Color Management and Calibration - True color matching ever possible?
4 January 2004
Many programs and tools are sold today which claim to 'calibrate' and 'manage' your monitor, printer, scanner, and other output devices more accurately than before. One of the benefits often advertised is that 'what you print will look like what you see on the monitor'.
To 'calibrate' a device is to measure the output of color when given a known input value, and to record the difference for future reference. Thus, if the computer wants to produce a very dark blue, but the monitor produces a slightly lighter blue, the 'calibration' will make a note of this difference.
To 'manage' a device is to make sure it produces colors as close as possible to what is being requested of it. Thus, following the case above, if the computer knows the monitor produces a lighter blue than it is told to, the computer will 'adjust' for this difference by sending an even darker blue to produce, one which will look as close to the correct value of blue as possible.
Quite sadly, no product on this planet in existence today can properly match what you see in print vs. what you see on the monitor. This is not a fault of the products, but instead physical, absolute reality -- the printer can make colors that no monitor can produce; the monitor can produce colors that no printer can produce.
This means, quite simply, that if you want a product to help you match what you see on the screen to the print exactly, you can't.
This does not mean you cannot use a color calibration & management tool to help you match and edit colors. Rather, you must still use your judgement to adjust what you see on the screen to what you want to print.
Color calibration does produce the benefit where you can rely on a stable, consistent output where images viewed on it don't look too pink one day, then too blue another day. In commerical press applications where thousands of books and publications must be printed to match in color, color management and calibration products are a must.
BUT, for the home consumer today, such devices are not necessary, and the marginal benefits are usually not worth the hundreds of dollars spent on the products and time required to use them.
Simple! The introduction of sRGB gamut, LCD monitors, and sRGB calibrated scanners, printers, and monitors.
The most critical device is the monitor. If you see something with a slight color cast on a monitor, your eye quickly adjusts for this and you soon lose awareness of this color cast. (You can try this by looking at a white piece of paper indoors, then walking outdoors into bright sunlight and noting the color of the paper with a slight color cast in the first few moments.)
Luckily, almost all LCD montiors today are calibrated to the sRGB color gamut, and even without further calibration and management, they closely match the expected colors (usually with 90-95%+ accuracy, even for cheap LCD monitors). If you use a LCD monitor, you can expect most colors to be true and accurate to your images (usually, digital camera images and scanner scans that also use the sRGB gamut).
Because the print color gamut and monitor color gamut will physically never match, you won't see significant improvements by using a 3rd party color calibration and management device, and you could achieve excellent print results on your own - since in either case, you still must make the subjective judgement regarding how you must adjust what you see on the screen to produce the print you would like.