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I've read around a lot on the whole color-management thing. Gamut. Calibration...

How can I know what my monitor is capable of?

At home I have a Samsung 220wm and at work I have some older IBM ThinkVisions. I'm assuming that these are not wide-gamut monitors. How do I know if I care? Can I use the calibration profile to tell me? When I view some of the calibration images out there, I can see the greyscale steps just fine. The color transitions look pretty even.

For me the whole point is to help me get prints that look good. Definitely not high end stuff; just shots to hang on my wall.

As a related question, I've seen videos and screenshots that visualize the color-spaces in a 3d graph. Is there such a visualizer that runs on win7? If I understand everything correctly, I could view the profile of my monitor together with that of the local costco printers to see how I'm doing. Does this make sense?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Frankly, for most purposes, "close enough" really is close enough. If you are doing critical work it's usually for a good enough reason to make the cost of something like a Lacie Blue Eye monitor/calibration system just a part of the cost of doing business -- it'll pay for itself before too long. Or at least you'd be maintaining some hope that it will.

For most hobby purposes, as long as there's a reasonable match between what you're seeing on-screen and on paper (no major surprises, like purple blues or orange reds, nothing is much darker or brighter -- you'll want to be close enough that it'll take some looking back and forth and hemming and hawing before you see really, really minor differences) you're good to go. You may not be able to satisfy an art director with a book of Pantone swatches clasped firmly in hand, but that was never the aim, was it? Most consumer monitors only cover the majority of the aRGB color space, and they're perfectly adequate for all but the fussiest work.

Your Samsung, though it is getting long in the tooth, supports 24-bit color (which is more than a lot of low-end LCD monitors really support these days). The contrast is a little bit low (critical calibration may not like it) and is probably lower now than when it was new, but it should be adequate for most work -- habituation will take care of the dynamic range (um, I mean your eyes will adjust). If you can see the difference between 255,255,255 and 254,254,254 and between 0,0,0 and 1,1,1 (put a square of one in the middle of a square of the other -- you may not be able to actually tell the colors apart, but you should be able to see the edges) then you've got enough to work with.

The IBMs, though, are probably not up to the task. IBM has made some amazingly good imaging monitors, but they're not the sort of thing that ended up in a cubicle farm very often -- they usually wound up in medical imaging departments. Still, if you can empirically prove them to be "close enough", then they are probably close enough. You never know -- you may have stumbled across a pair of the good ones.

If you are thinking about going pro, then those minor differences start to count. (You'll probably want to chose somewhere other than Costco for your printing as well.) You can start with a more sophisticated monitor calibration, like the Spyder 3 system. A wide-gamut monitor wouldn't be a waste of money either. If you're shooting advertising, then trading your car for a Lacie 30" setup might actually be worth it. But unless you are what they (tongue in cheek) call a "well-heeled amateur", there's no sense spending money where you don't have to.

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Are you suggesting that even hardware calibration (a la Spyder) isn't really necessary? Where did you find the info on the monitors? – mmccoo Feb 8 '11 at 21:48
Hardware calibration is a nicety -- it's better to have it than not, but eyeballing it really is good enough most of the time. It all depends where you put your personal "good enough" cutoff line if you're doing personal work. The Spyder, f'rinstance, will balance the monitor in relation to the room lighting, which makes it easier to go from paper to screen and back. What's really important is your personal perception -- when you see the same thing looking at the screen as looking at the print, it doesn't matter that your eyes had to adjust a few Kelvins going from one to the other. – user2719 Feb 8 '11 at 23:03
As for the monitor info -- well, I've worked in IBM shops, and I know the difference between their imaging monitors and the ones they give to the drones. If it's big and rotates landscape-to-portrait, it'll have great color. A lot of the desktop monitors, though, are only 16-bit (64K colors). It's night and day. As for your Samsung, the first helpful link was on page six of my best googling effort IIRC, and it took three links to put the needed info together. – user2719 Feb 8 '11 at 23:10

Microsoft had quite a nice Color control panel applet for Windows XP (that did include a 3D gamut display). With Windows Vista, however, they introduced the "Windows Color System", and I'm pretty sure the XP applet won't work with any of the newer OSes (which really is too bad. Although Vista/7 now include a "color" applet out of the box, at least IMO, it's nowhere close to as good of a design (color management presented as a column of text instead of anything remotely visual? Did anybody really think at all about what sort of people would care about this?)

There are definitely tools that can show a 3D graph of a profile (or more than one profile at a time, for comparison) such as Chromix ColorThink. There's also GamutVision, but AFAIK it hasn't been updated for anything newer than XP (though it might well still work...) Unfortunately, those aren't free and probably not worth buying if that's all you want (and, as implied above, I'm not at all sure GamutVision will work with Windows 7 anyway).

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If the monitor's controls don't allow an option to change from "SRGB" to something that sounds like "Wide Gamut" or "AdobeRGB", "ProPhoto" etc, then chances are it doesn't support wide gamuts.

No matter if your monitor supports wide gamuts or not, in 99.9% of situations I would recommend to set it to SRGB anyway. And if your video card has a similar option, set it to SRGB too. SRGB is the de-facto standard of colour spaces on a computer and if you used anything else, you'd probably find out just how ill-equipped computers are at supporting other colour gamuts: some applications will be able to take advantage of it with special configurations, most won't, and those that do might do it in different ways to each other.

The biggest thing you lose with SRGB when compared to print is a bit of texture detail in highly saturated blue-green colour. Your eye probably can't see a lot of detail in highly saturated blue-green areas anyway. And even if your eye can and your monitor can, your OS and software may not support it or may require endless fiddling with to get it right.

Don't forget that if you are hell-bent on it, you can still edit photos in wider gamuts like AdobeRGB if you want to, even with an SRGB monitor. A colour management system ensures that while it's on the monitor it's translated to SRGB in a pleasant/accurate way but still can preserve that colour detail in the file.

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