There is an array of profiling equipment on the market the main market players are Pantone with it's Huey range, Datacolor with its Spyder3 range and X-rite/GretagMacbeth with Eye-One (i1). You can get profiling equipment for screens/monitors and screens/monitors plus printers to full profiling systems which will cover screens, printers, projectors, scanners, cameras and editors, but you cannot get a profiler which does just printers. The prices start at around £60 up to just under £1,200 for the top of the range multi-gadget profiler. Here we are going to introduce you to each type.
Screen or Monitor Profiling Equipment
Every monitor is different, so getting your monitor 'colour accurate' is the most essential part of the colour management workflow. Without this, you simply can’t be sure that the image you are viewing on screen really does look like that. The good news is that profiling your screen is fast and easy with one of the profiling tools available.
Of all the profiling tools on the market, those for calibrating/profiling your computer screen are probably the most cost effective and most used. Screens need to be regularly profiled to allow for variations and deterioration in the screen itself. Most of the profiling software gives you an option to have a reminder display at a set interval from 7 days to 30 days. Doing a profile every 7 days is probably a bit regular and unnecessary, however in 30 days or more it may be wise to carry out another quick profile. So if you are going to regularly profile your screen it's worth investing in one of the tools available.
Models available include:
The Huey and Huey Pro by Pantone
The Huey works with CRT, LCD, TFT and laptop screens. It brings monitor calibration within the reach (both in terms of cost and ease of use) to almost everyone. The Huey is a piece of hardware, about 10cm tall that comes with software to control it. You plug it in to a USB port, place the device on your screen and run the software. The software then displays a series of colours – for each colour it tells the software what colour it is actually 'seeing' and compares this to the colour your screen 'thinks' it is showing. Once the software knows the differences it can make adjustments to your monitor so it is now displaying colours as they should be. It doesn't allow you to control the colour temperatures, using a standard set of choices based around a set of pre-defined settings such as 'warmer', 'cooler', optimised for photography, web browsing, graphic design, movies and games. But it doesn't stop there, the Huey also comes with a stand that enables it to sit by your computer and constantly measures the ambient or background lighting, changing your screen as the light in your room changes. This is considered suitable for amateur users but not accurate enough for semi-pro or professional use. If you need more control and like the Huey design and price, then you could consider the Huey Pro, which offers more control over brightness and contrast and allows you to choose the gamma and white point settings. Another key difference with the Huey Pro is the multiple monitor support.
Prices: Around £69 for the Huey and £90 for the Huey Pro.
Eye-One from X-Rite/GretagMacbeth.
The Eye-One is easy to use and is made up of a device and software to install on your computer. There are a number of versions available in their range from the Eye-One Display LT through to Eye-One XTreme which profiles not only screens, but also printers, projectors, cameras and editors. Here we cover the two dedicated screen profilers of the Eye-One LT and the Eye-One Display 2. As the higher versions use the same spectrophotometer it is possible with some suppliers to upgrade to the other versions, usually giving a discount on the price. For the multi gadget profilers see below.
The Eye-One 2 facilities include:
Getting accurate colour on screen is straightforward, after installing the supplied Eye-One Match software on your computer, plug the Eye-One into a USB port and run the software. Specify your monitor type (CRT, LCD or Laptop) and follow the instructions, place the sensor on your monitor. Depending on whether you chose the 'Easy Mode' or 'Advanced' options, the software will determine the optimum brightness and/or contrast settings (along with a few other things) and then go on to measure the colour performance of your screen. At the end of the process, which takes about 5-10 minutes, it creates an ICC profile, which is saved and made 'active'. This automatically becomes your default screen profile and you'll now be looking at images on screen that are as close to the original as your screen will allow. Once you've profiled your monitor, it is recommended that the process is repeated every 2 - 4 weeks (depending on your screen type and age) to maintain consistency and accuracy over time. Because the software is 'site licensed', you can install it on all your computers and laptops and simply plug the USB sensor into each computer as needed.
The difference between the Eye-One Display 2 and the Eye-One Display LT is in the software. The Eye-One LT only allows you to calibrate in Easy Mode and doesn't allow you to fine tune and measure your screens brightness, contrast and colour temperature before profiling. It does this by using pre-defined screen gamma and white point choices. It can be used on LCD, CRT and Laptop screens and connects to your computer via a USB port.
The Eye-One Display LT is available for around £110 and the Eye-One Display 2 around £141.
Spyder3 from Datacolor
Spyder 3 is the third generation of the Spyder technology and like the others mentioned so far involves the use of a profiling device and software. It works in much the same way as the others with the device being suspended in front of your screen either on a suction cap for CRT's, or by the use of a counterweight for LCD and laptop screens. It also comes with a desktop cradle which can be used for storage as well as continual ambient light monitoring. It does this by using an embedded sensor which automatically measures the ambient light within a room and provides you with options to change either your studio lighting or display profile if that light changes, I'm not sure if this is a useful facility or will be more of an annoyance factor. It maintains a history log of lighting conditions and is able to tell the different between a true lighting change from random fluctuations caused by studio flashes or shadows. Its software takes you through, step by step, on what both you need to do and it will do to create the profile, and once you have profiled your screen, it has a Super Fast ReCAL option which allows re-calibration on a more frequent basis or before any shoot or post-production project, by reducing the calibration time. It has 16 white point and gamma combinations built in allowing you to use the photo industry standard or options to best match your working conditions. It also has a function it calls 'SpyderProof', which allows you to evaluate the calibration, before and after, using targeted photos, concentrating on the saturated colours, skin tones, gradients and Black & White as well as softproofing your own custom profiles. You can zoom in on any of the photos to analyse highlights, shadow detail, colour or tonal response.
There are two Spyder3 screen profiling devices currently, the Spyder3 Pro which calibrates screens only, and the Spyder3Elite which calibrates screens and projectors. They both work in the same way, although the Elite has more facilities like unlimited user-defined choices of white point, gamma and luminance, the ability to get more control over the settings, by using the interface direct rather than through the normal wizard display and on spot colour measuring allowing custom measures of any spot colour on the display for analysis and comparison.
Prices: Spyder3Pro costs around £100, while the Spyder3Elite is around £130.
Screen Profiling Summary
As you can see a screen profiler can be obtained for under £150 and it is worth investing in at least a screen profiler as it will be something that will be in constant use.
Multi Gadget Profiling
Another option, if from the start you also want printer profiling or you know you will want to upgrade to it later is to consider a combined screen and printer profiling system or a multi gadget profiling system like those by X-Rite/GregTagMacbeth. They have the Eye-One upgradeable system and also a New system called ColorMunki Photo which is half the price of the Eye-One system, but is not expandable and only allows you to profile Screens and Printers.
The newest kid on the block and it's most significant selling point is the cost, being half the price of the Eye-One Basic and XTreme. It will produce profiles for screens, projectors and RGB and CMYK printers. It attaches to your computer via the USB port and comes with a pouch and strap for use when doing screen profiles, the strap is weighted to counter balance the weight of the sensor when hung over your screen. There is a small protective shutter in the soft case which needs to be opened before measurements are taken. There is also a central dial which has to be set to a particular position depending on what you are profiling with the device. For screen profiling the software allows for a fairly limited choice of settings, with its default settings it will calibrate your monitor to 6500K and a gamma of 2.2. However there is an advanced mode which offers various settings in relation to white point, gamma, and ambient light.
For printer profiling you start by printing out a test chart, measure the colours and it uses the difference between the measured colours and what was sent to the printer to produce a set of corrections and it is these corrections that goes into the ICC profile. The ColorMunki is trying to keep things simple and to this end only produces a test chart of 50 colours, other systems like the Eye-One you can normally select from a number of different test charts with varying numbers of coloured squares on them. Unlike the others once it has read the first chart it then calculates a second chart which has to be printed and profiled and it uses the combination of both these readings to form the ICC profile. It also comes with Photo Color Picker software which allows you to create custom palettes and make 'spot' measurements of colours which allows the building up of palettes and colour schemes for the more advanced user. It is not currently an expandable system.
We haven't tried this system, but if anyone has one then please let us know as we would like to do some tests to see how accurate this is. We would suspect that this would not be as good as the more expensive systems with a larger number of squares, but without actually trying it and looking at the results we're not sure if this would be a noticeable drop in quality of perfectly acceptable.
ColorMunki Photo retails for around £365.
Eye-One Basic (i1)
The Eye-One Basic package is a screen profiler only, which at first sight appears expensive, especially as we have already pointed out there are devices on the market for profiling screens at under £150. However the makers of this have decided to market this to professional photographers and users and make it an upgradeable expandable system. The Eye-One system packages uses the same spectrophotometer to carry out the tasks irrelative of what you are profiling and so this accounts for why this appears to be more expensive, in that you are buying the most expensive part of the kit initially and when you want to add printer profiling, or other modules later, you merely buy an access code to allow you to access the software that allows you to do this.
In the initial Eye-One Basic Kit you get the Spectrophotometer which connects to your computer via a USB cable, and the i1Match Software and other items, such as a device to mount it on a CRT screen, a weighted strap mount for LCD and laptop screens and other smaller items. The software guides you step by step through the process of profiling, but it also has an 'Easy Mode' and Advanced mode settings. This basic kit provides all the tools and software requirements to profile a screen. The Spectrophotometer however is already set up to be able to add on other profiling tasks at a later date. Eye-One expandability means that with it's upgrade system of adding additional modules, by purchasing an access code, you can upgrade it to profile RGB printers • CMYK Printers • Scanner • Digital Projector (Beamer) • Digital Camera • i1Editor. When you are ready to do so, the prices for each of these models range from around £80 to add the scanner module, £164 for the RGB printer profiler (inkjet printers) or £295 for the ability to profile a digital projector.
If you are already an Eye-One Display 2 user, you can also upgrade to this system, however the upgrade is achieved by getting a reduction in the price, as this Basic System and beyond requires the use of a different spectrophotometer, to that provided with the Eye-One Display 2.
The Eye-One Basic retails for around £670 - if you upgrade from already having the Eye-One Display 2, then it's around £505.
Comparing it with the ColorMunki we need to add the Basic unit at £670 and printer module update at £164, a total of £834 but of course this does more.
Eye-One XTreme (i1)
i1XTreme is a professional kit. It offers professional colour management to profile Screens, RGB and CMYK Printers, Scanners, Digital Projectors, and Digital Cameras. It includes the spectrophotometer and i1Match profiling software. With i1XTreme, you’ll be able to obtain accurate colour on all your devices in your digital workflow, plus the ability to capture spot colours and flash/ambient light. i1Pro is supported by all major RIP manufacturers. Ideal for fine art and commercial photography, graphic design production and prepress professionals. It includes all the iMatch modules from the outset and does far more than many individual photographers, non-professional photographers will need, but has all the facilities and more of the other models in the Eye-One range already mentioned in this article.
As with all purchases which you should choose will depend on your needs and of course budget. All photographers should have at least the ability to profile the computer screen they use for editing and with an outlay of under £150, this is a good investment. It is also necessary to be able to profile your printer to get accurate colours, but whether you buy the profile equipment to be able to do this, or use the service of a remote profiling service, then that will be down to whether you are using more than one printer, ink or paper and of course your budget. We have only looked at the profiling equipment here, there are other ways of getting printer profiles, from buying software alone to remote profiling services.
I have provided some links below which will allow you to get more information on the products I have mentioned here and prices.
For more information see the links below
Updated: September 2008