First Impressions: ColorMunki Display1

Standard disclaimer: I am not a photographer and I am not a color expert.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that my battle station (work area) has 4 displays that I use on a regular basis. In case you’ve forgotten my setup, here are two photos to remind you.

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8089/8556403624_f4328be878.jpg

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8380/8556403054_ba5be00fb1.jpg

The HPZR24W 24″ display and Yiynova MSP19u (below it) are connected to my early 2008 Mac Pro. The Dell U2412m display is connected to my early 2008 Macbook Pro laptop. I use Teleport to move between my Mac Pro and Macbook Pro screens.

Trading design files between both machines made it noticeable that my colors were off between all 4 displays. At first, I used Apple’s own color calibration utility. The results were mixed, at best, but I learned to live with it. And then, after a point, it began to really bug me…

(Continued after the break.)

I began tinkering with each of the displays’ configuration settings. I have 4 different displays, each of which have their own custom user interface. Manually configuring displays to match up was a perfectly tedious way to burn several hours, without having anything to show for it. It was back to square one, with me once again re-adjusting the color settings via Apple’s calibration utility.

After endless fiddling around, with no success, I jumped on Google and did a search on color calibrators. Amazon pulled up two competing models: The Spyder from Datacolor Imaging Solutions and the Colormunki from x-rite. Both are hardware-based color calibrators.

A color calibrator measures and adjusts your display profile, brightness, contrast and color temperature with the intent on maximizing color accuracy. It’s primarily used to ensure accuracy between screen and print.

I did my due diligence in research on both products by reading reviews. The two models I included on my shortlist were mid-tier models: The Datacolor Spyder4Pro SP4100 and the Xrite CMUNDIS Colormunki Display1. Both products are available from Amazon for $169 and have generally positive reviews – so cost here wasn’t the tipping point in deciding which to choose. Instead, I chose the ColorMunki over the Spyder because it would let me use its calibration software on multiple machines. The Spyder unit, on the other hand, only lets you calibrate one or multiple displays attached to one computer only.

What’s in the Box?

I placed my order and received my Colormunki Display1 earlier this week. The box itself is light, and the packaging was very easy to open. I wish more manufacturers would follow x-rite’s lead on this…

Colormunki Display box

Inside the box are three items:

  • the color calibrator hardware unit, with USB cable attached
  • a Quick Start Guide
  • a CD

The color calibrator itself is made of sturdy plastic – with an ambient light sensor cover that flips over to expose the lens used for calibrating your display. It’s well built.

The Quick Start Guide has nice production values, but it’s bare-bones in terms of content.
You’re given just enough information to get up and running, but I felt like there needed to be more information provided – like how to prep your monitor for calibration (more on this in a bit).

Colormunki Display unboxing

I didn’t bother loading the drivers from the CD. Instead, I hopped on ye olde Internet and downloaded the latest version from x-rite’s website. The download weighs in at a rather hefty 256MB. Installation of the software was very straight forward. (It’s 2013 – and this should be the norm by now…)

How It Works

Install the Colormunki software, then plug in the color calibrator into your computer’s USB port. Launch the software and follow the prompts. Before the tests begin, you’ll have to place your color calibrator on the monitor (see the images below).

Calibrating my display with the ColorMunki Display color calibrator

Note: The color calibrator needs to be flush with the display, as it is reading color information. To insure an accurate reading, I recommend tilting your display backwards by 15 degrees or so and then placing the color calibrator into position. The Colormunki software will prompt you to place the device in the right spot.

Colormunki Display in action!

ColorMunki Display in action!

The Colormunki software lets you choose between Easy and Advanced options. In my case, I picked the Advanced options. The video below does a good job on walking you through the software setup:

Once the Colormunki software runs a battery of calibration tests, it kicks out a fresh color profile for you to save out. Easy-peasy, right? Well, not quite.

The Colormunki software shows a ‘before’ and ‘after’ image to let you see what the software did. In my first run through using the software (which takes about 5 minutes or so to run), my calibrated result for my HP display was a bit on the brown side. I received similar results when calibrating with the Yiynova. In fact, the “before” views looked better than the “after” views.

So, what was the problem?

In my case, my displays were already “adjusted” in terms of contrast and brightness. I went back and did a factory reset for both my displays. I also bumped both the contrast and brightness values to 100%. Re-running the tests after performing these ‘set up’ tasks significantly improved the final calibration results.

The ColorMunki software provides you with several images (both color and grayscale) for comparison purposes.

Does it Work?

I didn’t realize how “off” my displays were until I properly calibrated them. Before calibration, both of my displays were displaying colors with more of a ‘cool’ hue. After calibration, I noticed that skin tone colors looked more natural. Grayscale images after calibration were truly grayscale and not cast with a “bluish” hue.

One thing to note: because of the Yiynova’s limited viewing angle, when it’s properly calibrated, it will still look “off” compared to your other displays. When you are viewing the Yiynova straight on, the colors will look fine, but the limited viewing angle makes the colors from other angles seem dull. To compensate for this, I wound up manually bumping up the brightness on the Yiynova.

Calibrating the Dell 2412M and the Macbook Pro went really well. The colors are not identical, but they are much, much closer to one another than they ever have been before. My guess is it has something to do with the native whitepoint with each display… but I could be totally wrong.

Furthermore, the Colormunki Display1 has an automatic ambient light sensor that will adjust your displays depending on the value of the ambient light in your workspace. (I didn’t bother using this feature, but I’ll give it a try in due time.)

Is it Worth It?

Color calibration is worth the effort if you are even remotely considering print. Whether you drive single or multiple displays, the Colormunki does a good job with calibrating your displays. Not only do you get more accurate colors, but thanks to its brightness and contrast adjustment, you get a calibrated display that’s also much easier on your eyes. (Most displays are too bright directly out of the box – viewing such a display will lead to tremendous eye strain over time.)

As displays tend to fluctuate in their settings over time, it’s recommended to calibrate your monitor on a regular basis. I’m going to shoot for once a month.

At $170, Colormunki Display1 is not cheap. But the improved color accuracy as a result of its calibration gives me both tremendous piece of mind and piece of eye (as in, no eye strain!). It’s too early to tell how this device will hold up over the long haul. But for the benefits I’m seeing right now — to me, it’s worth it.

12/3/14 Update: MY Colormunki Display no longer works.

-Krishna

These beautiful and intelligent people wrote

  • t3rminus
    March 13, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    I hate to be “that guy”, but I’m pretty sure you mean “ensure” instead of “insure”. There were two instances in the text that I noticed.

    Now that that’s out of the way, this is a great review. I’ve done some manual calibrating in the past, but I recognize the value of a hardware calibrator. I will have to remember this…

    • Krishna M. Sadasivam
      March 13, 2013 at 11:34 pm

      yep. You’re right. I’ll fix it. BTW, hit me with an email – you won a copy of Dataman Next, dude. :)

  • Byron Patterson
    March 15, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    I have an older x-rite product sitting at home in a box now because they never updated the drivers for it to work with Windows 7 :(