Introduction to the Introduction
You already know, I don’t review random products. I only write about what I believe could bring about a significant contribution to the workflow of us photographers. Though, I think that it is not constructive nor professional if I tell you to just trust my word and use one product in particular, therefore sometimes I prefer to get more into the details about the reasons behind certain choices. And this is one of those times, so arm yourself with patience and a comfortable armchair.
If we lived on a desert island, with no internet connection, and having only our computer at hand and no other device to view images, the words “color management” would sound like a distant memory or like the story of Santa Claus (who does actually exist, I swear!).
After all, if we are the only ones who can see our photos on our screen, surely, after a careful post-production we’ll be able to assert that the visual result is consistent with what we wanted to get. Moreover, if someone came to rescue us, upon their arrival they would see the image on our screen and couldn’t say anything about the colors that they would see. They could just express a totally personal judgment regarding their liking of the photo.
Now, let’s suppose that for a moment we can sponge the WiFi connection of a not-too-far island and we decide to have our photo printed using an online printing service, or that we decide to send our photo via email to the photo agency that had sent us to the desert island for a photo feature.
Unfortunately, the result would leave us with a sour taste in our mouth: the printed photo will be almost unrecognizable, and most likely the agency would let us die there where we are instead of entrusting us with a new task.
Why? The answer is as simple as brutal: colors do not exist.
The problem of visualizing colors
Well, yes, as much as it sounds strange and not really romantic, colors do no exist in physics, but they are a visual perception of our brain, generated by the nervous signals that the photoreceptors of the retina send to the brain when they absorb an electromagnetic radiation ( that we call “light”).
We could go on spending the whole day talking about this assertion more in detail, but, in addition to not being very useful with regard to my purpose, probably you’ve already asked yourself the obvious next question: so how it is possible to represent something that does not exist?
Over the years, the most brilliant minds have studied this problem in order to bring up to our days all the visualization devices that we now know, including the screen through which you are reading these lines. They have created standards, conventions and ways of representing color…an almost infinite series of techniques to represent something that, as a matter of fact, exists only in the chemistry of our brain.
There’s only a little problem: in spite of all of the above, because of the different technologies used in displays, because of the graphic cards used in our computers and, more simply, because of the physics of materials, two identical displays, if left alone, will display colors in a slightly different way.
Don’t you believe it? Take your smartphone, your tablet, and your laptop with the screen open and connect it to a display where you then duplicate your desktop. Now let’s open the same image on all those displays. It’s amusing, no? Taking one display as the reference, in the best possible case one screen will display the same image just cooler or warmer, in others the blue of the sea will look a little more greenish, and in others the snow will look more violet.
Once we have accepted this, the following problem is what I’ve just written a few lines above: “taking one display as the reference”. Well, so now I’m going to ask you: why on earth your screen should be taken as the reference for everyone?
The answer is clear: it just can’t, and therefore what seems correct when visualized on your screen, will not be correct on the screen in the island next to yours.
In order to solve this longstanding problem, the brainiacs have found a really brilliant idea: if every device represents color in a way that is dependent on how the device itself is made (remember: graphic card, materials, etc…), we have to find the way to relate the behavior of the single device to a reference colorimetric system that is independent of the device itself.
And so the legendary ICC profiles were born: a set of data that are able to numerically describe the way colors are represented in digital devices (or with regard to the combination paper/printer) and arrange that two displays that don’t know each other are able to display colors in the same (almost) identical way.
Importance of ICC Profile
We don’t need to know how an ICC profile is physically structured or how does it work in detail, but for the moment we just need to know that once correctly installed on our device, that profile will allow us to visualize colors independently of the device itself.
What does this mean in practice? Simple: it means that when we’ll send the photo to the photo agency (which, most likely, has an ICC profile installed on its screens), they will be able to see the photo the same way as we see it. And in the same way, if we are going to send our photo to a printing laboratory and we have preventively downloaded and installed the ICC profile of the paper/printer combination of the laboratory, we will be able to pre-visualize the result given by the printer, and possibly apply further color correction to our photo before we have it printed, so that the result will be as reliable and consistent as possible in relation to what we expect.
So, we’ll start to “manage colors”, that means arranging that one color represented on different devices will be represented consistently on all the different devices involved in the graphic chain.
But how can we get the ICC profile of our monitor? Can we create it ourserlves by hand? Or we can download it from some website, maybe from the manufacturer of our monitor? As you may expect, the answer is no.
A sick person needs to be examined by a medical doctor in order to get the right medicine, self-diagnosis based on Google is not enough. In the case of our monitor, we need to measure its actual behavior in order to be able to create an ICC profile that describes it and allows it to correctly communicate to the rest of the world, inside and outside our island.
To make this measurement we need an instrument called “calibrator”. Even if there are many available, the market by now has settled on some brands and products, and after having tried most of them, today I’m going to tell you about my favorite one, the i1Display Pro by X-Rite.
i1Display Pro by X-Rite
The i1Display Pro by X-Rite is a system composed of two essential parts: a probe to read the screen and a software that allows the transmission of the signals for the probe to the screen, and creates the suitable ICC profile based on the readings of the probe.
This calibrator is in the medium-high range and it comes with very interesting features, including:
- Possibility to calibrate monitors equipped with any technology, projectors and mobile devices such as iPhone, iPad and various Android smartphones
- The possibility of continuous measuring of ambient light for automatic profile correction
- Contrast measuring and correction based on the reflection on the screen
- Checking consistency among multiple monitors
- White balance measuring and correction
- Monitor uniformity measuring
- -Automatic Display Control (ADC)
Actually, the list of advantages could be longer, but surely the above features are already enough to understand that we are talking about an extremely professional tool.
In my opinion, one of the greatest advantages is the large variety of display technologies with which this calibrator is compatible. As I was saying before, in the past I tried other products that were as much professional apparently, but unfortunately they had a hard time even with the simple screen of my laptop. On the other hand, thanks to i1Display Pro by X-Rite it is possible to calibrate and profile all modern monitor and projector technologies, including LED, plasma, RG phosphor, OLED and Wide Gamut.
The last thing worth mentioning is the fact that i1Display Pro is calibrated with spectrum methodology, which in simple terms means that it will be easily updatable with future display technologies…not bad at all!
But let’s see its behavior on the battlefield, as always
Installation and use of X-Rite i1Display Pro
The first thing to do once we have opened the package is to install, using the included CD or downloading it, the i1Profiler software, which is the actual brain of the whole system.
This software is really well structured as it gives us the possibility to successfully calibrate our screen even if we are not experts. The first thing to do is to select how to proceed, you can choose between Basic or Advanced user modes. The Basic mode gives us a guided interface with default options to let us quickly obtain a color on a professional quality screen. The Advanced mode gives you options that are defined by the user, for more sophisticated profiling workflows, so as to guarantee maximum quality colors on monitors and projectors, and also quality control tools and visualization tests.
Once the calibration mode is selected, all we have to do is follow the flow proposed to us by i1Profiler. Assuming that we choose the Basic interface, the first step will be to define the type of screen to be calibrated, the white level, luminance and gamma. Normally, differently from the competitors, i1Profiler always nails the display type, so it’s better to leave what it proposes, unless you have other precise indications for your screen.
As for the other parameters, if you are photographers or graphic designers I can suggest that you try to begin with:
- White level: D65
- Luminance: 120 cd/m2
- Gamma: 2.2 with Standard response type
IMPORTANT: we could spend hours discussing the values that I have chosen, with respect to a D50 or an 80 cd/m2 and I will be glad to do that with anyone who will write to me. For now, let’s go on with the above and remember that we can also create more profiles and then choose which one to use according to our needs.
In the following step we are requested to launch the actual calibration through “Start Measuring”. However, before doing this I suggest that you select, if possible, automatic display control (ADC). In this way, you will allow i1 Display Pro to set various parameters including brightness, contrast and chromatic balance to the ideal condition before creating the profile.
Once the calibration is launched, we are requested to open and place the probe on the screen. Just follow the indications and we are ready to take the various measurements straight away.
IMPORTANT: we will be asked for it by i1Profiler, but it’s always a good practice to reset the monitor settings (even more important if it’s an external monitor) before calibrating.
The probe starts to work, and every time it needs to modify any parameter that it can’t modify directly (e.g.: screen brightness or white level) it will ask for our manual action. Nothing more simple, as each of our actions will be followed by an instant feedback on the software side.
Once the measuring is complete we are requested to remove and close the probe. At this point we can give a name to the profile we have created, which will be automatically saved by i1Profiler in the correct folder, and made active.
It is also possible to enable ambient light monitoring and have a calibration recall after a certain amount of time, but these are discretionary settings. Why should we recalibrate the screen once it has already been done? Simple, again because of the physics of materials of which we were talking above, or, to put it into more practical terms, because of the fact that our monitor gets older.
And here again we could spend an afternoon discussing how often we should calibrate…so going straight to the point, I believe that recalibrating every 100 hours of work represents a very good interval (as you’ve seen, the calibration takes just a few minutes, and it’s worth spending them so as to always have a screen that is capable of representing colors in the best possible way).
i1Profiler also allows us to compare the profile with other profiles already stored, but above all it allows us to see the effect of the profile, before and after calibration, on some photos included in the application. Normally, after the first calibration there is an effect of disorientation as both the proposed photos and, more simply, your desktop, will look “strange”.
Airplane pilot advice: “believe in your instruments”.
Unless you have invented particular settings, what you see is what it should be, as your calibrator has carried out its dirty work. Just walk away from the computer for five minutes: when you are back, your brain will have “reset” the perception of the white emitted by the screen, and everything will appear natural as always!
If you’re interested in a greater technical detail, i1Profiler will also allow you to visualize the response curves of your screen, using the specific selectors at the top.
At this point, all we’ve got to do is close the application (or minimize it in case we have left the automatic brightness setting on) and all is done, our screen is now perfectly calibrated.
Differences between X-Rite i1Display Pro and Colormunki
If you have understood the extreme usefulness of this tool, then probably during your search you have also stumbled upon another X-Rite product called ColorMunki which seems really similar, except for the lower price.
Certainly it is a great product as well, but unfortunately it comes with some limitations, including:
- The possibility of setting only some default color temperatures without the possibility of taking ambient measurements
- Luminance range settings limited from 80 cd/m2 to 140 cd/m2
- It is not possible to set the contrast
- Gamma selection limited to 1.8 and 2.2
- Measuring speed five times slower
- It is not possible to measure display uniformity
- It is possible to create profiles only using a matrix
- Chromatic adaptation transformation limited to Bradford
- Profile validation only visual
So, even if they use the same excellent profiling software i1Profiler, the i1Display Pro by X-Rite definitely represents a more professional choice and a more longlasting investment.
In the age of sharing, Color Management represents more and more a fundamental process in the workflow of every photographer.
Whether you intend to keep your images only to yourself and your beloved ones or wish to share them and maybe print them using some online service, conformity and consistency of colors are essential, to say the least.
X-Rite with i1Display Pro has made available to photographers (and not only to them) a highly professional tool at an affordable price, which will allow us to avoid the frustration of seeing our image represented in a wrong way, and will also let us save all that time and money that we would spend printing blindly.
In conclusion, I can’t really find a good reason why i1Display Pro by X-Rite shouldn’t be part of my daily workflow in the studio!