Published on October 13, 2011 11:00 PM

Colour Calibration Profiles for your Monitor

Get the most out of a monitor

The default colours on LCD displays can range from good (the best screens are factory calibrated) to just terrible. Monitors often have unnatural overtones; lately the trend has been towards more bluish hues and whites with reddish tinges.

Get more accurate colours in just a few clicks

First of all, you have to remember that the profiles we have here only work on screens on which the settings like brightness and contrast haven't already been adjusted. Our profiles are designed for monitors 'straight out of the box'. Every time you adjust a setting, that inevitably has an impact (good or bad) on the picture quality, so you'll usually have to calibrate it every time you use it, or go back to the factory settings.  Also remember that an ICC profile is only valid for one specific combination of monitor + graphics card. We've tested our profiles on enough computers and video cards to be confident that the results are sufficiently stable to publish the profiles we've created.

By default, computer monitors display colours that range from accurate to horrendous. There's often one dominant colour, and recently we've seen a tendency towards blue overtones in every shade except white, which has red overtones. The problem is that you can't just adjust a screen like this by hand—if you turn down the blue to even things out, red will end up taking over.

There are two steps to getting the right colours on a monitor. First, calibrate your screen. Then create a profile for those settings. Presto, you have accurate colours. Once that's done, if you have a colorimeter (or if you can afford one—our LaCie Blue Eye Pro cost over £300!), you can stick it on your display and see for yourself how accurate the colours are.

The profiles we have here will give you a taste of what this tool can do, so you can see the benefits of calibration. If you're a photography fan, they can often dramatically improve your results.

But don't think you've hit the jackpot just because you can download one of these profiles and save yourself £300.  Ideally, a screen needs to be calibrated every month, every week, every day for the strictest purists. Your monitor's performance changes over time, and most of our profiles were created on new hardware. You also have to be able to set both the white point and black point before you start. That's why there's nothing like doing your own calibrating on your own computer, graphics card and monitor. All we're doing here is taking the first step—but for many of you, even that could be a big improvement!

Results: Before and After

Every time we calibrate a monitor, before getting started we measure how much difference there is between the colours that the graphics card wants to display (the colours as they should look) and the colours that are actually displayed onscreen. The result is a Delta E 94 (dE) value based on an average of 18 colours.

Since you're even reading this in the first place, we'll assume that you're a purist to some degree and want picture-perfect colours. Here's how to interpret some typical Delta E values:

average dE > 5: disastrous
average dE > 3: colours are flawed
average dE < 3: satisfactory
average dE < 2: excellent, great for photo editing
average dE < 1: virtually flawless, the human eye won't detect any difference

Most monitors have an average dE between 2 and 7, two-thirds of which are over 4.

Some examples of Delta E's on LCDs pre-calibration

After using our profiles, each of these monitors had perfect colours with a Delta E of 1.

Our Profiles

And these are the profiles we give to you. The downloads are listed by manufacturer, from A to Z, and include both monitors and laptops.

Note: These profiles are only useful when manufacturers fit all of the units of a given monitor with the same internal components. It's not uncommon for brands to switch LCD panel suppliers halfway through production. If that's the case with your model, you'll have to fall back on the default sRGB profile.
Calibration: How it Works
We use our colorimeter. Whether or not you own measuring equipment, it's virtually impossible to find the right settings simply by eyeing it. The ideal solution—the only solution for professional photographers, graphic designers, anyone who works with images—is calibration.

The colorimeter measures the discrepancies between a series of colour swatches shown onscreen and then corrects for them by creating a new LUT, or Look Up Table. Just to be clear, there are two tables, one of which is in the screen itself. It's responsible for the default settings and unless we have a way of flashing the hardware, we can't do anything to change it.

Instead, we adjust the other LUT, the one on the computer's graphics card, which is affected by the calibration. That's the one the colorimeter rewrites to compensate for the monitor's inaccuracies. To give a concrete example, when the colorimeter is looking at a swatch of grey that should have the red, green and blue values of 128, 128 and 128, but detects too much red—say, 134, 128 and 128—the new profile will tell the computer to ask for 122, 128 and 128 in the future so as to compensate for the excess red. This process is repeated for several colours.

On our LaCie Blue Eye Pro, there are 18 basic shades along with brighter and darker versions of each. That means there's a lot more wiggle room than when adjusting settings on the OSD, which often only includes red, green and blue.

We do this calibration on every monitor we test, and we've included each of the profiles we have.
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