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Why do picture colors vary from computer to computer, or when I print them?


I enter textile art into exhibitions. The first phase is with jpegs.
I have a PC and most of the galleries use Macs. When I tried on my PC
to make the jpeg image exactly match the colors in the original I was
really surprised how different this looked on a Mac it was way too
saturated and really I would have been better to leave the image alone.
How do I set up my monitor to look the same as a Mac without buying a
Mac? Can i set my desired gamma to 1.8 as Macs are, will this help or
just ruin my own monitors rendition. Is this gamma setting the
difference or are there other reasons.

First, let me say that I don’t believe that this is a Mac versus PC
thing at all.

I have two identical LCD monitors on my system, and even when I drag
a picture from one to the other, or better yet split it across both, I
can see color differences between the two.

The bottom line: color matching is really, really hard.

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I will say this about your gallery’s Macs: they’ve probably invested
in higher quality monitors, and perhaps even taken the time to
calibrate them.

And calibration is the key.

As I said, my two otherwise identical monitors display colors that
are slightly, but visibly, different. In my case, for the most part,
that’s not a big deal. The things I deal with rarely need that level of
color accuracy anyway. And as I sit here I’d be hard pressed to tell
you which one is “wrong”. My guess is that they both are, to some

“… my two otherwise identical monitors display
colors that are slightly, but visibly, different.”

The solution, were I to need it, would be to calibrate the monitors.
This is typically more than just gamma, it often involves several
settings that are often monitor and video card driver specific.

And I’ll readily admit that, for the most part, the specifics are
well beyond me.

There are actually several problems in getting things “right”.

One is to define “what’s right?”. I could get my monitors to match
each other, perhaps, by fiddling with all the controls and color
settings, but how do I know that those colors are indeed accurate? Just
like you, if I take a picture to someone else’s computer, how do I know
that the colors will show up the same there?

There are, in fact, devices that will let you calibrate your monitor
to a somewhat objective standard. You place these devices in front of your
monitor where they examine your display and provide calibration
settings for it. I’ve not tried these, but my understanding is this type of adjustment
is typically required for true machine-to-machine
color portability.

The larger problem on the web is that it may not really matter just
how wonderfully calibrated your machine is … the machines of your
website visitors or photo viewers may not be calibrated at all. As
such, what they see may still be wrong, and that’s quite out of your

If this is something you do often, I’m thinking that the thing to do
would be to use one of the calibration devices I mentioned above. If
not, many displays and video cards offer manual calibration tools and
steps as well, but the specifics will vary based on your manufacturer.
While the Mac apparently includes color calibration tools, most PCs do
not. A quick Google search on “monitor calibration”, however, turns up
many sites with more detailed information and tool recommendations.

Do this

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3 comments on “Why do picture colors vary from computer to computer, or when I print them?”

  1. Calibrating monitors is a major part of one point of the process, but to generalise, the process is called “profiling”. A colour profile is a collection of ‘corrections’ compiled to correct an images colour so that it displays correctly (monitor) and prints correctly (hardcopy reproduction. Leo, you’re quite right in saying calibration is hard, it is very difficult to get it right, and you need a lot of information of the conditions where the image is going before you can profile it or what is called ’embedding a profile’. This is were the worth of more expensive image applications come in to play, like Photoshop, where colour management on the program enables an image to be displayed correctly using a preset profile. If you right click on a colour image file and go down to properties, into summary and look at ‘Advance’ options you can see what has made the image and if it has a profile embedded. 99% of the time it will be “sRGB” which is quickly being adopted as the basic standard for digital images. In my work I use a calibrated monitor, which is high contrast, dull colour and low light – not what a lot of people would like for gaming on, and I use no profile in my images, ie colour management turned off, because it depends on where my image is going as to what profile will be assigned to it, by the end-user. As for your solution, you would be best to first contact the IT at the gallery and ask for a profile to be emailed to you, it is likely to be a “.icc” file, which you can right-click on and choose install. This will place it in your *root*\system32\spool\drivers\colour and be available as an option to use as a profile on your system, hence bringing you closer to what they see – the rest will be up to you using the contrast, brightness, colour of your monitor and your quality of monitor to reach this accuracy.
    Why does one 22″monitor cost $350 and another $600 … I think we’re closer to understanding why now – there’s players, and there’s workers.

  2. Further more: I didn’t want to bore you with a monster post, so here’s the 2nd installment; the other aspect of reproducing colour is the ability of the printer. All colour equipment has a measurable gammut range – the gammut is the limit of colour it can display/print. Printers are a key example for profiling images, as every printer, even between same models, vary in their gammut of colour reproduction, however so slightly. Part of the colour calibration/profiling event is to determin the printers “dot gain”. This is the increase of contrast that happens at EVERY step of reproduction – where highlights become lighter and shaddows become darker. A dot gain will show you on-screen what parts of the image will ‘drop out’ – become too white or too black to see detail. A printer can not print at such vivid quality that you can see on most screens – you need to profile/compensate and ‘scale down’ your screens quality to match the printer, so what you see is what you get. If you have a printer installed on you computer, there’s a good chance there is a profile suitable for your printer on your system – if your application supports colour management, find this profile and use it when you print. Hold up the print next to your monitor, and adjust the settings (contrast, bright, colour) on your monitor to suit the print – now, what you see on screen is what you will end up with in your hand. Just to foil this, cheap programs can vary in their ability to pass on all the image information to print accurately, if you want to print pics or flyers or documents, try and stick to an application your familiar with – and back up your preferences for when you crash and loose your settings. Right Leo!

  3. Color bars are an artificial electronic signal generated by the camera or by post production equipment. They are recorded at the head of a videotape to provide a consistent reference in post production.


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