Spyder4Express calibration tutorial – Macs & laptops
This tutorial discusses using the Spyder4Express to calibrate screens which have no adjustability other than their brightness. This includes:
- All Macs
- All laptops
- Those all-in-one PCs that are trying to be Macs
- Very cheap desktop screens with no buttons or menus to control their colour
(To the best of my knowledge, this tutorial should be fairly applicable to the Spyder3Pro as well.)
Before you begin, please make sure you’ve read this article.
Part 1: Brightness
The SpyderExpress doesn’t adjust the brightness of your screen, nor even give you any guidance about it, so you have to do it manually before you start.
Make sure your screen has been turned on for at least fifteen minutes before starting this process.
Make sure you’re in good light. Viewing prints in dim light is a futile exercise. It needs to be bright enough, and white enough. Read this if you haven't already done so.
Adjust brightness to match prints
Compare your prints to your screen, and adjust the screen’s brightness to get an acceptable match. Remember, don’t hold the print close to the screen – it must be out to the side, so you have to turn your head to compare.
Please don’t agonise over this brightness step. Near enough is good enough.
If you’ve never adjusted the brightness of your screen before, it’s likely to seem horribly dim to you at first. Don’t worry, you’ll be used to it in no time at all, and you’ll wonder how you ever tolerated it so bright before.
Part 2: Install software
Do you still have the disk that came with your Spyder? Great. Run it now to install the software.
But what if you don't have the disk, or a disk drive? No problem, the software is available on the DataColor website for PC here and Mac here.
After you’ve installed, plug the calibrator into a USB port, and launch the software.
Part 3: Setup
On the Welcome screen, you’ll see all of the advice that I’ve already given you (about warm up and light):
In the "Display Controls" section, please ignore the first two instructions about Contrast and Color Temperature. They don’t apply to your screen. The third point, about Brightness, is very relevant, but we already addressed it in Part 1 of this tutorial.
From the Go menu, choose Preferences:
Set the Recal warning for monthly, and turn on the "LCD Native" option, then press OK:
"Netbook controls" are only if needed if you have a very small screen, and the Advanced Settings don’t apply to Mac and laptop screens as far as I can tell.
Press "OK" to exit Preferences.
Check all four checkboxes, then press "Next" at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen to continue:
"Check for software updates" should be turned on by default. "Share calibration data" is up to you. "Netbook controls" are only if needed, of course.
Press "Next" at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen to continue.
No mystery here – all of us have LCD or Laptop screens nowadays:
On every screen in the software, the Help button is readily available. Always take a moment to use it if you need to. I must say I’m very impressed with Datacolor’s help documentation.
Make and Model
I must confess I don’t understand the purpose of this screen. Maybe it’s just so that Datacolor has a reference for your calibration data, if you’ve chosen to share it with them. Anyway, I dutifully chose my manufacturer from the drop-down menu, and typed in the model of my laptop:
This section really is important. The Help document says to leave these menus on "unknown" if you genuinely don’t know the answers, but please make the effort to find out the answers if you don’t know.
If you have a wide-gamut screen, I’m sure you’ll know about it, because your wallet will be that much lighter because of it. Most laptop and Mac screens are normal gamut, but check your paperwork if you’re not sure.
(Please don’t mix up wide gamut with wide format. Wide format screens are … y’know, wide. 16:9 shape, or whatever. "Wide Gamut" refers to the range of colours they can show. If the salesman boasted to you about a "110% gamut" or "Adobe RGB gamut" screen, it means wide-gamut.)
The Backlight should also be fairly easy. If you have an LED screen, the manual or your invoice should tell you. Many newer screens are LED nowadays. If you do have an LED screen, it’s almost certainly White LED. RGB LED screens are still pretty rare and expensive.
My laptop is a bit older, so it’s a regular LCD screen, with flourescent backlighting:
Part 4: Lights out
At this point, if you haven’t already, turn off the lights or pull the blinds, or whatever. For your best chance of accurate calibration, make your room as dark as possible.
Part 5: Calibration
Tilt the screen back, and use the counterweight on the cord to hang the sensor over the back, so it’s positioned roughly on the diagram on the screen.
Click "Next" to begin the calibration process.
For a few minutes, the device will read a range of colours:
NOTE: Please wiggle your mouse every few seconds while calibrating. It’s probably completely unnecessary, but do it anyway. The last thing you need is for your screen to dim itself from lack of activity after a minute or two – that throws the whole calibration into a cocked hat, believe me. Of course, don’t let the mouse pointer go underneath the device – just keep it at the side.
Once the Spyder has taken all its measurements, remove it from the screen, and press "Finish":
Part 6: The results
Here, you get a screen with a "Switch" button which allows you to compare your screen with and without its new profile. It’s fun, but fairly pointless, so don’t linger here very long. Press Next to continue.
This screen tells you the profile has been saved:
This screen is a bit more important than the others, because it tells you the gamut of your screen. But that’s still not particularly important, because the gamut is what it is – there’s nothing you can do to change it.
In this screenshot, you can see that my humble laptop screen has a gamut of 69% of sRGB. But you can see that it in fact exceeds sRGB in the red-to-green part of the spectrum. What does it all mean? Nothing, really, except to serve as a reminder that I’d be utterly wasting my time if I was working in Adobe RGB for my image editing.
Press "Quit" to finish.
Part 7: Lights up
Turn your lights back on, or open the blinds, or whatever.
Part 8: The comparison
Now that the calibration is finished, it’s time to check the results, by comparing some prints. I explained this process on this page.
If you are satisfied that you have an acceptable match, then your work is done. You may begin editing, or go and have a beer, or something.
Part 9: Troubleshooting
First, consider your light
Please never underestimate the impact your surrounding light has on this calibration/comparison process. If your light is too dim or too yellow (both VERY common problems) it will always make your prints seem darker and/or yellower than they really are, and cause you to think that your screen is too bright and/or cold.
If you think, or even suspect, that your light is the culprit, take steps to rectify it. Get brighter/whiter bulbs if you can, or at least try assessing your prints in daylight. I would hate to be wasting your time with all of these calibration adjustments if the calibration wasn’t actually the problem.
If you’re sure the light is ok, read on …
Even though you adjusted brightness before commencing, you might find that you’re not entirely happy with the brightness level you chose.
In that case, just re-adjust the brightness, then run the calibration again.
You might be thinking "Really? I have to recalibrate after tweaking the brightness?" Strictly speaking, yes. The calibration process creates a profile which is an exact description of the characteristics of your monitor at that point in time. If you adjust anything, the profile isn’t relevant any more.
However, if you only tweak ever so slightly, and you’re not a raging nerd about your imaging, then you can probably get away with it until next month’s calibration. Just don’t tell anyone I told you that!
If you are unhappy with the colour of your calibrated screen … well, the Spyder Express doesn’t give you much flexibility, I’m afraid.
This is the crux of the matter. When you spend a small amount of money, you get a small amount of calibration control. Therefore, this “Troubleshooting” section is fairly short, because your options are limited.
First, please let me reiterate – have some tolerance. Calibration isn’t some kind of magic. It can never make ink on paper exactly match light coming from a screen. "Acceptably close" is what we’re aiming for.
So, if the colour isn’t to your liking, the first thing to do is recalibrate. Exactly as before. Make doubly sure that the device is sitting perfectly flush against the screen, so that no light can leak in. And remember to move your mouse occasionally during the readings, to prevent screen dimming.
If you fear your surrounding light might be too bright, you might go as far as putting a thick towel over the whole computer while the calibration is running:
If plain recalibration doesn’t work, then there is only one option remaining. Go back to Preferences …
… and turn off "LCD Native":
Then calibrate again.
That exhausts your options, I’m afraid. You really only have two – Native on or off. Try both, and see which one you like best.
If all else fails
If, after numerous calibration attempts, you can’t get a result you like, you have four options:
- Contact Datacolor: They’re the experts, after all. See if they have a solution for you. Maybe you’ve got some kind of graphics card glitch, or something.
- Lower your expectations: Choose the best calibration, and live with it.
- New screen: Consider buying a good external monitor to run off your laptop. (General info about monitors here.) Or maybe you’ve already got a desktop screen lying around your office you could plug in and try?
- New calibrator: Spend some extra money on a higher-level calibrator that gives more control over colour.
After one month has passed, the Spyder software will remind you to recalibrate.
If you’ve installed a new version of the software in that time, you’ll need to go through all of the above steps again. However, if nothing has changed, you can quickly recalibrate by simply choosing “Full Calibration” from the Go menu:
If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.