Calibrate your screen with DisplayCAL and a Spyder 5

After making a video on the topic, I thought it might also be helpful to have all of it in written form because this is a long and complex topic. I will shed some light on why to calibrate your screen with displayCAL and a Spyder 5.

Take a cup of coffee, take a comfortable seat and get ready for a lengthy article on screen calibration.

If you don’t care about all the pretext and want to dive right into the installation guide, scroll down to Step 1: Installation of all components needed for DisplayCAL

Why using DisplayCAL over the Spyder software? Well, once you calibrated your screen with it and compare the results, it will become very clear to you.

You don’t specifically have to use a Spyder device, DisplayCAL works with other calibration devices too, but this article assumes you use a Spyder 5 and Windows 10 on the newest update.

Why it’s important to calibrate your screen

You might wonder, why do I even need to calibrate my screen? Well, this depends entirely on what your approach to photography is and how much weight you put on how your viewers experience your work. If you want your viewers to have the best possible experience when viewing your photos, you got to calibrate your screen.

Just assume you are using an ultra crappy, old and not calibrated monitor for your post processing, which has colors, contrast and brightness levels that are totally off. You edit your photos on this and send them out on your Instagram feed and wonder why you get shitty or no response, that’s because the picture probably looks completely off on a standard (non-calibrated) screen.

You, of course, can’t assume that all your users view your pictures on calibrated screens, that would be ludicrous, but you want that the pictures that leave your post process have the best possible quality.

 

Calibrate for Web and Print are two different pairs of shoes

Depending on your goal this is important.

If you solely process pictures to release them to be viewed on digital media, you can simply go with a color temperature of 6500k, which is the standard for digital media processing.

If you want to print your pictures, the standard is around 5000k. Now be aware that 5000k, if you haven’t worked with it before, will probably set you off because it is way too yellow for your nonprint images. Your whole screen will have a yellow hue.

From my personal experience, you get great print results and the colors really are on point when using a light around the 5000k range while editing, but for me it was unbearable. I actually went with 5500k for print processing which is an often discussed topic, but use whatever works best for you.

I now use 6500k most of the time, because 90% of my content is web-based. So the choice is yours and based on what you want to achieve.

Standardized light

As mentioned above, there are certain standards that were established internationally for picture processing, we just will cover 2 of them:

  • 5000k for Print Processing
  • 6500k for Web Processing

I personally have 2 different light bulbs and 2 different color profiles on my screen:

  • 5000k with screen calibrated to 5500k for Prints
  • 6500k with screen calibrated to 65000k for The Web

So if I need to edit prints, I would just unscrew the 6500k and work with the 5000k and vice versa. Works pretty well so far. Of course, you need to switch your screen profile too.

This is a little bit of hassle that most people are not willing to do, so I definitely recommend if most of your work is Web-based, simply go with 6500k. Even you do occasional prints you will be more than fine and definitely better than without any norm light and calibration. Don’t over think it like me in the beginning. You are not printing fine art HQ Photography books for a living, do you?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find specific brands on the US Amazon, in Germany, we have two established kind of lights for that on Amazon:

Both of which I use and recommend.

Alright, let’s get our hands dirty.

 

Step 1: Installation of all components needed for DisplayCAL

If you never had the Spyder software installed before, you can skip step 1.1 and continue right with step 1.2.

1.1 Removing the old software from your system

First, you will uninstall your Spyder software.

Unfortunately, the Spyder driver will not be automatically removed when uninstalling the software, so we have to put some manual labor in it.

- Plug in your Spyder device on a USB port
- Hit the Windows Button and type Device Manager into the search field or open your Control Panel and find the Device Manager
- Open the Device Manager
- Find your Spyder under "USB-Controller"
- Right click on the entry and select uninstall
- If there is a checkbox asking you if you want to remove the driver too, check the box

 

Uninstalling your Spyder 5
Uninstalling your Spyder 5
Uninstalling your Spyder 5
Uninstalling your Spyder 5

Now unplug your Spyder 5 device, you should now have removed every rest of the driver.

 

1.2 Installing DisplayCAL

Now go ahead and download DisplayCAL from their homepage. Choose for the DisplayCAL Standalone Windows Installer.

They also offer a Zero Install version that keeps all software up to date, but I don’t want to use that, so we stick with the Standalone Package.

Run the installation process, it’s pretty straight forward. There is only one option you need to be sure is selected:

DisplayCAL Installation
DisplayCAL Installation

 

1.3 Starting DisplayCAL for the first time

Start DisplayCAL.

The first time you start the software, you get asked if you want to Download the Argyll CMS color engine. You want.

Downloading Argyll CMS
Downloading Argyll CMS

In case something goes wrong, you can download Argyll CMS here.

Grant DisplayCAL all access it wants (your windows firewall for example).

Contribute if you appreciate the product.

 

1.4 Installing the driver

It’s time to install the new driver for our Spyder 5 Colorimeter.

- In DisplayCAL click on Tools / Instrument / Install Argyll CMS instrument drivers...  
- Follow through the installation process
- Now plug your Spyder 5 device in your USB Port and restart the DisplayCAL Software

 

Argyll CMS Driver Installation
Argyll CMS Driver Installation
Argyll CMS Driver Installation
Argyll CMS Driver Installation

At the date of writing this article, I had no problem just installing the driver over the DisplayCAL GUI, although there are possible problems with older versions of Windows.

If this is the case, you need to follow the instructions displayed by DisplayCAL, if it installs just fine, continue on

When all is done, attach your Spyder Device and open your Device Manager again to verify if all went well.

You should be able to find this entry:

Argyll LibUSB-win32 devices
Argyll LibUSB-win32 devices

 

1.5 Installing the correction data

Each and every colorimeter needs specific correction data to be able to make correct measurements.

Gladly, the correction data is included in the Spyder 5 software package.

Correction data for the most common monitor models are included in this package.

The fastest and easiest way to achieve this is to download the Spyder 5 Express software from here.

Don’t worry, we are not going to re-install the Spyder software now that you were removing earlier.

- Download the Spyder 5 Express Software
- In DisplayCAL click on Tools / Correction / Import colorimeter corrections from other display profiling softwares....
- Check Spyder 4/5
- Check Install for current user only
- Click on Select File and find the downloaded Spyder 5 Express Software Installer

 

Installing Correction Data
Installing Correction Data
Installing Correction Data
Installing Correction Data

1.6 Activating Advanced Options

This might make the whole thing seem even more complicated for you, but we need those options so go ahead and activate them.

- In DisplayCAL click on Options / Show advanced options

 

Enabling Advanced Options in DisplayCAL
Enabling Advanced Options in DisplayCAL

 

Step 2: Calibrate and Profiling of your Screen

Now we are coming to the actual calibration and profiling process.

Leave all settings that I don’t mention on default.

2.1 Choosing the right screen and settings

- Under Display select the Display you want calibrated
- On Correction select Auto (None) 
- As Instrument make sure your Spyder device is selected (if not, restart DisplayCAL)
- For Mode we choose: LCD ( White LED )

Please Note: I don’t have a Spyder attached for this tutorial, so I marked the appropriate entries in red. In your case, the device will show up in DisplayCAL.

Calibrating & Profiling Your Screen
Display & Instrument

For the Modus option, you should check your Monitors manual or simply google {MyMonitorType} + LCD.

Most newer monitors, however, are working with white LED’s, so in most cases, this is the right option. If in doubt, choose LCD (Generic).

 

2.2 Calibration Settings

Now head over to the Calibration tab on DisplayCAL. This is a very complex part again but we will try to keep it as short as possible.

If the Interactive Display Adjustment box is checked (which it should be), you have to do manual adjustments to your screen in the calibration process (Brightness & Color). This is desired.

You can also let DisplayCAL do all the work automatically by un-checking the box, but you should definitely make use of the in-monitor calibration that your device offers.

Let me run you through the settings real quick.

Whitepoint: This depends if you have standardized light in your editing room or not.

If you have, let’s say, constant 6500k lighting with your windows dimmed to ensure a constant level of lighting, you will set your Whitepoint to Color Temperature 6500k. If you do not have standardized light, just leave it on default. Most people will have varying light levels throughout the day (as daylight changes outside) and more or less constant light levels at night-time.

White Level / Black level: This is a very complex topic, we will leave the standard values here. Just a short explanation on this one.

The White Level is the brightness of the whitest point that your monitor is able to display. It is also depending on the light levels in your room, that’s why we leave it on “As Measured”. If your room is very dark you probably don’t want to run your screen at maximum brightness, so this option adjusts your screen brightness according to your room brightness.

The Black Level is the exact opposite. Although it depends on the setting of the White Level. We leave it on “As Measured” as well.

Tone Curve: The tone curve regulates the brightness distribution within your screen. The most used setting for the tone curve is what you probably are familiar with already – sRGB. This is what we choose here. Most photo print shops and printers work in the sRGB color space, too. So this is really the standard that you want to choose. You can read a little bit on that here. In most cases, your monitor will not be able to display the AdobeRGB color space anyway, except you have a professional screen.

Ambient Light Level Adjustment: This is more relevant for older CRC screens and can be left unchecked. It would measure the ambient light and do adjustments therefor. But we don’t need that for a basic calibration on an LCD screen, so leave it unchecked.

Calibration Speed: Leave it on the standard setting High. Anything Higher than High will have a noticeable difference in the calibration quality, whereas anything slower than High has no noticeable difference, but is a little more accurate and can take many hours to finish.

Calibrating And Profiling
Calibration

 

2.3 Profiling

The Profile Type dictates the internal structure of the profile. There are two types of profiles: Matrix and LUT.

LUT Profiles are more accurate than Matrix profiles, but not compatible with every application.

To achieve an equal color profile throughout all of the applications that you use, and profile all applications are able to process, we will choose Single curve + matrix.

You can edit the Profile Name to your liking. I usually use the format like this: %dns(that’s the name of your screen) 6500k or %dns 5000k because I work with two different color profiles, as mentioned before.

Profiling
Profiling

Now we are getting towards the end already.

Step 3: The Calibration Process

Now if you have followed all previous steps, you can click on Calibrate & Profile.

DisplayCAL will now display a box on your screen which indicates the place where you should place your Spyder5.

Please note: Make sure you attach the Spyder5 device to the screen properly so that there is no space in between the Spyder5 and the screen itself. Tilt your monitor backward for this or use some tape to fix the cable to the frame of the screen (protip).

Now click on Start Measurement, this will take a few seconds and DisplayCAL will present you with a chart:

Adjust White Levels And RGB
Adjust White Levels And RGB

Now DisplayCAL will take a new measurement every few seconds to check the values you changed.

NOTE: Those values need to be changed on your screen itself. So you press the menu button on your monitor and find the color adjustment options. Now you start adjusting the colors so that all colors meet in the middle. After adjusting colors, you adjust the brightness to be in the middle too.

After adjusting brightness, its possible you need to make minor adjustments to color again. Do this as accurate as possible so that all 4 sliders are exactly middle out.

If you reached the desired levels, hit Stop Measurement and click on Continue to calibration.

Now go for a walk because this will take at least 30 minutes up to possibly 2 hours.

You don’t need to do anything. Just leave the calibration run through.

 

Step 4: Wrapping Up

After that was running through you are almost done.

You will get presented with the results of the calibration.

Installing The Profile
Installing The Profile

This is it! You successfully installed the calibrated your screen and installed the new profile. The profile will get loaded every time you start your computer automatically. You can manage the different profiles by right-clicking the DisplayCAL symbol in your task bar.

As I said, it’s a lengthy article but worth every step. The results are so much better than with the Spyder software.

You should re-calibrate your screen every few months, maybe 3 months would be a good timeframe.

If this article helped you, please consider buying your Spyder 5 via my affiliate link. I will get a small provision on it which enables me to continue to produce quality content for you.

After you calibrated your screen it’s time to step up your game and Build Your Own Monitor Hood. I got you covered on that as well 🙂

I will also attach a list of photography gear that I use below. I only list items I use myself and items that I believe in.

Thanks for reading!

Don’t forget to donate

🙂

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All donations are highly appreciated!

 

All donations are highly appreciated!

 

My Photography Gear

Fujifilm X-T1
Fujinon 35mm F2.0 WR
Manfrotto BeFree Carbon
Fujinon 16-55mm F2.8 WR
Lee Landscape Polarizer 
TheFilterDude 77mm Adapter Ring
TheFilterDude Foundation Filter Holder
TheFilterDude 105mm Adapter Ring
LowePro Flipside Trek 350AW
Fuji Remote Timer
Wasabi Battery Pack for Fuji 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Calibrate your screen with DisplayCAL and a Spyder 5

    • July 21, 2017 at 9:13 am
      Permalink

      Thanks for leaving the comment 🙂 Glad I could help!

      Reply
  • September 6, 2017 at 8:57 pm
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    Thanks so much for this! I just bought a Spyder5 express (sorry, I would have used your affiliate link if I’d known about it then!). I knew the Spyder5 hardware is exactly the same for all three versions (express, pro and elite) and that I could use DisplayCAL free for a much more accurate result and sure enough, the express software gave a poor result which was way too warm but no one mentioned all the complexities in getting DisplayCAL set up properly to work with a Spyder5 so your article has saved my neck, thanks a million! I also thought the Spyder5 Express colorimeter itself had its ambient light meter physically disabled but guess what, that is just a software thing too and DisplayCAL uses it successfully!!

    Reply
    • September 7, 2017 at 12:22 pm
      Permalink

      You are welcome. Thanks for leaving your experience!

      Reply
  • October 31, 2017 at 3:32 pm
    Permalink

    Thank you for your help. Just FYI, your Spyder 5 software link isn’t working. I’m currently downloading the installer from their site. Anyways, thanks. 🙂

    Reply
    • November 14, 2017 at 12:36 pm
      Permalink

      Hey Josh, thanks for the info! Will Update the Link right away!

      Reply
  • November 16, 2017 at 1:43 am
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    Thanks a million for this article, super useful! It wasn’t easy figuring everything out, so you’re a star! My only concern is that on iMac I couldn’t find how to change the RVB as stated in step 3, so I’m not sure the calibration process will be correct..? Any idea or input please? Again, thanks a million #applause

    Reply
    • November 21, 2017 at 10:54 am
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      Thanks Emilie, glad I was able to help. Unfortunately I have no experience with Mac on that matter 🙁

      Reply
  • December 12, 2017 at 6:53 am
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    why does my displaycal don’t work? everytime my pc boots up the calibration profile stop works. And a pop up saying my calibration profile couldn’t load with the graphics card.. Am so confuse iv’e tried everything nothing works.

    Reply
  • January 3, 2018 at 1:13 am
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    Thanks for write up! I am using Mac, should I uninstall the Datacolor software before running DisplayCal? Thank you,

    Reply
    • January 3, 2018 at 8:13 am
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      Hey Raj, yes, absolutely.

      Reply
  • January 5, 2018 at 3:38 pm
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    This is awesome. Thanks man!

    One quick question regarding brightness
    Should I set the monitor to a preferred brightness before starting the calibration?
    Should I recalibrate the screen every time I change the brightness?

    Reply
    • January 5, 2018 at 4:38 pm
      Permalink

      Hi there, if I recall right, you have to adjust the brightness during the calibration process. Otherwise I would go for a brigthness level that feels comfortable for you.

      Reply

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