If you are quite serious about graphical editing,
photographic retouch or general digital video then a good monitor
setup can be very important. Lets say, for example, that you notice
that when you capture video or when you scan in a photograph the
picture looks too dark. You think, right, open it in Paint Shop
Pro or VirtualDub and change the brightness…bingo! All done! But
if your monitor were set up incorrectly then you may send your
new video or picture to your friends on the Internet and they
will tell you it is too bright! It is absolutely impossible to
do correct digital editing unless we have our monitors set up
right!! In this guide I will do my best to offer some sound advice
on what you can do to get the best out of your monitor. Of course
what you can do will depend on the quality of monitor and also
what colour management software you have installed.
Choice of Monitor
My cousin has a cheap 14-inch monitor and it's very
hard to do any serious video or picture editing on it. It's not
that bad as monitors go, in fact the average PC game player wouldn't
complain because it's a perfectly normal PC screen. But for digital
editing use the screen is just too dark and blurry. It does, however,
have one weird yet redeeming feature - almost every DivX movie
I play on it looks perfect! This is not my genius at work its
just the monitor! Even quite bad quality movies and mpegs look
better than they should because the screens fuzziness gets rid
of most of the macroblocks. The same result can be seen if we
use a graphics card to output a mpeg movie to a normal TV. You
will usually find that even quite blocky mpeg movies will look
like VHS video on a normal TV set. This is because TV sets give
quite fuzzy images compared to the average PC monitor. This fact
probably explains the great difference of opinion on the quality
of Divx movies we see. You know, those people who say they have
managed to fit the whole of Saving Private Ryan on a single 1.4MB
floppy disk and that it looks DVD quality. That's probably because
their monitor shows them high fuzz. As soon as they send it to
show someone else they are gonna look quite stupid!
People in general are quite happy to pay out hundreds
of pounds on a state of the art graphics cards but probably tend
to scrimp when it comes to their choice of monitor. But considering
the amount of time we spend looking at the screen perhaps we should
put a little more thought into what monitor we choose. If you
are a graphics professional then a good monitor is absolutely
vital. You are looking at a price easily of between £300-£2000
depending on your budget. There are actually only four manufacturers
in the world who make CRT screens and they are: Sony, NEC, Mitsubishi
and Hitachi. All other companies buy from them and put their names
on the technology! If you are not too knowledgeable about monitors
I suggest you look for anything that says "Trinitron CRT
display". Sony Trinitron technology gives one of the best
quality outputs you can buy. Other great names to look for are
Barco and Viewsonic both of which give excellent results.
You can still get good quality monitors that can
be used for the semiprofessional at a fraction of the cost of
these of course. The only real test is with the eye. Check out
the screens for yourself and see what you think. Always check
a monitor after it has been turned on for half an hour to give
it time to warm up. If you have the chance change the windows
desktop to a neutral gray and check to see if any other colours
show (green or red tints etc). If you see any colours walk on
to your next monitor.
The first rule in buying is no liquid crystals screens!
Only buy tube style monitors. If you have a laptop you cannot
do meaningful video or graphic editing. The second rule is: buy
the flattest screen you can find. The third rule is: look for
the smallest dot pitch (i.e. choose 0.25 rather than 0.26 and
0.23 rather than 0.25). Obviously you want a monitor with all
the other goodies too: we want at least a 17 inch monitor. We
want a high refresh rate (between 80-90hz) and a high resolution
i.e. 1280 x 1024 or better. There are some quite cheap ones on
the market that fill these shoes, for example CTX monitors.
A friend of mine tried their hand at retouching
their photograph collection by scanning them into the computer
and editing out scratches and stuff like that. I went to their
house and examined what they had done and thought they had done
a pretty good job of things. Then I took a copy of their picture
to my computer to my horror the image looked terrible. It was
obvious that it had been retouched! The only difference between
my computer and their computer was the monitor. I went and set
up their monitor correctly for them and since then everything
has been fine.
In a design studio regular calibration is a way
of life. There are all sorts of packages to calibrate the scanners,
printers, monitors etc. Calibration is a very important and serious
issue. The scanner must scan as close to the original picture
as possible. The picture on the monitor must look almost exactly
as the one printed out on the printer etc., etc. Unless everything
is set up correctly we would waste hours of time trying to match
colours. In reality it is impossible to match everything, but
nevertheless we can only do the best we can and then its time
to grin and bare it!
If you are a graphics professional you would do
well to invest in a colorimeter to set up your display. There
are also some quite cheap monitor colour management applications
you can buy that can either work alone or in conjunction with
a colorimeter. ColorBlind's ProveIt! is one example (www.color.com).
For the semiprofessional Adobe Photoshop's Gamma
feature may be all you need. If you have Adobe Photoshop installed
on your computer go to your control panel and double click on
Adobe Gamma. Adobe Gamma is a handy wizard that will help you
easily set up your monitor better for digital editing. I will
speak more about this a little later.
The Basic Setup Procedure
If you don't have Adobe Photoshop or any colour
management software that can correct your monitors gamma and setup
there is not a great deal you can do. This basic setup procedure
is the bare minimum you will be able to do alone. If you have
more advanced software then you can continue to the advanced setup
section below it.
Obviously your graphics card should be a modern
one that supports at least 24 bit colour. Make sure it is set
on the highest best quality colour settings before you start to
set up your monitor. To do this, right-click on your desktop and
choose properties from the drop down menu. Up will pop your display
properties. Then go to the settings tab and select 24 bit (or
32 bit or 64 bit etc., as long as its above 24 bit you will be
okay). Select apply and close.
Heat & Light
Before you calibrate any monitor you must wait until
it has warmed up. It is advised that you leave it on about an
hour before you start. Never adjust a monitor that has direct
sunlight shining on it. You want a well lit room that is not too
bright and that doesn't cast harsh reflections on the screen.
Have you ever noticed that when it is very sunny and it is hitting
your monitor that turning up the brightness will make it easier
to see? Yes, this is because the monitor brightness is competing
with the sunlight. If there is bright lights hitting your monitor
you will set it up wrongly.
Brightness & Contrast
Everything starts with the brightness and contrast.
Adjust your monitor's contrast and brightness controls until the
black looks pitch black and the white looks brilliant white. It
doesn't matter if your gamma or any other settings are off yet,
getting the white and black levels are the most important first
the contrast control
The contrast actually controls the luminance level
of the monitor. That is, it controls how bright each pixel on
your screen will be relative to each other, in short it sets how
bright the brightest pixel can become. It is often easiest just
to set the contrast up full power, this will always guarantee
pure white. If later you find that the white "oozes" too much
(see pixel clarity below) then you can adjust the contrast to
compensate a little
the brightness control
The brightness control actually controls what is
called the black-point of the screen. Its the opposite of the
contrast control in that it regulates how dark the darkest pixels
will end up. Before we can accurately adjust the brightness we
need something to compare it to. To do that we use the boarder
of our monitors.
Find your monitors screen resize controls. They
should look something like this:
Then shrink your screen so you can see the black area behind it
(A). It doesn't matter if
your screen is out of shape, we are only doing this to gauge brightness
and will change the screen back later.
The black boarder around the screen has no pixels
and no electron beams hitting it. It is as pure a black as your
monitor can get! You now need to go to your desktop and change
the background to pure black. To do this, right-click on your
desktop and choose properties from the drop down menu. Up will
pop your display properties. Then go to the background tab and
choose none. Then switch to the 'Appearance' tab and press the
colour button and choose black. The default black here is RGB
0,0,0 and is pure black. You should also clean up the desktop
so there are few or no icons on it because this spoils your judgment.
Great! Now turn up the brightness full or until
the desktop looks much brighter than the boarder. Then slowly
lower the brightness setting until it is the same blackness as
the boarders black. Do NOT just turn it right down because that
destroys all your screen gradients. You want to slowly turn the
brightness down until its just barely brighter than the boarder,
so its so close that you almost cannot tell if there is a boarder
at all, but so the screen is just barely brighter than the boarder.
If you do not have Adobe Gamma or any advanced colour management
software here is something you can try to help make the best of
a bad situation:
If you do NOT have Adobe Gamma
Having correct gamma allows us the best range of
visible tones in an image. If we cannot control the gamma correctly
it may still be possible to at least be able to see most of that
range by fiddling with our monitor setup. If we cannot clearly
see these changes in tone then its going to be hard to, for example,
do any serious retouch work since it may look perfect in the tones
we can see but bad in those darker or lighter tones.
The above picture shows a grayscale of about thirty
individual tones. The far left is pure black and the far right
is pure white. I suggest you mess about with your monitor brightness
and any extra options you have been given with your graphics card
to make it so you can see as many changes in tone as possible.
The picture underneath it is given to help show where these changes
in tone appear. You will probably find that there will be a couple
of tones either end that you just cannot see. Be careful not to
make one side all black or all white. If you loose the tones either
side you are making a bad situation worse.
Note: Do not mess about with your brightness
and card settings if you have Adobe Photoshop or a good colour
management utility since it may mess up the whole idea of gamma
Colour Gun Correction.
Look very carefully at the following gradient again.
It should be pure black going up until it reaches white, there
is no colour in it at all. If you notice a slight tinge of red
or green or blue then its very likely your monitor colour guns
are set slightly out. As you know any computer monitor uses three
electron guns to fire electricity at the screen. One targets the
red phosphor dots the other the green and the other the blue.
It is the mixing of the red, green and blue colours that give
us all the millions of colours on our computer screen. But if
one of the three guns is too strong or weak you will notice a
slight tinge of colour.
Most modern monitors allow you to adjust the Red,
Green and Blue settings on your monitor to compensate for this.
Some monitors have switches on the back but many will have it
in an on screen selection instead. Check your monitors manual
for details of how to adjust them. If your monitor doesn't have
any control over the colour guns at all then you may be able to
do this adjustment with your graphics cards options. Since there
are so many monitors and graphics cards you will have to check
your manual for all details on how to set them.
Fixing the colour guns is quite easy in theory,
you just need to play about with them until your screen looks
right. As a rule a yellow tinge can be corrected by adding more
blue. A pink tinge can be corrected by adding more green. And
a blue tinge can be corrected by adding more red. Of course if
more than one gun is out then you will get all sorts of colours.
But you will only need very tiny alterations to fix them.
After the brightness and contrast have been sorted
out, you can now resize your monitor so the picture is square
again. When you resize your screen make sure you can see all of
it. The corners of the screen should not disappear off the edges
anywhere. To make this easier, turn the desktop a light colour
in the same way we turned it black. I suggest you use sky blue
or gray, do not use pure white. Next, since PC screens use perfectly
square pixels, we must resize the screen so the pixels are all
equal. To do this look at the following picture:
This isn't a special test grid or anything its just
a geometric shape I made up. Some graphics cards offer a similar
screen. The idea is that when you resize your screen you should
do the final size adjustments so that the squares in the picture
are perfectly square and the circles are perfectly circular. If
the squares start to look rectangular or the circles look oval
shaped you must adjust the screen size until they are correct.
If it helps you can use a ruler on the screen to measure the width
This geometric image also serves us for getting
the contrast correct. Since PC screens emit light, sometimes the
pixels will glow too strongly making sharp lines blurry. This
blur is highly dependent on the monitor you use and the dot pitch.
Each line in the picture above is a single pixel (dot) thick.
If you notice the lines are not very sharp or as crisp as they
could be, try altering the contrast or brightness a tiny tiny
bit until they become less fuzzy.
That's it! the monitor has has the perfect brightness
and contrast levels. The colour guns are correctly set up and
all the pixels are as sharp as they can be. What's next?
Advanced Setup Procedure
The slightly more advanced setup procedure involves
using Adobe Gamma to get the correct monitor management profile
for your system. This utility comes with the full version of Adobe
Photoshop 5.x and higher. Adobe Gamma sets an ICC (International
Color Consortium) profile for your computer system. What that
means is everything on your computer, not just Adobe Photoshop,
will now follow these colour correction settings. Apart from giving
you a display that shows the optimum shades and colours you can
with your monitor, it should also automatically make whatever
graphics you print a much closer match to that on screen! Windows
will save this monitor setup as an *.icm file and always use it
when it starts. If you reinstall your computer I suggest you back
up your ICM file from C:\Windows/System/Color.
Anyway, lets get started with Adobe Gamma.
Go to your control panel and double click on Adobe
Up will pop the Adobe Gamma settings. Select the
wizard option since its easiest to use and just as detailed as
the manual. The first screen will ask what Monitor profile you'd
like to start out with. It doesn't really matter which you choose,
the default option is usually the best since it is based on your
monitor. If you wish to load another one select the load button,
otherwise press Next >.
The next screen offers the option to set up the
brightness and contrast settings. We have already spoken about
how to do this but you now have the chance to double check. The
center box is all we are concerned about here, it may even be
very hard to see at first so turn your brightness right up. Then
lower it slowly until you almost cannot see the center box and
you'll have it perfect.
Now it will make sure you are using the correct
phosphor dot profile for your monitor. This option doesn't really
matter since we are configuring everything by hand anyway. If
you know what monitor setting to use select it, otherwise select
P22-EBU. This selection is not vital so don't fuss and worry about
it. If you choose the wrong one it probably will not matter much.
The next is the gamma option which is the main reason
we are using Adobe Gamma. Uncheck the box that says 'View Single
Gamma Only' so that we can see the Red, Green and Blue correction
bars. The drop down selection box will offer Macintosh Default
and Windows Default options. Just select the default one for Windows
or the Mac. It also offers the choice to do a custom one but that
is not really needed.
To correct the Red, Green and Blue balance move
each slider bar left and right until the center squares look almost
invisible and all you can see is a block of colour. I suggest
you spend some time making sure, the better you set it by eye
the better the results will be. Try moving a few feet away from
your monitor and slightly squinting your eyes. Then adjust each
one until you are happy. When done press Next
Next it will ask you to select which lighting condition
you use with your monitor. These lighting conditions i.e. daylight,
warm white, cool white etc., are called the 'White point' setting.
Selecting warm or cool lights bring out their own distinctive
colours with them based on temperature. For example a low temperature.
will give a warm glow like that of a sunny day; higher temperatures
will give the the cold harshness of a neon lamp. Most monitors
will default to an average heat of 9300'K. I suggest you use the
default setting. If you think it may be wrong or want to set a
different white point on your monitor, then check your monitor
manual. Most modern monitors will let you select what white point
they should use. There are only two realistic choices: either
use the default 9300'K or 6500'K which I am told is the preferred
choice among professionals.
If you think you are really good with colour you
can try and guess the white point by choosing the measure button.
After pressing it, up will pop three gray boxes (as seen below).
You want to make the center gray the most colourless gray you
can. It must not have any tinge of colour in it at all. To do
this you should click on the left and right squares to modify
the center's colour. Clicking on the left square tells it you
want the center square to be more like the left and clicking on
the right says you want the center square more like the right
colour. Once the center square is a perfect gray, then you should
click on the center square and it will save your choice as a custom
Next it offers an option that at first appears confusing;
it asks if you'd like to work at a setting other than your monitors
white point setting. This can be handy if you cannot change the
monitors white point but need to work in another temperature.
But usually it will be best for you to choose the 'Same as Hardware'
Woohoo, that's it! To test that the before and after
settings are an improvement you can swap between the two by checking
either box. I suggest you open up a detailed picture in Photoshop
and try the before and after options again. Hopefully if you've
done a good job you will be amazed at the difference. If you don't
like the change try going back and playing with previous settings
until you are happy the colour has been corrected right.
Once you are done select the Finish button and your
setting will be saved.
The most common problem with any monitor setup is
that the pictures end up with too much shadow on them. The picture
of the fruit on the left illustrates the shadow problem while
the picture on the right represents a colour corrected one.
Even after using Adobe Gamma some systems still
do not show the full range of tones clearly. If you find that
after all the configuration is over you are still having some
problems with too much shadow then I suggest you play about with
the brightness setting of your monitor or graphics card. In my
opinion its better to have it a little too bright than a little
too dark. This way you have more chance of seeing the full range
of tones. Just be careful and use your common sense - your eye
should always have the final say.