Calibrating Your Monitor to Your Printer

December 18, 2009

Photo Tips


Lets start with a few words of wisdom

  • Consistency is the key, color management is a means.
  • Generate consistency in these three areas of the digital workflow: Input, Process and Output.
  • There are 3 stages of color management to master:
    • Working with and establishing Color Space Profiles
    • Calibrating and Profiling Equipment
    • Converting Color Space Profiles to Output Profiles


Today I’m going to discuss monitor-printer calibration. The first thing to realize is that you do not calibrate a monitor to a printer (or to any other device). As a matter of fact, when you calibrate and profile your equipment, you will perform “Device Independent Calibration.” This means you will calibrate and profile your monitor to a known standard and then do the same for your printer. It was a different story ten years ago, when Device Dependent Calibration created tremendous variances in digital workflows to the point where you had to become an expert to enjoy a certain level of consistency. You’ll be happy to know it’s much easier – if not practically automatic – these days.

Here’s what you need to know.
Regarding monitor calibration, there are two objectives involved: (1) color temperature and (2) gamma or luminance target. Set your options to 6500K or D65 which stands for 6500 Kelvin Degrees color temperature. Then use a gamma setting of 2.2 or a luminance value of 120 (the recommended luminance value may differ depending on your device). For the best calibration accuracy and consistency, use a colorimeter – a device that you position onto your monitor screen – instead of a system level calibration interface.

How deep is your love…?
Or should I say, how deep is your dynamic contrast range…? All monitors are not the same in resolution, contrast ratio, LED, or CRT Phosphor technology. In short, you get what you pay for. The more you know about your monitor and your monitor’s limitations, the easier it becomes to predict your final results. As long as your monitor’s phosphors haven’t burned out, centering the color temperature and gamma value should allow you to see excellent color and the best tonal values your monitor has to offer.

During monitor calibration using a colorimeter, the device will compare a series of color patches with known numeric values of each color. If your monitor displays these colors with different values, the colorimeter generates a kind of “viewing filter” to compensate for any phosphor discrepancies. At the end of the calibration process, you can SAVE this as your monitor’s profile known as the “system profile.”

Next, your printer. Okay, if I were to assume that we all used the same printer this would be a no-brainer to show how to calibrate it. But chances are you have a different printer than I do, or use a different lab than I do. So, with this in mind, let’s talk about what you need to know.

Calibrating and Profiling your printer
The really great news is that on the user level, most inkjet printers today have automatic self-calibration procedures known as Cleaning Utility for nozzles and Print Head Alignment. If your printing becomes inconsistent, these basic tools are the first place to look. However, aside from extreme cases, you will find that today’s printers are more consistent in self-calibration than ever before.

This brings up the next step which is “profiling” the printer. Using ICC Profiles for a printing device will often make the difference in successful color matching workflow. “Color matching” means getting what you see on your monitor from your printer – but let’s not forget that your monitor emits luminated diodes of LED phosphors in red, green and blue; your printer (let’s assume inkjet) mixes a variety of CMYK inks onto a completely different substrate. The point is, you are viewing two renditions of your image, and you should learn and expect the idiosyncrasies between them in order to achieve predicable results.

How to get ICC Profiles for your printer
You should first know that a printer’s ICC Profile is designed for a specific paper type (i.e. glossy, canvas, matte, etc.) to be used along with the printer in its calibrated state. For the most part, when you install the printer’s driver it will automatically install a series of “stock” manufacturer’s profiles for you to use instantly. These “stock” profiles are good but are made conservatively for the masses. Unless you have a professional-level printer, these profiles may not yield your desired results. For more advanced printers, you can go to the manufacturer’s website and locate ICC Profiles for their printer/paper combinations. Accordingly, some paper companies offer ICC Profiles for their paper with various printers. Another option is to hire a professional to calibrate your systems, create custom profiles, and set up your workflow. If you use an outside lab for your printing, they typically have done the profiling already, so you only need be concerned about the color space your file is in (i.e. Adobe RGB, etc.).

The best solution in my opinion is the X-Rite Color Munki Photo. Using this device you can select “Match My Printer to My Display.” This will take you through an easy-to-follow, step-by-step method of calibrating your monitor that establishes your own custom ICC Profiles for your printer, paper, and even your shooting style. Give yourself several hours to carefully arrange your own custom color matching workflow, and I think you will be very pleased.


Where do ICC Profiles go in my computer?
Whether you use a calibration process or a device to create custom printer profiles, the software will automatically position the profiles in the “Color” folder in your system. If you download a profile from the internet or a CD and need to place it, follow these directories:

MAC: /Users/[UserName]/Library/ColorSync/Profiles
PC: C:\Windows\System32\Spool\Drivers\Color

Driver UI (user interface) Settings for printing
When you’re ready to send an image to your printer, you should choose a printer profile to convert to from either your processing software’s printer interface (i.e. Photoshop, Lightroom, DPP) or the manufacturer’s print driver – you do not want to choose a profile in both. Under “Color Management” in the driver, select “Manage by Printer” or “Let Photoshop Manage Color.” When you adjust settings to convert to the printer profile, you have a choice of the conversion method or rendering intent; the best choice will be either “Perceptual” or “Relative Colorimetric.” Personally, I use “Perceptual” for most of my rendering intent conversions.


Here are a few pro tips:

  • Compare one monitor to another after calibration. To do this, first calibrate both monitors, open the same image on both, and fill the screen. You should see pretty much the same color, but you may see a larger difference in the tonal value (contrast range). This could be due to manufacturer variation, but most likely the monitors have different contrast ratios. Nothing new here, but what you should do is study the difference so you know what the lesser ratio monitor isn’t showing you. This is typical of my workstation: 30″ display against my 17″ PowerBook. The PowerBook ratio is much less, but by using this simple technique I’ve learned how to account for the difference while on location.
  • Remember, half the battle of color management is calibrating your monitor. The other half is so enormous that I wrote a book about it with CM expert Rick Lucas; the book is Practical Color Management and is available via a link from my website. Rick and I also have a CM interactive DVD produced by Software-Cinema which is also available from my website,
  • Go for getting predictable and consistent results rather than EASMPMS, or exact absolute super mondo perfect matching system•which doesn’t actually exist.
  • Visit for a complete list of calibration equipment including the Color Munki Photo.
  • Don’t forget the great gifts from:

    Don’t miss out on this one:
    Maui Photo Adventure
    April 19-23, 2010
    Maui, Hawaii
    Great Holiday Gift


This post was written by:

- who has written 10 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Eddie Tapp is an award-winning photographer, lecturer, consultant, and author on digital imaging issues. With over 25 years of experience in computer technology, Eddie has been actively involved in educating and consulting corporations, studios and agencies in the applications of digital imaging workflow, color management, pre-press and digital photography globally through workshops, seminars, on-site consulting and training. He’s the author of Photoshop Workflow Setups and Practical Color Management, the first two in a series, Eddie Tapp on Digital Photography, published by O’Reilly Media.

Contact the author

3 Responses to “Calibrating Your Monitor to Your Printer”

  1. Damien Franco Says:

    Great article. Calibrating your computer monitor to your printer has gotten so much easier over the years. I used to waste tons of paper and eventually moved my printing output to an online professional lab. Recently I’ve acquired an Epson R2880 and have fallen back in love with my digital darkroom. It doesn’t get much better than having that control and timeliness back in my hands. Loving it.



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