How to Calibrate your Display

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: September 14, 2020

Category: General | Tutorial


On Saturday 21st September 2020 at 12.15pm (UK) I am presenting a 30 minute session during the Photography Show Online about Calibration and Printing; you can Register and Watch this for FREE by CLICKING HERE.

I shudder to think how much time and money I wasted in an attempt to get my prints to match what I saw on my screen; a process that I just couldn’t seem to get right no matter what I did.

I would constantly hear people saying that “all you need to do is to calibrate your monitor, downlaod the paper profiles and you’ll be good”… but this was most definitely not the case.

When it comes to calibrating your monitor / display there are things to consider; the main one being the light level in the room and how that  dictates the correct  brightness level of your monitor / display. Once you have that sorted then there are other things such as making or buying paper profiles that are specific for your printer (not the model, but YOUR printer) and all of this I go through in my FREE Perfect Prints Guide (CLICK HERE)

Today though I thought I’d take you through the initial calibration process so that side of things is sorted.

Once this is done correctly, everything else will fall into place.


To kick off here’s the monitor that I use … the BenQ SW321C

This is a 32″ display that amongst many other things displays 99% Adobe RGB and 100% Adobe sRGB with uniformity technology which basically means that the brightness of the screen is consistent across the entire surface…and THIS is important!

Another great thing about this display is that the surface has a non-reflective surface so no matter the environment I can clearly see what is on the screen at the correct brightness and colour.

Step 1:

To start the display calibration process, first of all open calibration software; in this example I’m using i1Studio from X-Rite. BenQ do have their own calibration software called Palette Master but I prefer to use the i1Studio software as it has been specifically made for use with the XRite hardware.

Once the software is up and running you then choose which hardware you’re using and then from the left hand side of the screen choose DISPLAY under the DISPLAY CALIBRATION heading.

Step 2:

If you have more than one display connected you’ll first of all click to highlight the one that you want to calibrate at this particular time and then we need to input some settings (Figure 2) You’ll see that there are 3 choices: Photo, Video and Custom. Choose the Custom option because anything other than that is going to calibrate your display to a series of set values and those values won’t be the same as what you’d need for the room you are in.

Step 3:

So now that we have chose the Custom option here’s the settings I choose:

*For the White Point choose: CIE Illuminant D65


This is where we set the target brightness value of our display and is without doubt one of the main reasons for final prints not matching what is on the screen. I used to find that when I printed an image, the colour would be great but the prints were always coming out too dark. This wasn’t a problem with my printer though (as I used to think) but actually much simpler and easier to explain …

“If your prints are too dark then your display isn’t calibrated correctly”

Or to put it another way…

“If your prints are too dark then your display brightness is too high”

If your display / monitor brightness is too high then obviously that’s going to give you an incorrect representation of what your image actually looks like so we MUST get this right if we’re going to stand any chance of our final prints matching what they look like on screen.

So now we have a couple of choices; choosing a Luminance (brightness) value or finding out what it actually is in the first place. Choosing a luminance value is great if you have maybe used a particular room with a particular lighting before and just know what it is through having calibrated your display in the past however, if you get it wrong and your prints still keep coming out dark then you’ll have to calibrate it over again. I’m not a fan of this ’trial and error’ method.

A much more accurate and time saving method is to get the calibration hardware (i1Studio, i1Display) to measure the luminance value for the room you are in with the lighting as it is and then use that to set the correct luminance / brightness of your monitor.

So, choose the Measure Ambient option at the very bottom of the luminance drop down menu:

Step 4:

With your calibration hardware plugged in follow the instructions on screen to ensure that it’s set up correctly to measure the ambient light (luminance value) of the room and click Measure:

Step 5:

After a few seconds your calibration hardware will have measured the ambient light in the room and produced a luminance value … in my example the luminance was measured at 80 cd/m2; To use this so that your display is calibrated correctly for the room you’re in and the lighting as it currently is, click on Keep Measurement.

Step 6:

*Gamma: leave at the Standard (Default) 2.20

You also have the option to tick the Measure and Adjust for Flare checkbox. The display I use (BenQ SW321C) has a non reflective screen surface so I leave this alone but if your display has a glossy, shiny surface then put a tick in here so that the final profile compensates for it.

Step 7:

Click Next and in the following steps you have the choice to let the software and hardware make any adjustments to the brightness, RGV values etc of your display using what is called Automatic Display Control (ADC) or choosing to do it manually (ADC is not built into every monitor so you may / may not see this option) 

In the past I have used ADC and found that it caused a few issues so now I only ever use the manual option.

Step 8:

Click Next and then follow the instructions on screen so that the calibration hardware is set up correctly and click Next.

Hang the calibration hardware in the correct position on the display and put ticks in the checkboxes of those settings you can manually adjust (Contrast, RGB Controls and Brightness) and click Next.

Step 7:

From now on this is where the magic happens…

First of all the calibration software will run through a Contrast test and then perform a Brightness test.

Now remember how we took a luminance measurement at the very start of this process? Well, now the calibration software is taking a luminance measurement of your display. When it does you’ll see a Target White Luminance measurement (what we want) and also you’ll see a Measured White Luminance (what your display currently measures).

We need the Target and Measured values to be the same so this is where we use the Brightness controls.

The aim is to get the orange marker in the middle of the scale and a big green tick next to it. So, if the orange marker is above the centre of the scale then use your brightness controls to lower the brightness of the display. If the orange marker is below the centre of the scale then use the brightness controls to brighten the display.

As you adjust the brightness just do it a click at a time and pause to allow the orange marker to move and then stop. Once you get the orange marker in the middle and see the green tick, you’ve now set the luminance / brightness of your display which will ultimately make a huge difference when we come to doing some printing.

Step 8:

Click Next and now the calibration process will measure a number of coloured patches. In this example here there’s 118 patches to be read so just sit back and let it go through this (takes a few minutes).

Step 9:

Once all of the patches have been measured the calibration process is nearly finished.

Remove the calibration hardware from the display and click Next 

Step 10:

You’ll now see the coloured grid of patches again but this time notice how they’ve each got a diagonal line through them. What this shows is the upper left of each patch is the colour value that was actually measured and being displayed, and the bottom right of the patch is the colour value you should have had.

One of the jobs of the profile you’ve just created is to now know what it needs to do to make alterations to what your display shows so that you do see the colours as they should be. Clever huh!

Step 11:

Click Next.

This is where we now save the profile we’ve just created (Figure 15). I tend to give the profiles a name that I can clearly see what date they were made and also for which monitor and which calibration hardware I used: e.g. BenQSW321C_16feb2020_i1DP

In the Profile Version section leave it at the chosen default (Windows will be Version 2; Mac will be Version 4) and then choose how often you want to be reminded to calibrate your display.

This is very much personal choice. I tend to do this at least once each week however if during the week I’m doing some printing then I’ll always do it again beforehand…just to make sure everything is as it should be.

Step 12:

And that’s it…your display has now been calibrated!

You can use the Before / After to see what your monitor was displaying before you went through the calibration process, and you can also use the drop down menu above the picture to see what other example pictures would have looked like before and after. When you’re finished, you can close the software down.

Display Calibration: Additional Information

Before we move on to looking at paper profiles and printing there’s just a couple of extra things I wanted to mention about Display Calibration…

Ambient Light Measurement Mode

The i1Studio and i1Display have the ability to constantly monitor the ambient light in the room where you are working and by doing so can then make minor adjustments to the luminance value in real time. This sounds great, but in an ideal world and to get the very best results, you want to try to ensure that the lighting remains constant. If the light changes (e.g. you use your display in a room where the light is different) then you’ll want to calibrate it again to create a new profile.

Monitor Hood / Shield

Following on from the advice above given by X-Rite, a monitor hood / display is definite something to consider because allowing too much light to fall on your display will affect how you see your images and ultimately mean your prints don’t match.

Now this is just a sample of some of the content in my FREE Perfect Prints Guide that I put together; to grab it just CLICK HERE

As always if you have any questions / comments please feel free to make use of the comments section below.

Catch you next time,

You may also like…

Sony Animal Eye Focus = CRAZY!!!
Sony Animal Eye Focus = CRAZY!!!

In this video I take you through the Sony Animal and Human Eye Focus and also take you Behind the Scenes on a recent...

THANK YOU for Making My Day!
THANK YOU for Making My Day!

THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone for all the incredible feedback for my Photoshop Lighting Effects class in the Photoshop...


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *