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Calibration of Computer Monitors

- By eye or colorimeter -

Summary: Proper computer monitor adjustment, or calibration, is especially important with today's graphically rich websites and games. Minor adjustments can be made "by eye" but more critical calibration requires a device called a colorimeter.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Monitor adjustment/calibration

Your computer monitor is the viewport to the Web. If the monitor is not adjusted correctly, to an accepted "standard", you won't be able to view Web content as the author intended.

Good monitor adjustment is especially important for graphically rich sites like our site about home and garden insects. The most common problems are screen images that appear too dark or have a distinct color cast. Less often the problem will be images that appear too light.

The subject of monitor calibraton, or adjustment, and color theory can take up whole books. However, we have provided some very basic guidance below to get you started. These procedures will work equally well for either LCD or CRT monitors.



Is monitor out of adjustment?

Look carefully at the grey target below. You should be able to see 12, more or less distinct, shades of grey in the "steps" below the numbers. The lightest step is labeled "1" the darkest "12". The difference between steps 11 and 12 and the difference between 11 and 10 are usually the most difficult to see. Even well adjusted monitors just barely separate steps 11 and 12.

The grey border should be slightly lighter than the step labeled 7 but darker than step 6. There should be no color cast in any area of the gray box, it should appear neutral grey. If you have access to a photographic grey card hold it up to the screen for comparison. Step 1 should appear the same as the page background (white). Finally, the gradient below the steps should be smooth with no visible banding.

If you detect a color cast or see fewer than 12 steps you'll need to adjust your monitor (see below). Some video card/monitor combinations cannot be adjusted to separate steps 11 & 12. If you can't see 12 steps after adjustment you may need to replace your monitor and/or video card for optimum performance.


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Monitor adjustment

Monitor adjustments can be done inexpensively "by eye" or more precisely using a hardware device called a colorimeter. Eye-based adjustments are fine for non-critical situations or when only minor adjustment is needed (see Computer Monitor Adjustment by Eye).

The more precise method of monitor calibration is to use a colorimeter that takes the guesswork out of evaluating small color or shade differences on the screen (see Computer Monitor Calibration Using a Colorimeter). Select a method that suits your needs. Try the simple, inexpensive eye-based method for routine adjustment or the more precise, colorimeter-based method.

If you decide to replace your monitor and/or video card the good news is that prices have dropped and quality is up even in the last year or so.


The biggest problem with inexpensive monitors is you generally can't adjust them accurately so poor quality monitors end up being a constant eye strain. If you purchase a computer "system" you can always decline the packaged monitor and purchase a quality monitor separately.Video cards have also dropped in price and made dramatic performance gains in recent years so almost any AGP/PCI card with 32-128MB of onboard memory will serve your "non-gamer" needs.

Related Articles

Monitor Adjustment "By Eye"

Monitor Calibration Using a Colorimeter

How to Build a Computer System From Scratch

What's the Difference Between LCD and CRT Monitors?



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