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User Review

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MonacoEZcolor 2.6

By Ian Lyons

A Computer Darkroom Review

When in May 1998 Adobe Incorporated introduced digital workers to the concept of colour management little did they realise the anguish they would put many through. From the earliest days we heard cries of : "my prints don't match my monitor" to "my scans all appear red when imported into Photoshop" - what was the cause and more importantly what was the solution?

 

The cause was pretty simple in that each device forming part of our digital workflow has its own unique way of reproducing colour. Photoshop now needed to understand how these devices saw colour and that's were the concept of profiling or characterising these devices came in. ICC profiles provide Photoshop with the description of how scanners and printers reproduce colour. Companies such as Epson, Nikon, Canon, etc all provided generic profiles with their equipment, although they rarely produced optimum results. High-end,  high cost profiling applications already existed, but it was Monaco Systems who first offered a solution within reach of the masses. The first version of MonacoEZcolor was inexpensive, reasonably effective and easy to use, albeit with some quirks when cropping the scanned target. We've moved on a lot since those early days and with each new crop of scanners and inkjet printers our expectations have continued to grow.

MonacoEZcolor has undergone another update; we're at version 2.6 now and with it we get  a few more new features including the ability to utilise the new MonacoOPTIX XR colorimeter for display profiling that is reviewed elsewhere on this site. With exception of the Wizard layouts for monitor calibration and support for the new colorimeter little else appears to have changed from version 2.5. Therefore I've simply revamped the original review to include references to the changes and improvements.

The MonacoEZcolor Interface

Like its predecessors MonacoEZcolor 2.6 creates custom ICC profiles for monitors, scanners, digital cameras and desktop colour printers. The feature set is comprehensive and remains a lot more integrated than similarly priced products. The wizard-based interface (Figure 1) ensures that MonacoEZcolor 2.6 is intuitive and very easy to use. MonacoEZcolor 2.6 includes the following enhancements:

  • Ability to interface with the new MonacoOPTIX XR colorimeter (X-rite DTP94) for both LCD and CRT display profiles although it  remains compatible with the older OPTIX colorimeter and MonacoSENSOR for CRT profiling.

  • Improved quality for all your profiles: monitor, scanner and printer.

  • Uses your Monaco OPTIX XR colorimeter to determine your monitor's best level of brightness and contrast to provide the widest possible gamut.

  • Supports dual monitor setups (Mac only)

  • Usability improvements include automatic target recognition and cropping

On-line help is always available and easy to follow, and unusually for a relatively low cost software application a comprehensive paper User Guide is provided (an Adobe Acrobat version is also available on the install CD).

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Figure 1

Display Calibration

Greatly improved display calibration with MonacoEZcolor is first on the list of enhancements. As with earlier versions this can be undertaken using two alternative methods: visually, using the software alone; or automatically, using the application in combination with the optional New MonacoOPTIX XR colorimeter. Using the colorimeter is much better and the new MonacoOPTIX XR is superior in every way to the older MonacoSensor or even the original OPTIX colorimeter reviewed elsewhere on this site.. The monitor white point (Figure 2) and gamma value (Figure 3) are each manually set by the user.

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Figure 2

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Figure 3

As already mentioned the automatic method uses the MonacoOPTIX XR colorimeter to measure a series of colour patches sent to the display by the application. These measurements (phosphor/dye data) ensure that the ICC profile created by MonacoEZcolor is a much more accurate representation of how the display actually reproduces specific colours. Applications such as Photoshop are dependent upon this additional data for accurate colour rendering.  The colorimeter (actually called the DTP94) is produced by X-rite and is probably the best colorimeter currently available. The MonacoOPTIX XR is designed for USB connection. Once the sensor is connected the application will automatically adjust the profiling workflow to suit. A separate review of Monaco OPTIX Pro will uploaded to this site shortly.

Profiling the Scanner

MonacoEZcolor is capable of profiling both reflective and transmissive type IT8 targets, although only the 7 by 5 inch reflective IT8 version is supplied with the package. Monaco Systems supplies 35mm and 5 by 4 inch transmissive versions at extra cost.

The process involves a short series of fairly straightforward steps: select the target reference file, position target on/in scanner, scan target and verify orientation of scan. Once these steps are completed MonacoEZcolor automatically locates and crops the IT8 target scan (Figure 4). Again the whole process takes only a few moments to complete.

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Figure 4

Building Printer Profiles

MonacoEZcolor 2.6 provides support for profiling both RGB (non-PostScript) and CMYK (PostScript) type printers. When Monaco Systems  introduced version 2 much was made of the ability to profile inkjet printers such as the Epson 2000P. This involved the user specifying the media type and scanner being used to measure the target prints. This feature is now gone and so far as I can see version 2.6 still hasn't been updated to handle the newer Epson UltraChrome pigment inks. As with monitor and scanner profiling each step has its own wizard panel along with appropriate instructions.

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Figure 5

The results of my printer profiling tests were pretty much in line with those for previous versions of MonacoEZcolor in so far as the scanner plays a significant role in the quality of the final profiles. Again, I found Epson's Enhanced Matte presented MonacoEZcolor with the greatest difficultly.

Editing the Printer Profiles

The ability to edit printer profiles was first introduced into MonacoEZcolor at version 2. The actual tools don't appear to have changed along the way, but it is still worth highlighting some aspects of the workflow.

Generally "output" profiles contain information relating to how the data being sent to the printer should be altered for optimum results and a second component that ensures the Softproof on our monitor properly reflects how this print will appear. Both components of the profile must be accurate, but quite often it will be the case that they are not the same. MonacoEZcolor provides the tools to enable the user to edit both components of the profiles independently (Figure 6). 

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Figure 6

If we find that our initial profile produces a print that does not reflect what we see in the Photoshop Proof Preview mode then it is likely that the preview component of the profile will benefit from some fine-tuning. Basically we will be editing the profile so that the PREVIEW on our monitor matches the print. This is achieved by selecting Method 1 from the dialog shown in figure 6 above. Figure 7 below shows the dialog that appears when method 1 is selected.

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Figure 7

However, if we find that the print matches the Photoshop preview but is unacceptable due to colour cast, brightness, contrast, etc. then we should choose Method 2 (Figure 8)

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Figure 8

Method 2 allows us to edit the profile so that the final print looks the way we want it. For example the original may well have printed with an excessive yellow cast; in which case we edit the profile to remove the yellow cast. Likewise if the print is dark compared to the preview we must increase brightness and so on. Strictly speaking we MUST be satisfied that the results from method 1 are to our satisfaction (i.e. the preview MATCHES the print - not better and not worse) before moving onto method 2.

The screenshot below (Figure 9) shows the actual profile editing dialog with Before and After images displayed (After available in Method 2 only).

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Figure 9

Given that MonacoEZcolor is not intended to be a high-end-all-singing-and-dancing solution the editor is reasonably complete in the tools that it provides. The preview screen can be resized to suite your needs and the Editing tools placed anywhere on the desktop.

Conclusions

As with version 2.2 and subsequently 2.5  I found visual profiling of the monitor to be acceptable, but the NEW MonacoOPTIX XR (not to be confused with the original OPTIX puck shaped colorimeter reviewed elsewhere on this site) is definitely the way to go, especially if using an LCD type display. MonacoEZcolor 2.6 has many  unique features; all of which make the process of creating and editing ICC profiles easy.

Profiling scanners and displays with MonacoEZcolor 2.6 was pain free and I doubt that many would be justified in being critical of the results. However, as with all scanner based profiling applications MonacoEZcolor 2.6 has its moments when it comes to printer profiles. The biggest limitation is the dependence upon the flatbed scanner for capturing the printed targets. Scanners were never designed to be used as spectrophotometers and so there will always be aspects of the printer profile that doesn't quite meet expectations. I found that like previous versions of EZcolor version 2.6 handled the majority of media and ink types quite well, except when printing on Epson's Enhanced Matte paper, which still tended to have odd hue shifts in saturated blues. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that this is an anomaly caused by my scanner rather than any defect in EZcolor, but it's still annoying. The profile editor is a nice touch and I found it to be intuitive and very easy to use.

During my testing I found that major edits could be undertaken without any significant detrimental impact on the overall quality of the resulting profile. The ease with which the user can edit the softproof preview component of the profile makes simple an aspect that is normally very complex.

 

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