Spyder2Pro Studio; Eye-One Display 2; Monaco OptixXR Pro

Introduction

Calibrating your monitor is the first step in achieving accurate colour on your Mac, so the colours you see on your screen are as close as possible to those captured by your scanner or digital camera. A monitor-calibration system – composed of a hardware colorimeter and its accompanying software – takes you beyond the accuracy readings of the built-in Apple ColorSync Utility, which provides strictly eyeball measurements. While there are some software-only calibration packages, this review includes only hardware-
software combinations.

Such a calibration package precisely measures the way a monitor’s colour behaves, optimizes that behaviour by tweaking the lookup tables (LUTs) in the video card to produce smooth gradations and neutral greys, and then writes a profile that describes the optimized behaviour. Colour-management systems then use that profile to display colour accurately on your screen.

Using several different computers, I tested three popular colour-calibration systems: ColorVision’s £189 Spyder2Pro Studio hardware-software package; Gretag-Macbeth’s £159 Eye-One Display 2 with Eye-One Match software; and X-Rite’s £229 Monaco OptixXR Pro hardware-software package.

These measuring devices plug into your Mac’s USB port and either rest on your LCD screen or attach to your CRT with little suction cups. Do not press the calibrator tightly against an LCD panel, because this will change its colour and may damage the monitor.

The test machines included a 667MHz PowerBook G4, a 1.8GHz 20-inch iMac G5, and a 1.6GHz Power Mac G5 with an 18-inch Sony XDM-82 LCD and a 19-inch LaCie Electron Blue CRT; all were running Mac OS X 10.3.7. I even tried them on the no-name LCD panel connected to my Windows workstation for a worst-case scenario. A few adjustments made even that monitor palatable.

I created a reference print with an Epson Stylus 4000 printer on matte paper. I used the monitor calibrators with their respective software in both basic and advanced modes to see which one produced the closest on-screen match to the reference print.

Basic and advanced
The basic mode requires no technical knowledge, and you don’t need to adjust your monitor – just click on the Calibrate button, and you get a profile in five minutes. The basic method doesn’t take into account room lighting or other monitor adjustments. I ran all the calibrators in basic mode first, and while results were somewhat off, the GretagMacbeth Eye-One Display 2 unit came closest to the reference print. I tested again in advanced mode and got very different results.

When you run the calibration software in basic mode, the profile you achieve won’t offer the ultimate in colour accuracy, but it will be what the industry refers to as pleasing colour. Typically, this colour will be on the warm side, with a bit more contrast and saturation than you’ll see in a perfectly colour-corrected image. This is fine for most advanced hobbyists.

The advanced mode lets you choose the gamma (contrast ratio), white point, and brightness settings you want your monitor to display, so you can adjust your monitor for flesh tones and greyscale images. If you have the manual settings on your monitor, for example, the software tells you how to set them so that you have an accurate white point from which to start. It also lets you adjust the fine details in shadows and highlights to be as neutral as possible, but this requires advanced colour-adjustment skills. I performed my tests at a 6,500-Kelvin white point.

I looked for neutral flesh tones (neither overly red and warm nor blue and cold), clean highlights, shadows free of colour tint, and greyscale images that were neutral grey, without colours.

How much you can fine-tune your monitor’s colour will determine the ultimate accuracy of your ICC profiles, but even if you have a PowerBook with only a brightness adjustment, proper use of a calibrator will give you more-accurate screen colours than you have now. From start to finish, it will take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes to calibrate your monitor with any of the tools I tested. If you have more than one Mac, using the calibrator will help you keep colour consistent across machines.

Spyder2Pro Studio
I was able to get the closest match to my test print using the Spyder2Pro in advanced mode. Setup is very easy; a wizard interface walks you through all the choices. The Spyder2Pro is also the slowest of the three, taking almost 20 minutes to create a profile.

As a bonus (in addition to its reasonable price), the Spyder2Pro comes with a copy of nik multimedia’s Color Efex Pro LE, ColorVision’s DoctorPro, and Pantone’s Colorist. DoctorPro helps you profile your printer to match your newly profiled monitor, and Colorist adds all the Pantone colour checkers to Photoshop’s checker.

The Spyder2Pro is the easiest to use and the best choice for advanced hobbyists.

Monaco OptixXR Pro
X-Rite’s Monaco OptixXR Pro system was a close second for out-of-the-box colour accuracy, and it offered a wide range of adjustments to the finished profiles. Spending a bit of time with the adjustment curves yielded some great profiles, but the test image was a bit warm on screen compared with the reference print.

My favourite feature of the Monaco OptixXR Pro is its ability to match profiles from different monitors. After you import colour profiles from your other systems, you click on the Match Profiles button and resave the new profiles to their respective monitors. The results were very good, and this saved me a lot of time across four systems.

Eye-One Display 2
The £159 Eye-One Display 2 had the most user-friendly software and setup. With the help of great PDF and wizard tutorials, it produced the most accurate profile of the four in basic mode, but in advanced mode its profile was somewhat cold and washed out.

The Eye-One site offers a free utility, Eye-One Share, that lets you share profiles among multiple monitors and download the Pantone charts to your Mac.

If you get bitten by the colour-management bug, GretagMacbeth will give you a £132 (ex. VAT) trade-in allowance on its £962 Eye-One Photo spectrophotometer, which will help you profile your scanner, printer, and projector (with the optional £341 Eye-One Beamer attachment). I use this system

Which is best?
My favourite device was ColorVision’s Spyder2Pro; of the three systems I tested, it allowed me to achieve the most accurate, neutral colour.

The Monaco OptixXR Pro was also quite accurate and offered the ability to tweak profiles, but that requires a high degree of colour-management skill. The Eye-One Display 2 had the least-accurate profiles in advanced mode, but it was a snap to use and produced great profiles in basic mode.

If you’re just getting started in colour management, you should be aware that calibrating your monitor, while essential, is just one part of your colour-management system. You may find that you also need to profile other devices, such as printers and scanners. Most pros use separate dedicated packages for monitor and output profiling, rather than relying on one system that tries to do it all. And all of these companies sell add-on software and hardware, or bundled suites of both, that take into account your printers and scanners.

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