Whether you use a Mac to edit photos, watch movies or play games, you should consider calibrating your display. Macs use a default colour profile – a group of colour settings – for each connected screen. But if you find these look a little off and don’t quite match those of real objects, you can make changes by creating your own colour profile.

Basic colour calibration

Open System Preferences and click the Displays icon. If you have multiple monitors, a separate window will appear on each. Click the Color tab, and you’ll see a number of display profiles. If you tick Show profiles for this display only, you’ll just see the profiles that can be used with the monitor. If the selected profile is not ideal given the display’s possible colour response, you’ll want to calibrate the monitor.

Next, click the Calibrate button. This opens the Apple Display Calibrator Assistant, a tool that will walk you through some simple operations to help you create a colour profile. Check the box for Expert Mode on the first screen, and then go through the different screens and follow the given instructions. Don’t worry about getting everything perfect; you’ll be able to run through the process again if you don’t like the results.

Move the sliders around on the different screens in Apple’s Display Calibrator Assistant until the apple blends in with the background

What you’re doing during this process is making subtle adjustments to a number of colour settings – finding out exactly how much your display’s colours are ‘off’ compared with the ideal colours.

Advanced tweaks

One of these screens is for the white point, which is the colour temperature of the white on your screen. You shouldn’t change this from the default – D65 – unless you know exactly why you want to change it. (Go ahead and try; you’ll see what it does straight away.)

Next there’s a setting called gamma. This affects the way that images appear onscreen; the richness of colours and the overall density and contrast are different. Gamma settings can vary from device to device; until Snow Leopard was released, Macs used a target gamma of 1.8, as opposed to Windows PCs, which used a setting of 2.2. These days Macs also use 2.2. For most situations, stick to this default.

When you’ve finished going through the Calibrator Assistant’s screens, name the profile, click OK, and you’ll see the new look of the display. Does it solve any specific issues you were experiencing before? If not, you can either go through the whole calibration process again, paying more attention to each colour setting, or try using a dedicated device.

Hardware calibrators

A hardware calibrator is a small device that includes a colorimeter – a sensor that detects colours – and a USB cable. It examines the actual colour response of a screen as it displays test colours, and then adjusts the colour profile to make those colours match the norms they are meant to represent.

We looked at two colour calibrators from X-rite (www.xrite.com), the £60 hueyPro, and the £103 i1Display LT. The former is designed to remain connected to a computer, and it adjusts the brightness of the monitor as the ambient light changes; the latter has a colorimeter that examines more colours during the calibration process. Results typically vary from one device to another, and sometimes it can be difficult to get different brands of monitors to match up.

Calibrating a display is a good idea for all users, and those who work with colour should consider opting for a hardware colour calibrator. However, you should bear in mind that calibrators have limitations, and low-priced devices may not be the ideal solution. If a high-end calibrator is out of your budget, pay your local camera store a visit. Many rent out professional-quality colour calibrators at reasonable prices.  MW