and welcome to Output Options. In this column, I'll be covering
issues and topics related to how you can get the most from your images
after you've made the pictures and have downloaded them into your
computer. Whether you need information on printing, preparing for the
web, or creating digital slide shows, you'll find it in upcoming
columns. My goal is to help you get the results you want and explain the
how and why in a non-technical fashion.
To kick things off, we'll
talk about the importance of color management, and review a new product
that promises to make color management hassle free and affordable for
Why You Need Color
Imagine trying to edit your digital photos with your eyes closed. The
results will probably be interesting, but almost certainly not what
you were expecting and definitely not repeatable. If you print your
digital images without making sure that your monitor is set up to give
you a good "look" at your images then you are essentially
working in the dark.
Much of what makes for good
printing comes under the title of "color management." This
has been looked at as one of those mystical areas that mere mortals aren't
supposed to be privy to. Although it can be as technical as you want to
make it, an advanced degree in engineering isn't a prerequisite
for successful results. In reality, it's nothing more than a way
for different devices, such as monitors, printers, and scanners to translate
color from one device to the next. By using a profiled system, the printer
knows how to reproduce a particular red on screen matched to a shade of
red ink on paper. In effect, profiles act like a foreign language translation
Adobe has long included their Adobe Gamma application with Photoshop and
Photoshop Elements, which lets you optimize your display by adjusting
brightness and contrast settings for Red, Green, and Blue. While better
than no color management at all, the biggest weakness to the software-only
approach is that it's subjective. You're relying on your eyes
to tell you what's accurate. The solution? A hardware device that
attaches to your monitor and reads the color values directly.
By using a hardware device
to read both color values and temperatures directly, you remove the human
variable, and end up with consistent results.
ColorPlus From ColorVision
Hardware based color management has always been important but until recently
most options were beyond the price of the average user. The last two or
three years have seen significant advances, with hardware prices dropping
down to near $200. ColorVision has recently slashed the cost of entry
to this market with their $119 (retail. $99 estimated street price) ColorPlus
ColorPlus takes the hardware
colorimeter, or Spyder, included in their more expensive products and
bundles it with a new software package that streamlines the steps needed
to get your monitor profiled (a.k.a. color managed). The software requires
and assumes no knowledge of things like gamma, color temperature, brightness
On the hardware side, the USB interface sensor comes with an adapter that
allows you to calibrate flat panel and notebook displays as well as traditional
CRTs. Along with the sensor, the ColorPlus calibration software leads
you through a few simple steps, adjusting the brightness, contrast and
color temperature of your display as you go along.
The software component (the
Plus in ColorPlus) is a simple dialog driven application that guides you
through the process. Your only task is to set your monitor to its default
settings. The primary difference between ColorPlus and ColorVision's
high-end software--OptiCAL--is the lack of user control over
settings. OptiCAL allows a great deal of control over gamma, temperature,
and individual color channels. For the majority of users, OptiCAL is overkill
and ColorPlus will more closely match your needs.
Should you decide in the future that you need the features included with
OptiCAL, ColorVision has an upgrade policy that will let you move to the
full featured SpyderPro with OptiCAL package.
To get started, you first install the software--this also installs
the drivers that ColorPlus needs in order to talk to the Spyder. After
installing ColorPlus the Spyder is plugged into your USB port. After a
welcome dialog that explains what ColorPlus will be doing (#1), the application
asks you to select between CRT and LCD displays (#2) and then shows you
how to attach the Spyder to your screen (#3).
ColorPlus will next spend about 15 minutes reading color values for Red,
Green, and Blue, along with Black, White, and Gray (#4). Once completed,
a Confirmation dialog will let you know what has been done (#5).
A Before and After dialog allows you to quickly see what has changed (#6)
by clicking the Switch button, and automatically saves the new profile
and sets it as the default.
It's important to keep the Spyder flat against the monitor during
the measuring phase. The first time I ran the program I hadn't noticed
that the lower corner of the Spyder had moved. The resulting calibration
was interesting, to say the least. My nice neutral grays were a lovely
shade of cyan! If this happens to you, it's a simple matter to click
the Back button in ColorPlus and re-measure your display.
I've been a long time user of hardware color management devices.
The time, frustration and expense saved have paid the cost of the hardware
over and over again. With the introduction of ColorPlus, it's now
affordable and easy enough for the casual digital photographer to use.
Once you've become accustomed to consistent results, you'll
never look back.
I'd love to hear from you! If you have questions on digital output,
comments on something you've read, or suggestions for future topics,
please let me know. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and put Output Options into the subject line. I'll try to include
one or two questions and answers in each column. In the next column, we'll
be covering how to optimize your digital images for use on the web.
Jon Canfield is the co-author
of "Photo Finish: The Digital Photographer's Guide To Printing,
Showing, and Selling Images," published by Sybex. You can see Jon's
work on his website, www.joncanfield.com.