Making fine prints in your digital darkroom
Monitor calibration and gamma
by Norman Koren


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Table of contents

for the Making Fine
Prints series

Getting started | Light & color | Scanners
Digital cameras | Printers | Papers and inks
Monitor calibration and gamma
Monitor setup | Test image
Gamma and black level
Gamma and black level chart
Monitor test patterns
Setting gamma | Links
Background to monitor calibration and gamma
Why a new gamma chart?
Three level chart | Three color chart
Luminance steps | Timo Autiokari
Printer calibration | Scanning | Basic image editing
Black & White | Matting and framing
Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras

Color Management: Introduction | Implementation
Profiles with MonacoEZcolor | Evaluating profiles




for Image editing with
Picture Window Pro
Introduction | Making masks
Contrast masking
Tinting and hand coloring B&W images
Example: Sunset, Providence, Rhode Island

In this page we discuss a critical step in setting up a digital darkroom: calibrating your monitor so it conforms to widely-accepted standards of image display. A properly calibrated monitor is essential for making prints that match the monitor image; it is an absolute necessity for success in the digital darkroom. Printer calibration is now on a separate page.

This page makes little mention of color management-- a set of tools and techniques that enable you to achieve optimum monitor/print matching and make prints with nonstandard inks and papers. You don't need it to get started. It involves a learning curve, but it's simple to use once you've mastered it. Otherwide it's error-prone. I now use a fully color-managed workflow.
 

Related pages:  Printer calibration discusses how to get your prints to match your monitor image.
Background to monitor calibration covers some background areas related to gamma. We discuss why a new chart was needed (many old ones had an error), then we present two additional charts: one for three luminance levels, one for three colors (R, G, B). We illustrate what luminance steps look like for different gamma settings, then discuss pages by Timo Autiokari, which contain some dubious advice about gamma. This material on this page is for reference; it's not essential reading.
Color management  Sooner or later you'll have to face it if you want to make the finest possible prints.

Setting up your monitor

 Monitor size and resolution settings
Standard monitors have a diagonal to width to height ratio of 5:4:3 (height/width aspect ratio = 0.75). [Thanks to Pythagoras' theorem, diagonal2 = height2 + width2; 52 = 3 2 + 42.] That means that the width is 0.8 times the diagonal and the height is 0.6 times the diagonal. Standard Windows screen resolution choices reflect this 4:3 ratio: 800x600, 1024 x768, 1152x864, 1280 x960 and 1600x1200 (pixels).

Monitors are specified by their diagonal length. Standard sizes are 14, 15, 17, 19 and 21 inches. But there's a rub: CRT manufacturers cheat in specifying the diagonal size! The use the outside dimensions of the picture tube. The opening you see is one inch less than the specified monitor dimensions. My Hitachi 19 inch monitor is 18 inches diagonally. LCD specs are more honest.
 

You should set your monitor's horizontal and vertical size adjustments for about 0.1 inch margins-- about as large as you can without cutting off the edges. Image sizes are shown in the table below.

You should set screen resolution for between 72 and 100 pixels per inch. If you set it for less than 72 pixels per inch, you won't be making use of your monitor's capabilities-- your image will have less detail than it should. If you set it for more than 100 dpi, you may be sending more detail than your monitor or eyes can resolve. To adjust screen resolution, right-click on the Windows wallpaper (the background outside any open windows), then click on Properties, Settings. Suggested monitor resolution settings are shown in the table below-- recommendations are in boldface (the higher resolution, 90+ ppi, is for younger eyes).

 
Specified monitor
size (inches)
Horizontal
(inches)
Vertical
(inches)
Recommended
resolution
Pixels
per inch
14 10.2 7.6 800x600 78
15 11.0 8.2 800x600
1024x768
73
93
17 12.6 9.4 1024x768
1152x864
81
91
19 14.2 10.6 1024x768
1152x864
1280x960
72
81
90
21 15.8 11.8 1280x960
1600x1200
81
101

I recommend at least a 17 inch monitor and at least 1024x768 resolution. If you increase resolution and fonts are too small, you can adjust them by right-clicking on the Windows wallpaper, then clicking on Properties, Appearance. Details depend on the operating system.

Test images

A good test image is useful for evaluating your monitor's quality and calibration as well as the match between the monitor and printer. I found a nice image on The Digital Dog's website. Go to http://www.digitaldog.net/tips/index.shtml and shift-click or right-click on Printer Test File. Winzip (or a similar utility) must be installed on your system to turn this file, whose default name is Printer Test file.jpg.zip, into a JPEG. The 1600x2000 pixel image, shown greatly reduced on the right, includes a portrait with good skin tones, color and grayscale step charts, and the Gretag Macbeth® ColorChecker color rendition chart. (Bruce Lindbloom hasColorChecker RGB values for various color spaces-- sRGB, Adobe 1998, etc.; Babelcolor (Danny Pascale) has an outstanding description of the ColorChecker.) While you're at Digital Dog's site, check out his many excellent articles and tutorials.

[Color management information: The file has an embedded ICC profile tag for Apple ColorMatch color space (gamma = 1.8). In non-ICC aware applications, or in ICC-aware applications with color management turned off, this tag is simply ignored. No problem. But if you are using color management you must be aware of it. You should use an ICC printer profile rather than Color Controls settings, as described below. Why? Because when color management is enabled, there is a translation between the file color space and the monitor (display) color space. Other files, without profiles or with different profiles, translate differently. The Color Controls settings ignore the profiles-- no translation takes place; the relationship between print and monitor appearance won't be consistent. But all will be well if you use an ICC printer profile (that's what they're for). I don't recommend converting to another color space, though simply removing the profile tag doesn't do much damage (the Gretag Macbeth Colorcheker displays slightly dark).]

Digital Dog printer test image. Click to download.
Another standard test image (below, right) originated with PhotoDisc, Inc., which has been absorbed into Getty Images (no connection with the Getty Museum). They have a nice page of articles on color theory and management. A 10 MB (large) high quality JPEG of this image can be downloaded from Inkjetart.com-- one of my favorite sources of printing materials. The image size is 3225x5055 pixels. The colors are unsaturated (far from Velvia), apparently because the file data is for the Adobe RGB (1998) color space (see Color management for an explanation of color spaces), but the file contains no embedded Adobe RGB (1998) profile. (Also, most web browsers do not recognize profiles-- they assume all images are in the default sRGB color space.)

[Color management information: The file (PDI-Target.jpg) has no embedded ICC profile tag. The file data is apparently for Adobe RGB 1998. That's why colors appear unsaturated in web browsers and image editors that assume sRGB file data. To get proper appearance-- correct saturation-- in a color managed workflow, you must add an ICC profile tag without changing the image data. In Picture Window Pro, you do this by clicking Transformation, Color, Change Color Profile..., then setting New Color Profile: to SMPTE-240M (or Adobe RGB, which is identical) and Change: to Profile Setting Only (not the default).]

Photo Disc test image. Click to download.

The same Inkjetart.com page has a very nice 2.6 MB 1080x1680 pixel TIFF test image. A 686x539 pixel test image which can be downloaded from Robyn Color Labs is shown below.

These color balance and tonalities of these images can give you a qualitative indication of how well your monitor is calibrated. They can also be used for checking printer calibration.
 

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Gamma and black level

Gamma describes the nonlinear relationship between the pixel levels in your computer and the luminance of your monitor (the light energy it emits) or the reflectance of your prints. The equation is,
Luminance = C * valuegamma + black level
C is set by the monitor Contrast control. Value is the pixel level normalized to a maximum of 1. For an 8 bit monitor with pixel levels 0 - 255, value = (pixel level)/255. Black level is set by the (misnamed) monitor Brightness control. The relationship is linear if gamma = 1. The chart on the right illustrates the relationship for gamma = 1, 1.5, 1.8 and 2.2 with C = 1 and black level = 0.

Gamma affects middle tones; it has no effect on black or white. If gamma is set too high, middle tones appear too dark. Conversely, if it's set too low, middle tones appear too light. [Note: Film is different. Gamma increases with development time; highlights are strongly affected.]

Gamma, as defined above, is also called display gamma-- the product of monitor's native gamma and video card lookup table (LUT) gamma. (Most video cards have LUTs.) As we shall see, it is closely related to film gamma, which is the average slope of the film response curve.

Black level is the monitor luminance or print reflectance for value = pixel level = 0; i.e., it is the deepest black in the monitor or print. It is a constant that includes the effects of viewing flare (stray light). In good monitor viewing environments it can be very small, less than 0.01, relative to a normalized maximum Luminance of 1. It's also around 0.01 for high quality prints (higher for mediocre paper/ink combinations). Sometimes black level appears inside the exponent, but it makes little difference since it's a constant.
 

Geeks only! The correct gamma equation for sRGB color space
The simplified, ideal equation for the sRGB color space (the standard color space of Windows and the Web; gamma = 2.2) is
     y = x2.2,  where y is the luminance and x is the normalized pixel level.
But the correct equation from the sRGB standard is
     y = x/12.92  for x <= 0.03928;   y = ((0.055+x)/1.055)2.4   otherwise.   [See obscure note.]
The curves for the two equations are very close, as illustrated here. The correct curve is linear below x = 0.03928, y = 0.003035. This corresponds to a pixel level of 10 for images with a bit depth of 8, where the maximum pixel level is 255. For the ideal curve at pixel level = 10, y = 0.0008 (much lower). The difference is even more striking at pixel level = 5 (x = 0.0196): y = 0.00152 for the correct equation; y = 0.000175 for the ideal curve. This has consequences for setting the black level.
[Obscure note: the two links above give different values of x for the boundary between the linear and exponential curves: 0.03928 and 0.04045. Annyoing, but the equations are nearly identical because the slopes of the two curves are very close around x = 0.04.]

Why gamma?

The eye doesn't respond linearly to light; it responds to relative brightness or luminance differences. The smallest luminance difference the eye can distinguish in bright light (Delta L) is expressed by the Weber-Fechner law,
Delta L/L = 0.01 = 1%
(G. Wyszecki & W. S. Stiles, "Color Science," Wiley, 1982, pp. 567-570). Most video cards display 8 bits per color (256 levels), even if you store and edit in 16 bits per color channel. With gamma = 1, the relative luminance difference at the highest luminance levels would be less than 0.004 (1/256)-- much less than the eye can distinguish, but it increases rapidly for lower levels. In dark areas it can be large enough to cause perceptible banding between levels. This can be corrected by applying a gamma curve, as illustrated in the graph on the right, which shows the relative luminance difference between pixel levels for gamma = 1, 1.5, 1.8, and 2.2. The relative difference is most consistent for gamma = 2.2. It remains under 0.01 at high brightness levels, but it is lower than gamma = 1 for luminances under 0.2.

Relative differences are not displayed uniformly when luminance is plotted on a linear scale, but they are on logarithmic scales: relative differences such as doubling or halving the luminance (changing it by one exposure zone) occupy the same distance, independently of the absolute level.

A deeper insight into the meaning of gamma can be gained by looking at a logarithmic plot of Luminance vs. Pixel level. If we take the logarithm of both sides of the luminance equation, above, and neglect black level (set it to zero), the equation becomes log(Luminance) = log(C * valuegamma) =  log(C) + gamma * log(value). In a logarithmic plot, gamma becomes the slope of a straight line, as illustrated on the left for gamma = 1 and 2.2. Now compare this plot to photographic paper, on the right.

For photographic film and paper, gamma is defined at the average slope of the response curve in its linear region. As we can see in this diagram for Kodak Polymax photographic paper, higher contrast corresponds to a steeper slope-- higher gamma. In comparing these two plots, note that the independent variable, Log10(Exposure) corresponds to Log10(Pixel level), while Log10(Luminance) corresponds to -Density. (Both slopes are positive because the paper is a negative material.) One unit on a Log10 scale (such as Density) equals 3.32 exposure zones (f-stops); one exposure zone equals 0.301 Density units.

Comparing these two plots should make it clear that gamma in film is essentially the same as gamma in monitors: it is the slope of the characteristic curve that relates Density (-Log10(Luminance)) to the independent variable. In other words,

Gamma is contrast.
The Contrast control on monitors and television sets is actually brightness, and the Brightness control is, as we've seen, black level. The nomenclature is confusing but deeply entrenched. In television sets operating in typical viewing conditions, where high ambient light limits the visible dynamic range, the Contrast control affects the apparent contrast.

The native gamma of monitors-- the relationship between grid voltage and luminance-- is typically around 2.5, though it can vary considerably. This is well above any of the display standards, so you must be aware of gamma and correct it.

A display gamma of 2.2 is the de facto standard for the Windows operating system and the Internet-standard sRGB color space. The standard for Mcintosh and prepress file interchange is 1.8. Video cameras have gammas of approximately 0.45-- the inverse of 2.2. The viewing or system gamma is the product of the gammas of all the devices in the system-- the image acquisition device (film+scanner or digital camera), color lookup table (LUT), and monitor. System gamma is typically between 1.1 and 1.5. Viewing flare and other factor make images look flat at system gamma = 1.0. To learn more, go to links.

.
Gamma and black level chart
The chart below enables you to set the black level (brightness) and estimate display gamma over a range of 1 to 3 with precison better than ±0.1. The gamma pattern is on the left; the black level pattern is on the right. Before using the chart, the monitor should be turned for on at least 15 minutes (30 preferred). For flat screen (LCD) monitors, Screen resolution (right-click on the wallpaper, Properties, Settings) should be set to the monitor's native resolution.

Gamma  is estimated by locating the position where the average luminance across the gamma pattern is constant. The corresponding gamma is shown on the left. You should be far enough from your monitor so the line pattern is not clearly visible. The example below shows what to look for. The solid areas are calculated from the equation,

pixel level = 255*luminance(1/gamma) ;    luminance = 0.5.
This chart features gradual density changes along horizontal scan lines (thus eliminating risetime problems). It allows more precise gamma estimation than most traditional charts. I encourage you to download it and check it occasionally.
 
What to look for
(for Gamma = 2.0)
 

Your monitor's gamma should be 2.2 or 1.8.

2.2 is recommended for Windows, the Internet sRGB color space, and the popular Adobe RGB (1998) color space. 1.8 is the standard for older Macintosh systems and prepress file interchange (Mac users, see note below). I aim for gamma = 2.2. Most laptop LCD screens are poorly suited for critical image editing because gamma is extremely sensitive to viewing angle.

You can adjust gamma using the techniques presented below.

I'll be happy to grant permission to reproduce it on your website if you e-mail me, give me credit and a link to this page.

Black level (brightness) Your monitor's brightness control (which should actually be called black level) can be adjusted using the mostly black pattern on the right side of the chart. This pattern contains two dark gray vertical bars, A and B, which increase in luminance with increasing gamma. (If you can't see them, your black level is way low.) The left bar (A) should be just above the threshold of visibility opposite your chosen gamma (2.2 or 1.8)-- it should be invisible where gamma is lower by about 0.3. The right bar (B) should be distinctly visible: brighter than (A), but still very dark.

There is considerable interaction between the brightness and gamma settings-- increasing brightness decreases gamma-- so you may have to go back and forth two or three times. There is less interaction between Contrast and gamma. The vertical bars correspond to normalized luminances of 0.002 and 0.006 at the specified gamma.

This chart is only for monitors; it doesn't work on printed media. Black & White and color calibration/test charts are available for calibrating printers. Alternative gamma charts can be found on pages by Pete Andrews or Hans Brettel. Background to calibration contains specialized gamma charts with three luminance levels (0.25, 0.5, and 2/3) and three colors (RGB), useful for diagnosing monitor problems.

Monitor test patterns

The patterns on the right represent an ultimate test of monitor quality and calibration. If your monitor is functioning properly and calibrated to gamma = 2.2 or 1.8, the corresponding pattern will appear smooth neutral gray when viewed from a distance. Any waviness, irregularity, or color banding indicates incorrect monitor calibration or poor performance. You will see irregularities if the black level (brightness control) is set too low, causing dark areas clip, if the monitor saturates in bright areas (a sign of old age), or if your monitor is malfunctioning in any way. The optimum black level settng is typically a little higher than the lowest level where smoothness can be achieved. This setting should be consistent with the gamma chart instructions, above. 
You can learn a lot by running QuickGamma, below, and observing the interaction between its gamma adjustment and the black level adjustment on your monitor. There may be little you can do to make this pattern look good on laptop LCD monitors, but modern high-quality flat screen monitors should be fine.

I recommend that you check this pattern whenever you adjust or calibrate your monitor. You might want to download it and display it in your image editor-- it's a quick way to diagnose problems.

The popular GretagMacbeth ColorChecker can also be used as a check of monitor calibration. The simulated image on the left has an embedded sRGB color space-- the Windows/Internet standard, with gamma = 2.2. The patch values were calculated by Bruce Lindbloom.

 
For Macintosh users
I'm not a Mac expert, but I've heard that the recommended gamma setting has changed from 1.8 (in the old days) to 2.2. These changes are mentioned in LCD Display Calibration by Ian Lyons. The following paragraphs were contributed by Julian Vrieslander. I'm not sure if they're up to date.
If your web browser is Internet Explorer for Macintosh, version 5.0 or later, you should disable ColorSync color management before using the chart.  This option is found in the Preferences settings: Preferences > Web Content > Use ColorSync.  If the box is checked, clear it and reload the page. Colorsync can't be disabled in the Safari (OS X) web brower.
With "Use ColorSync " on, the chart indicated gamma = 2.2 on a system calibrated for gamma = 1.8 with a Colorvision Monitor Spyder and OptiCAL 3.5 software. With " Use ColorSync" off, the correct gamma (1.8) is displayed. For Netscape Communicator 4.7.7 for Classic Mac OS, which doesn't have a color management option, the chart shows gamma = 1.8.

Setting gamma

To calibrate your monitor, i.e., to adjust gamma with any of the following techniques, your video card should have a Lookup Table (LUT). Most recent video cards have one. QuickGamma displays a pop-up message if no LUT is found. If your video card doesn't have one, it's ancient; replace it with a new one. It doesn't have to be expensive or fast. 8 MB is the minimum video memory. 16 MB is faster for switching between screens. Most cards have more.

There are two basic approaches to adjusting gamma: the Visual approach, which uses a special pattern, and the Calibrator approach, which uses a colorimeter or "SpyderTM." The ColorVision Spyder is shown on the right. The two approaches are compared in the table below.

Colorvision Spyder calibrator
Approach Visual Calibrator
Advantages It's free! And it can do a good job of calibrating most monitors. Extremely accurate. Produces monitor profiles for use with color-managed workflows.
Programs QuickGamma (below): an excellent little utility. Recommended.
Adobe Gamma: included with Photoshop.
Monica: a nice Linux utility.
Video card software:
doesn't require the installation of a new program, but can be inconvenient.
Calibrators are designed to work accompanying calibration software. Examples:
MonacoEZColor
ColorVision (PhotoCAL, OptiCAL)
GretagMacbeth Eye-One Display
Some of these programs can perform an optional Visual calibration if a calibrator is unavailable.
Comments Can achieve excellent results if your monitor is well-behaved, i.e., if its luminance is proportional to (pixel level)gamma_native. If its response is irregular-- due to aging or malfunction-- you'll need a calibrator (or a new monitor). Can achieve excellent results with a wider range of monitors-- the curves entered in the LUT can be more complex than the simple exponentials used with the Visual approach.
You can set your monitor to 6500K (or sRGB, which is 6500K), but accuracy may be poor. This is rarely a major issue because the eye adapts when it moves from the monitor to the print, which is typically displayed at 5000K or lower. If the Monitor test pattern appears to be neutral gray on the monitor, it's fine; you'll be able to match prints. If it has a color tint you'll need to get a calibrator (or a new monitor). You can calibrate the monitor's white point to exactly 6500K. This is not a major advantage. See comments on the left.
Not ideal for color management, but you can achieve respectable results using sRGB as the Windows default monitor profile. Best for color management because you'll get a monitor profile that represents the true performance of your monitor (which is close to sRGB for typical CRTs).
 
If you are starting out I recommend the visual approach. It's fast, simple, and provides good results in most cases. QuickGamma is a particularly nice little Windows utility for visual calibration. (Monica is a comparable Linux program.) You can verify its accuracy with the Monitor test pattern. If it is smooth neutral gray when viewed from a distance, your monitor is well-calibrated and can't be improved by much.

If you want the ultimate in monitor-print matching or you can't get good calibration with the visual approach, get a calibrator and upgrade to a color-managed workflow. Luminous-Landscape.com and many other authors strongly recommend this approach. But the improvement over the visual approach may be modest because the Windows-default sRGB color space is close to typical CRT monitors calibrated for gamma = 2.2.

My friend Miles Hecker recommends the ColorVision SpyderPROTM with OptCALTM package, which sells for $249 US. OptiCAL software is excellent and the new Spyder has seven filters instead of the usual three-- it is a true colorimeter, i.e., it can measure the human eye's response to color. This probably makes little difference for CRTs, all of which have similar phosphor responses, but it can be advantageous in calibrating LCD monitors, which can have very different spectral responses. By 2005 virtually all new monitors will be LCDs: they've gotten very good and new production capacity will drop the cost below CRTs.


Calibration and profiling: the source of the confusion
(for color-managed workflows only)
An image can be altered in two places on the way to the monitor. (1) by the video lookup table (LUT). This is performed by all the calibration techniques below. (2) by gamut mapping in color-managed workflows, performed by the color engine (CMM) under the control of an ICC monitor profile. See Color management parts 1: Introduction and 2: Implementation for more detail.

The LUT is normally loaded with values that enable the display to operate at the gamma (usually 2.2) specified by the calibration process.

Confusion arises because both transformations take place in color-managed workflows, and both are controlled by an ICC monitor profile. An ICC profile provides data for the LUT loader program, which is run at startup; it also provides information for the gamut mapping between the working color space and the monitor color space. To confuse things further, Photoshop uses the Windows default monitor profile while Picture Window Pro uses a user-selected monitor profile.

This page focuses on calibration.

QuickGamma (visual)

Eberhard Werle of Laatzen, Germany (near Hannover) has written a excellent gamma calibration utility called QuickGamma 2.0 that runs on all versions of Windows starting with 98. (Monica is a comparable Linux program.) The 437 kB installation program, QuickGammaV2EN.exe (new version with bug fix, October 2004) can be downloaded by clicking here. Running it installs QuickGamma.exe (the main program), QuickGammaLoader.exe (the program that loads the LUT at Windows start), QuickGamma.chm (the help file), and two files for easy uninstallation (using the Windows Control Panel). The program is also available from Eberhard's QuickGamma site. German and French versions can be accessed by clicking on the appropriate flag. Although English isn't Eberhard's native language, the Help file is clear and concise. If you have questions or suggestions, Eberhard's e-mail address is in the Help file and on the site.

The right portion of the QuickGamma dialog box is shown on the right. The left portion, which consists of my gamma chart, is used to calibrate gamma and to adjust black level, which interacts with gamma. When you first load it, the gamma doesn't change. You have to click on one of the spin buttons (the up or down-arrows to the right of the Gamma box) to load QuickGamma's settings in the LUT. The number in the Gamma box increases as displayed gamma (on the chart) decreases: it indicates the monitor's native (uncorrected) gamma when the monitor is corrected to display gamma = 2.2. Version 2.0 has an option for individually adjusting gamma for Red, Green, and Blue. Unlike the color management packages (above), QuickGamma doesn't create a monitor profile. It stores the LUT values in the Windows Registry. Check the Run QuickGamaLoader at Windows Startup box if you'd like the calibration values to be loaded whenever you reboot the computer.

This is an outstanding little program. I strongly recommend it if you don't have a calibrator. If your monitor is healthy it can achieve excellent calibration, which you can verify with the Monitor test pattern.

Another open-source program named QuickGamma, written by ydnar of Shaderlab,
has no connection with Eberhard's program.
Right portion of QuickGamma.

Setting gamma with monitor calibration software (calibrator or visual)

The first program packages in the table below can take advantage of calibrators to create ICC monitor profiles. This is essential if you have a color-managed workflow. Adobe Gamma (which has to be run from the Control panel) creates a rough ICC profile, based on answers to questions about gamma, white point, and CRT phosphors. Quick Gamma doesn't produce a profile. Calibrators have been reviewed by Macworld and Dry Creek Photo.
 
Program package
(alphabetical)
Calibration program Profiling capability Calibrator ICC
profile
LUT loader program
ColorVision OptiCAL
PhotoCAL
OptiCAL
(PhotoCAL)
Monitor, scanner, printer. "Spyder" yes OptiCAL Startup
GretagMacbeth Eye-One Display Eye-One Match 2.0 Monitor only (CRT or LCD). use the "Advanced" setting to get 6500K white point. (The "Easy" default is 5000K.) colorimeter yes Logo Calibration
Loader
MonacoEZColor MonacoEZColor Monitor, scanner, printer. optional yes MonacoGamma
Profile mechanic -  monitor
Profile mechanic - monitor
Monitor only (CRT or LCD). Other modules available separately. (from the makers of PIcture Window Pro)
yes
yes
CLUT Loader
Adobe Photoshop Adobe Gamma
(run from Control Panel)
Monitor only. Creates a simple ICC profile based on your selection of gamma, white point, and phosphors. no yes Adobe Gamma Loader.exe
QuickGamma QuickGamma Monitor only; (free; available here.) Allows colors to be adjusted separately.
no no QuickGammaLoader.exe
Monica
Monica
Monitor only; (free; available here.) no
?
(Loads settings on startup)

The following comments apply to the programs than create ICC monitor profiles.

Run the calibration program, following the instructions. The ICC monitor profiles are used by their respective loader programs to calibrate the monitor. Give the profile a unique name, for example, Monitor_120203.icm. It is placed in the Windows profile directory. You may be asked whether you want to make it the Windows default monitor profile. In most cases the answer is "yes."

The loader program uses data in the Windows default monitor profile to set the video card lookup table (LUT). When any of the program packages is installed, the loader program is placed in the Startup directory so it runs whenever the computer is booted. You can also run the loader program manually.

Conflicts can arise when more than one loader program may be present in the Startup directory. To see the contents of the startup directory, run the System Configuration Utility by clicking Start, Run..., and entering msconfig in the Open box. Click on the Startup tab. Only one loader program should be checked. This is a good time for a little system cleanup. Uncheck unneeded resource-hungry programs such as Microsoft's evil FindFast. Some sources of advice: Answers that work | Pacman's Portal Start Up Tips (which has an impressive list of startup programs).

To view or change the Windows default monitor profile, open the Display Properties screen by right-clicking on the Windows wallpaper (background) and clicking on Properties or by opening the Control Panel and clicking on Display. Then click on Settings, Advanced..., Color Management. The Default Monitor Profile and a set of profiles currently associated with the monitor are shown. You can add profiles to the list or set any of them as the Default.

Warning on generic monitor profiles  There are some that will cause you nothing but headaches in an ICC-aware application. An example is the profile for the Sony CPD-G520 21" CRT monitor. If you go to their Monitor / Display Support web page and download the driver for the CPD-G520, you'll find a nice looking profile called Sony_d65.icm. A Trojan horse! Its TRC curves are set for gamma = 2.5; it can get you into serious trouble. More details can be found in Color management: implementation.

Setting gamma with the video card software (visual)

This technique works for most video cards, but t's not my first choice. I prefer QuickGamma. The dialog box on the right is for the Matrox MGA-G200 AGP video card, which is pretty typical. Open the Display Properties screen by right-clicking on the Windows wallpaper (the background outside any open windows) and clicking on Properties, or by opening the Control Panel and clicking on Display. Click on Settings, Advanced..., Color. The default setting (which you can get by clicking on Reset) is a straight line (R, G, B sliders centered). Click the Link box so that all sliders move together. Display the gamma chart (above) on your monitor, then adjust the sliders for the desired gamma (2.2 for Windows). It's best to set your monitor to 6500K (or D65 or sRGB) and leave the Color temperature slider centered (its default).  Setting gamma with my new ATI Radeon video card (which replaed the Matrox after it was fried in a power surge) is difficult because it doesn't allow the three (R, G, and B) sliders to be linked.

If gamma for the three color channels (R, G, and B) is inconsistent, you'll notice color variation across the chart (it should be uniform neutral gray). You may be able to correct it by unchecking Link and adjusting the sliders separately. This can be tricky because the B slider is hard to judge. The detailed charts in Background to calibration can help diagnose problems.

A source of confusion: some software indicates a default gamma of 1.0. This is not actual viewing gamma; it is gamma correction. If you use this value you'll get the monitor's default gamma, typically around 2.5 for CRTs. The LUT loader programs described above will override these settings at startup.
  

Links

Gamma tutorial from W3C -  The World Wide Web Consortium.
Gamma FAQ by Charles Poynton -  Definitive and detailed explanation of gamma. Somewhat dense reading.
The Monitor calibration and Gamma assessment page by Pete Andrews - Highly recommended.
CGSD Gamma Literature -  More detail, covering gamma of the whole system. Mirrored by Siggraph .
An Explanation of Monitor Gamma -  Robert W. Berger's contribution.
Quick & easy monitor calibration from LTL Imagery incorporates material from this page.
LCD Display Calibration by Ian Lyons. Mentions how the recommended Macintosh gamma setting has changed from 1.8 to 2.2.

Printer calibration | Background to monitor calibration and gamma charts



Images and text copyright © 2000-2014 by Norman Koren.
Norman Koren lives in Boulder, Colorado, founded Imatest LLC in 2004, previously worked on magnetic recording technology. He has been involved with photography since 1964.