Colormunki Photo Review

color calibration Jun 09, 2009

One of the questions I often hear from my photography students is “Why does my photo look fine on the screen, but the colors are all wrong when I print it?” The moment you ask that question (even to yourself), you have crossed over into the Twilight Zone known as colorspace management.

In a nutshell, the colors your camera sees may be more or less than what your computer can see/process which may be more or less than what your printer can print. Simple, right?

Without going into a full blown discussion of this topic, I will go so far as to say that once you have come to this bump in the road, it’s time to go shopping for a colorimeter.

A colorimeter is a device that measures the color output of your display (and in some cases, printers) and produces a color profile that is then installed in your computer’s operating system (Windows and Mac both support this) where colorspace-aware applications (like Photoshop) can then accurately map the colors from one device to the next making sure that what you see is truly what you get.

In this first installment, I got to spend a considerable amount of quality X-Rite_Logo_Lo.jpg.jpegtime with X-rite’s Colormunki Photo, an all-in-one color management solution for PCs and Macs.

The Colormunki device looks like a black 25 foot measuring tape. If anyone in your home does carpentry, be aware that they might try to measure a 2×4 with it. It is a USB powered device, so all power and data flow through one cable.

CMP_Device.jpg

On the side, you will see a dial that sets the operational mode of the device. You don’t have to remember what each setting means, the included calibration software tells you when and what position to set the dial to.

Unlike most other calibrators I’ve used (and I’ve used quite a few), the Colormunki requires you to insert it into a neoprene sleeve with a weighted strap before you mount it on the monitor. This is first time I have ever seen one of these devices wear a wetsuit.

CMP_pouchDevice.jpg
CMP_onMonitor.jpg

The software is wizard-based, guiding you through a series of screens before the actual calibration begins. The software prompts you for setting the dial on the device, when to insert it into the sleeve, when and where to hang the device, etc. After all that the system begins measuring a series of colors on the screen and comparing them to an internal table. After that, the software produces an ICC color profile for your monitor and installs it in the operating system setting it as default. The difference is noticeable.

The Colormunki can calibrate, CRTs, LCDs (desktop and notebook) and even digital projectors.

CMP_Laptop_projector.jpg

It can also calibrate printers by printing a target which is scanned in by hand and then printing a secondary target which is also scanned in by hand. The software then compares the readings of the two targets and creates an ICC profile for that printer/paper combination. This is especially handy if the paper manufacturer fails to provide printing profiles for their papers. It’s also a boon for the cynical photographer who doesn’t trust the paper manufacturers anyway.

CMP_ScanningRGB_Lo.jpg.jpeg

In practice, the monitor calibration is very easy and the software reminds you to recalibrate every two weeks. The printer profiling is a more “hands-on” process, involving more time (you will need to allow each target to dry for 10 minutes), more space (the scanning of the test targets requires some maneuvering room) and a bit of manual dexterity (you need a steady, straight motion to accurately read each test stripe.)

However, all of this hard work is rewarded by a vastly smoother photographic workflow, way less ink/paper consumption due to miscalibrated prints, and the looks of amazement on your customers’ faces when they see what you produced for them.

Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
All-in-One device can handle displays and printers. Printer scanning can be a bit tedious.
Fairly compact considering all that it does. Pricey.
Unit is self-calibrating. Ambient light sensor adds variability if left in auto-management mode.
ICC profiles produced are extremely accurate. Printer test targets consume a lot of ink. Be sure to save the first target for future use.

Conclusion
The X-rite Colormunki does a very excellent job at calibrating one’s monitor, providing rich, accurate color profiles. It’s printer calibration function, while accurate, is a more manual process that requires a steady hand and plenty of room. Printer test targets are fairly ink intensive and require 10 minutes to dry each.

For monitor calibration, I rank the Colormunki Photo as Excellent, but in printer calibration I only give it a Fair, making the overall ranking Very Good. The Colormunki software is compatible with 32 & 64 bit Windows and mac OS X Leopard and above. Street price for the Colormunki Photo is about $450 USD.

I would like to thank the Marketing & PR departments at X-Rite for allowing to me to try out the Colormunki for as long as I did.

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