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How to calibrate your monitor for the best viewing experience possible

Calibrate using Web software

There are a handful of Web-based calibration tools that help you manually adjust your monitor settings, essentially ditching the automation in favor of a bit more customization and control.

  • Display Calibration: Display Calibration will let you view several test patterns and samples of what a properly calibrated screen will look like. Although the site isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, and it’s rarely updated, the on-screen calibration tools for brightness, contrast, color depth, and screen resolution can prove useful if you can’t access any built-in calibration tools.
  • Photo Friday: Photo Friday is a simple webpage to help you calibrate the brightness and contrast of your screen. Just adjust the monitor settings until the transition of tones from black to white are clearly distinguishable on the screen.
  • Online Monitor Test: Online Monitor Test is one of the better calibration websites out there. There are a slew of interactive tests to help you adjust your monitor’s screen colors and to see if your monitor can produce smooth gradients. There are also tools for pinpointing damaged pixels and backlight bleeding, making the website one of the more full-fledged Web-based calibration tools to date.
  • The Logam LCD Monitor Test Pages: The Logam LCD Monitor Test Pages are handy, both online and offline. The website not only allows you to adjust various things such contrast and response time, but it also allows you to download the images as a 120KB zip file so you can check any monitor in-store that your are thinking about purchasing.

Calibrate using colorimeter hardware

The built-in calibration utilities and Web-based software are great for a quick fix, but they are inherently flawed by one thing – you. These calibration processes rely on an individual’s perception of color, and are therefore open to subjectivity based on how you see different colors. Purchasing a calibrating device is one way to bypass this dilemma and better ensure your monitor is calibrated to its true potential. You will need to invest some serious money if you’re looking for greater precision and control, but there are still some affordable alternatives that work well on a tight budget and will help obtain color consistency across all your monitors.

If you’re looking to pick up a calibration tool, we recommend using the Spyder4Express ($120), the Spyder4Pro ($169), or the Spyder4Elite ($250). All three devices feature a full-spectrum seven-color sensor to help accurately characterize a variety of wide gamut and normal displays, but the more expensive versions are better equipped for the seasoned calibrator and are packed with more features. If you do decide to purchase one, all you have to do is attach the device to the screen, connect it to a USB port, and run the included calibration software. The automated software will walk you through the rest of the process.

s0557985_sc7colormunki-smile_500X-Rite’s ColorMunki series ($100 to $500) is also a good alternative. Like the Spyder series, all three devices come bundled with automated calibration software with the more expensive versions touting more features and greater customization.

The bottom line

Calibrating your monitor is a simple task, and one that benefits you on many fronts. Aside from more accurate looking images and less strain on your eyes, calibrating your monitor will also help ensure your prints match your display. Plus, basic monitor calibration can be done completely free of charge or for a small fee should you decide you want a more professional setup. There’s no reason you have to stick with the settings your monitor came with.

Be sure to check out our TV calibration guide to tune up your LCD or plasma HDTV.

What did you think of our monitor calibration guide? What method do you prefer to use? Let us know in the comments below.

This guide was updated on May 16, 2014. Jacob O’Gara contributed to this report. 

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