the industries best software by light years.

Do I need special devices?

Devices such as the X-Rite Eye-One LT, Datacolor Spyder or Pantone Huey are helpful and inexpensive. They handle monitors unlike the X-Rite Eye-One that cost closer to $1,000.00 and creates exact loadable print profiles.

Software like Adobe Gamma and Apple's OS built in monitor calibration (system preferences) can be helpful to achieve a better result.

You can also do a lot with nothing at all. Every monitor has a control panel that allows you to set the temperature, brightness and contrast. The lower the temperature the better the color will match your print. All the devices will attempt to bring your monitor down as close to 5000 Kelvin. Look for a monitor with a low Kelvin rating when buying a graphics monitor. The contrast can stay way up close to 100 but the brightness needs to drop down to nearly 20 if not lower. By default most monitors are factor set to 80 or higher and this is where the color get way off.

What to expect:

When a monitor is first calibrated for graphics all users say, it’s too dark, I don't like it, but after a day or two and certainly after they see how it "actually” represents their prints and how much faster their art is approved on press they embrace it. Yes, it's darker than all other computers in your life, this is a graphics work station not your Internet surfing toy.

By the way, neutral gray walls and indirect lighting is a professional graphic departments room setup, ambient light is a color killer which is why color examining boxes like the Gretag MacBeth exist.

Now that you know a bit more about it all you can begin to improve your setup and results.

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