Wednesday, September 15, 2010


There was a time in my life when Will Rogers often stated, “I know only what I read in the newspapers.” had a resonance with people. No one has taken his place in American culture and spoken for what can be learned from TV, or what they read on-line. Maybe it is just changing too fast to make any sense. It sure is when it comes to managing color on a computer system. When that began to become popular, to buy a sensor and software to measure and color manage the differences between a computer monitor and a color printer, it worked for a few of us pretty well. I had been reading, studying and experimenting with color management for years hoping it would finally be realized for most of us with computers and then Adobe released Photoshop 5.0/5.5 and it was then a real possibility for everyone.

But shortly the landscape began to change, CRT monitors began to be replaced with LCD displays. At the time I was beta testing for a maker of screen sensors and calibration and profiling software and with LCD’s saw a potential problem because they were much brighter than CRT monitors. As usual I was ignored being the troublesome gad-fly that is my nature, my view of things was not considered a real view of the future. That I was on to something even I did not foresee entirely until it became evident by all the hits on Google’s record of what was being posted on the Internet with as many as two million posts about “my prints are too dark.” Then I had to really dig into what computer users were doing and why it was producing unexpected dark print results, to understand the details of why and how this actually happens.

I have written about this problem in a long series of developing articles and blogs, so I will not repeat the details. However, it was just pure chance that a CRT monitor’s typical brightness almost exactly matched the paper white users were printing on. Only when LCD displays that were two and four times as bright as a CRT’s did the dark prints problem mushroom. The confusing part was even for some using the printer driver to control color rather than having Photoshop control color did not get dark prints, but those using Photoshop and color management did. Even so some thought it was a color management problem, but it did not involve profiles or the functions of color matching directly. And a lot of people did not realize that some printer drivers automatically re-adjust the image file sent to it for printing, often correcting for the disparity in images adjusted perceptually via a too bright LCD display.  

Today there is a certain awareness that LCD displays are much too bright to be used to edit and adjust photo image files and get correct print brightness in color managed prints. Even so, some of the software and sensor industry include instructions from the old CRT days as to how to adjust a monitor/display that results in calibrating and profiling at much too high a white luminance, or the manufacturer has kowtowed to photography users setting a much to high white luminance aim point because some photographer “like” their screens bright. While just a few companies in the Color Management and LCD display businesses guide users to effective screen white luminance adjustment that matches paper white. And sadly no one I know of has pointed out, if you calibrate and profile a display to a brightness that is much greater than the equivalent of paper white, the resulting color profile will be seriously skewed and incorrect for printing. Everyone can get a digital copy of an ICC IT-8 and open it in Photoshop and then just change the brightness or contrast adjustment and see on screen how much difference in brightness/contrast change color values. 

So besides some computer color display products that are misguiding, commentators that are only partly informed and a consumer LCD display industry that is indifferent and selling products that can’t be adjusted and profiled in brightness for color print matching, the users are between a rock and a hard place, as well as being part of an economy that can’t afford unnecessary waste. But fortunately a reader I must thank here, Tracy Valleau, recommended an LCD display that does work, and at a much more affordable cost. I received shipment of a new Dell Ultrasharp U2410 LCD display and am checking it out thoroughly to report on it as soon as possible. Keep tuned in, and before you jump into anything ask and maybe I can keep you steered in a good direction.

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