This tutorial discusses using the Spyder4Express to calibrate most desktop screens – that is, screens which have buttons and menus to control contrast, brightness and colour.
(To the best of my knowledge, this tutorial should be fairly applicable to the Spyder3Pro as well, though not precisely.)
Before you begin, please make sure you’ve read this article.
Part 1: Screen setup
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.
Reset to factory defaults (first time only)
When you’re getting ready to calibrate for the very first time, you need to search the screen’s menu to find the setting that puts everything back to its starting point. Every screen is different, so I can’t tell you exactly where to find this function, but trust me, it’ll be there somewhere. It might be called "Reset Screen Defaults" or "Restore Factory Settings", or something like that. You get the idea.
(When you’re doing subsequent monthly calibrations, this reset step shouldn’t be necessary. But never say never – some screens may need that "kick in the pants" each time, if they won’t recalibrate easily.)
Move the OSD
On some screens, the OSD (on-screen display, ie the menu) is right in the middle by default. That’s no good, of course, because that’s where the calibration needs to take place.
Somewhere in the menus will be the controls for the OSD’s position. Find them, and move it over to one side, or down into a corner.
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.
Choose best colour setting
With your prints still in hand, it’s now time to find the best colour setting that your monitor offers. All monitors will have two or three (or more) colour presets – they’ll be called "Warm", "Normal" & "Cool", or "6500K", "7500K" & "9300K", or something like that. (Most will also have a "Custom" or "User RGB" setting, but we’ll try to avoid that complexity if possible.)
Pick the setting which matches your prints the best. If you’re in the lucky minority, you might find one that gives a really good match. But most of us simply have to accept the closest available setting, even if it doesn’t look perfect. Don’t worry, the calibration process will do the rest.
Part 2: Install software
Do you still have the disk that came with your Spyder? Great. Run it now to install the software.
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, light, resetting etc):
From the Go menu, choose Preferences:
Set the Recal warning for monthly, and turn on the "LCD Native" option, then press OK:
"Check for software updates" should be turned on by default. "Share calibration data" is up to you.
Press "OK" to exit Preferences.
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. Make sure it's sitting perfectly flat against the screen's surface.
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.
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.
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.
2. Try other settings
If plain recalibration doesn’t work, then you’ll need to try another colour preset on your screen. If you think the calibration result is too warm, try a cooler setting, or vice versa.
Then calibrate again, and see if you’re closer to a match.
3. Native off
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. To be honest, this didn’t make a lot of difference when I tested it, but this is the only variation available on the Spyder Express, so it’s definitely worth trying as a last resort.
Part 10: 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: Make a frank assessment about the quality of your monitor. If it’s a bit old, or rather cheap, or both, maybe it’s time to bequeath it to the kids, and buy yourself a better one. (General info about monitors here.)
- New calibrator: If you’re confident that your screen is new enough, and of high enough quality, then you should consider spending 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.