Why & How To Calibrate a Monitor in Windows 7

In the article How to Install a Color Profile, we covered installing the correct color profile for your monitor, so that it displays more realistic images. Windows 7 has also introduced a Calibrate color wizard that provides further help in configuring your monitor to display realistic colors. Let’s see how this wizard works and why you should use it.

Important Technical Notions: Gamma and Color balance

Before we start the tutorial, it is best to explain a few important concepts you will encounter:

  • Gamma is a tricky subject and can be a bit difficult to understand. Simply put, gamma "is what translates between our eye's light sensitivity and that of the camera" used to take a photo, for example. Our eyes do not perceive light as devices do. Therefore, when a digital image is saved, it's therefore "gamma encoded" — so that when we view it, it is closer to as we would have viewed it in reality. Gamma correction is an important factor to calibrate due to the fact that monitors would not show images and colors that resemble what we would view in real life. Monitors work on the concept of small points of light that shine some level of red, green, or blue light. These color values are stored using a scale from 1 to 255 and are often called RGB values. Monitors, however, don’t deal well with this linear scale. They are more sensitive to certain values and result in bumpy transitions between some color boundaries that should flow more evenly. Gamma takes the RGB values and scales them to normalize the color scale for the monitor in question and allows all colors to be represented appropriately on the screen. If you want to know more on the subject, we recommend two places which explain this concept better than we ever could: Understanding Gamma Correction and Gamma correction on Wikipedia.
  • Color balance is an adjustment to how the various intensities of colors are displayed on your monitor. They are particularly important for neutral colors such as grey, because you don’t want the grey to appear to be a shade of pale red, green, or blue. While it’s important for photos with normal color balance, it’s very important when you are running special filters on your photos or have used a special color balance on your camera. For instance, there are times when you want to give an antique feel to your photography and you use a sepia filter or color balance on your camera. If your colors are shifted too far to the red, the sepia may simply end up looking like a washed out black and white photo instead of the antique feel the photographer was trying to get. If you want to know more, don’t hesitate to read this page on Wikipedia: Color balance. It explains things very thoroughly.

As you surely have figured out already, having these two parameters correctly configured, as well as other complementary settings, leads to your monitor rendering more realistic colors, closer to what they would look like in reality.

Now that you are more knowledgeable, let’s move to starting the calibration wizard and see how it works.

Starting the Calibrate Color Wizard

Go to Control Panel ->Appearance and Personalization -> Display or simply type display in the Start Menu search box and click on the Display shortcut.

In the Display window click on "Calibrate color", to launch the wizard.

Color Calibration

NOTE: as this is a privileged action, this may bring up the Windows User Account Control dialogue, depending on how you’ve configured UAC.

Windows 7 will now take you through it’s calibration wizard, with simple on screen instructions and pictures to help set your display to good coloration.

Calibrating the Display Color on Your Monitor

Click Next on the Welcome screen.

Color Calibration

The next screen prompts you to familiarize yourself with the hardware menu buttons on your monitor. Do as instructed and click Next.

Color Calibration

This screen explains the gamma adjustment process that follows when you click Next.

Color Calibration

Adjust the Gamma Slider on the left, following the directions in the previous screen and click Next. You will be trying to make your screen look like the "Good Gamma" above. Without using a proper gamma correction the steps following it are meaningless.

Color Calibration

The following screen gives you the option to "Skip brightness and contrast adjustment" or click Next to continue with it. By adjusting brightness you can avoid editing photos into final works that look washed out or dark and without detail. Let’s click Next.

Color Calibration

This screen describes the procedure that will be used to adjust the brightness. Read the instructions and click Next.

Color Calibration

Follow the directions to adjust the display brightness. When done, click Next

NOTE: This is a hardware setting that will vary from monitor to monitor and is not easily demonstrable in a screenshot. Good brightness levels on your monitor won’t be the same as for the monitor I own, for example.

Color Calibration

This screen describes the procedure to adjust your monitor’s contrast. The contrast setting is similar to brightness, in that we are trying to avoid images that lack detail while at the same time trying to avoid a washed out look.

Color Calibration

Following the directions your receive, adjust the display brightness. Just like brightness, contrast is a hardware setting that will vary from monitor to monitor and is not easily demonstrable in a screenshot. When done, click Next.

Color Calibration

This screen describes the procedure to adjust your color balance. Read the instructions and click Next.

Color Calibration

Following the directions received, adjust the red, green, and blue sliders to achieve neutral grey tones and click Next.

Color Calibration

This screen shows that you’ve successfully completed the Color Calibration Wizard, and gives you the option to toggle back and forth between your previous and current calibration. This gives you a good idea of the changes that have been made.

The wizard also enables you to optionally start the ClearType Tuner. For now, leave this option unchecked and wait for our next tutorial on setting the ClearType.

Color Calibration

Conclusion

While it is more subjective than using a manufacturer provided color profile, the Color Calibration Wizard should allow you to get fairly close to optimal settings for your display. As monitors age, the quality degrades. This is generally due to heat and dust, and there isn’t a lot that can be done to prevent it. As they degrade, they fall out of spec, and the manufacturer provided color profiles may no longer work properly. In such cases, this wizard can sometimes give a bit of extra quality in displaying images to an ailing monitor, until it can be replaced. While it has its detractions, it should provide users with viewing experience that is better than what normally comes out of the box.

Related articles:

How to Install a Color Profile
Screen Resolution? Aspect Ratio? What do 720p, 1080i & 1080p Mean?
How to Set Up a Digital Photo Editing Environment in Windows