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Colour

A User Review

By Ian Lyons

 

A Computer Darkroom Review

Contrary to what some would have us believe calibration is not a "one-shot" and forget option. The characteristics of monitors, printers and to a lesser extent scanners will change with time and use. Typically printers will present users with the greatest challenge since even something as simple change of batch for paper and/or ink can result in a major variation in colour rendering. Likewise monitor phosphors will fade, albeit slowly, and so we can't even rely on the image being displayed correctly for anything more than a few weeks.

 

As readers of this web site will no doubt have noticed I am a great believer of all things colour management and to this end I have used and commented upon many low cost ICC/ColorSync profiling software packages. In the main these packages are straight forward to use and relatively accurate. However, like many others I have sometimes found them wanting when it comes to the highest quality colour matching. As each colour management vendor has attempted to address these issues with new software releases we still find that the hardware requirements remain too expensive for the majority of users and so they forgo the many benefits. If colour management is to become the norm it must not only be user-friendly and quick, but very accurate and cost effective.

So we have the low cost scanner based software on one side and the high cost spectrophotometer based solutions on the other. Those systems that reside within the middle ground have generally tended to be limited to relatively old and slow measuring devices or are limited to one type of input/output device. However, in early 2001 GretagMacbeth; one of the industry leaders released a relatively low cost spectrophotometer based colour management package. Can GretagMacbeths Eye-One fill the gap left by others?

Product Comparison

The GretagMacbeth Eye-One is a colour management system designed from the ground up to satisfy the needs of a wide range of users. Depending upon actual operational requirements there are three different packages available. The product comparator chart shown left outlines the main differences between each configuration.

In the following paragraphs I will identify the main features of each configuration and will provide some tips on how each can best be used.

 

Configuration 1

Eye-One Monitor is the least expensive of the three Eye-One configurations and comprises all the components required for monitor calibration and profiling. The main component is the Eye-One Monitor instrument, which is a compact, handheld spectrophotometer that reads colour on all types of monitors, including flat panel LCD type displays, and a simplified version of Eye-One Match software. The software is Wizard based and easy to use.

Interface

Calibrating the monitor

A USB cable connects the Eye-One spectrophotometer to the computer which ensures that it is compatible with most modern PC and Mac computers. The Eye-One spectrophotometer doesn't require a separate power supply since this to is provided via the USB port. It's important to connect the spectrophotometer to the computer before starting up the calibration software since the instrument itself is acting as a dongle.

Shown below; a special harness arrangement ensures that the Eye-One device can measure LCD type displays without causing surface damage or distortion. A simple suction cup arrangement is provided for use with conventional CRT monitors.

Spectro support

Supporting the Spectrophotometer

Eye-One Monitor costs approximately $600 and is primarily intended for those users who require only to profile monitors. GretagMacbeth suggest that Eye-One Monitor is best suited to users who mainly work with images and graphics destined for use on the Internet or simple AV presentations. Eye-One Monitor cannot be upgraded to enable profiling of printers, etc. and so those thinking of purchasing it should bear this in mind when making their purchase decision.

Configuration 2

At $1500 Eye-One Pro is designed to do all of the things that Eye-One Monitor does, plus it also lets the user scan and measure colour from any reflective source.

Whilst the Eye-One spectrophotometer supplied with the Pro package may look similar to that supplied with Eye-One Monitor - it isn't the same. Eye-One Monitor will only make emissive type measurements whilst Eye-One Pro can make both emissive and reflective. Again the spectrophotometer MUST be connected before the software will operate. However, unlike the monitor version which can use any USB port the Pro version must be connected to a powered port.

Eye-One Pro is supplied with a scaled down version of Eye-One Match software (discussed later). With Eye-One Pro we also have the option, at a later date, to upgrade via software to Eye-One Match. Alternatively, users may choose to use the Eye-One Pro spectrophotometer with GretagMacbeths high-end profiling solution such as ProfileMaker Professional or even one of the growing number of third party packages that include support for the Eye-One spectrophotometer.

Eye-One Pro

i1 Share Interface

Eye-One Pro components

Eye-One Share

Also included is Eye-One Share which is used with the Eye-One spectrophotometer to create customised colour palettes or measure spot colours. These measurements can then be shared with co-workers who may also need to evaluate these colours. The measurements are stored in a proprietary format so the co-workers will need to have access to Eye-One Share. Eye-One Share is freeware and doesn't require the Eye-One spectrophotometer to be connected when reviewing measurements. Eye-One Share can be downloaded from http://www.i1color.com.

Configuration 3

Eye-One Pro with Eye-One Match completes the range and provides the user with a complete colour management solution. Besides all the benefits of the Eye-One Pro package Eye-One Pro with Eye-One Match will allow the user to profile a wide range of input and output devices; e.g. monitors, scanners, digital cameras and printers - so that colours are consistent from input to output. Eye-One Pro with Eye-One Match costs approximately $3000.

Eye-One Match is designed to profile a wide range of printer types including Off-set, Laser, Liquid Inkjet, Thermo Dye and RGB. It's the perfect partner for RGB type inkjet printers. Since the tools that normally provide control over black generation, etc. are absent it's somewhat limited in what it can do with high-end CMYK and proof printers. Nevertheless the default settings appear to do a pretty good job of profiling even the most complex of printer technologies.

Interface

Interface

Selecting the device to be profiled

Selection of printer type

Creating a printer profile is very easy with the supplied scanning ruler which is designed to enable the user to quickly measure the printed test chart. Typically the target of 288 coloured patches can be measured in less than 5 minutes. In "strip mode" the Eye-One spectrophotometer makes approximately 100 measurements per second and this means that as the user moves the instrument along the scan ruler each coloured patch will have multiple measurements which are averaged by the software. Given so many measurements Eye-One Pro with Eye-One Match  accurate colour output is pretty much assured. The Eye-One spectrophotometer can also be configured to make single patch measurements.

Measure Target

Measuring the printed target

Tips

  1. Creating printer media profiles

Place a couple of unused sheets of the media being profiled beneath the printed target. This helps to ensure that the "base white" of the media being profiled is more accurately measured.

Eye-On Match is also supplied with a proprietary scanning target for profiling flatbed (reflective type) scanners. However, in order that film (transmissive type) scanners can be profiled it will be necessary for the user to purchase a transparent type IT8 target slide. Using the scanner module Eye-One Match can also be used to profile digital cameras, but again the appropriate test target will need to be purchased separately.

As with the Eye-One Monitor and Eye-One Pro we find Eye-One Match comes with a simple but helpful instruction booklet that shows the user what's needed to get set up and profile all of their devices. Again,  Eye-One Match also makes extensive use of on-line step-by-step instructions. These instructions are important to the operation Eye-One and should NOT be skipped until the user is familiar with the product.

Conclusions

I've been using Eye-One Pro with Eye-One Match since early November 2001 and found it to be both user-friendly and very quick to work with. The Eye-One is undoubtedly an excellent mid-price colour management solution for digital workers such as photographers, graphic designers and other graphic professionals.

Eye-One Matches only weakness, actually more of an omission, is a profiling editing facility. It's not that I found the profiles required editing, but that sometimes fine-tuning can be the difference between a very good profile and one that is excellent. Maybe GretagMacbeth will include an editor in a future release.

Since Eye-One Match is based upon the colour algorithms underlying the GretagMacbeth ProfileMaker Professional  the quality of the profiles obtained are excellent. Some users have suggested that the Eye-One spectrophotometer might benefit from an integrated UV filter. Obviously this will be dependent upon media type, and to some extent ink characteristics will also play a part. That said my experience to date would indicate that such a filter isn't an absolute requirement. Nevertheless, it would appear from information contained within the Eye-One SDK (software development kit) that future provision for UV filtration is included.

An updated version of the Eye-One spectrophotometer complete with the UV cut filter is now available. The filter is not not compatible with the original instrument. Users deciding to go the way of the UV filtered Eye-One should note that it costs extra and isn't the best choice for display calibration.

Version 1.2 of Eye-One Match is now available to registered users. The 12Meg download can be obtained from http://www.i1color.com. This update fixes a number of issues and includes anew feature whereby the application automatically detects the presence of optical brighteners in some media types and applies the necessary correction so that neutrals remain so in print.

For those demanding more control over their profiles (typically printer profiles) Eye-One Pro paired with ProfileMaker Pro 4 is probably the better option. Certainly my tests using the Eye-One spectrophotometer with this software left me in no doubt that the Eye-One is the perfect partner for ProfileMaker Pro. Interestingly GretagMacbeth have taken a similar view and a high-end bundle version of ProfileMaker Pro plus the Eye-One spectrophotometer is now available.

It's also worth mentioning that some Eye-One users have indicated a high degree of success calibrating the displays fitted to their Laptop type computers. That said a big question mark must remain over how accurate and therefore useable such displays are given the very narrow viewing angle for which they are renowned. Profiling desktop type flat panel displays such as the Apple 17" Studio display or 22"/23" Cinema display is a different matter altogether. The results that can be achieved when profiling these displays are excellent. With accurate profiling together with the other benefits of such displays it's no wonder that many graphics professionals are making the switch.

Unlike many competing products the Eye-One system is designed to be used on both Mac and PC platforms . Better still the software looks and works identically on both platforms. I have used the Eye-One without a single problem with Mac OS 9.x, Mac OS X, Windows 98, Windows 98SE, Windows Me, Windows 2000 and most recently Windows XP. If ever we needed a definition of "Plug and Play" the Eye-One system is it.

The next section provides a summary of steps involved in calibrating a monitor using the Eye-One. It also provides a lot more screenshots of the Eye-One Match software interface.

Display Calibration

Display calibration/characterisation is a relatively straight forward process with the Eye-One software providing lots of feedback in the form of "Help" text and graphics. Rather than show the complete process I have selected only those steps that require user input and so will impact upon the quality of the final monitor profile. Steps 3 through 6 are related to Calibration and steps 7 through 8 with Characterisation (profiling).

Step 1 - relates to selection of the device type to be calibrated  (e.g. monitor, scanner, printer).

Step 2  - relates to calibration of the Eye-One spectrophotometer and requires the use of the calibration late. This plate with its little white tablet is unique to each Eye-One spectrophotometer, so don't loose or damage it.

Tips:

  1. If available use the display degauss function before commencing the calibration process

  2. If using Mac OS X set your existing display profile Generic RGB Profile before launching i1Match

  3. Don't ignore the on-line Help instructions. Read and follow EACH instruction carefully.

Step 3

Step 3

Choose Monitor White and Gamma

The screenshot above shows the process using 7 simple Help graphics; the method of attaching the Eye-One spectrophotometer to the monitor. This step also involves the user making a decision regarding Monitor White (colour temperature) and Monitor Gamma.

The options for Monitor White are:

  • Warm white - equals 5000 degrees Kelvin

  • Medium white - equals 6500 degrees Kelvin

  • Cool white - equals 7500 degrees Kelvin

The options for Gamma are

  • Macintosh standard - equals gamma 1.8

  • Windows standard - equals gamma 2.2

Generally, MOST users will find that choosing Gamma 2.2 is best. So far as Monitor White is concerned most users should find Medium White is the optimum choice. 

Note: in general high-end LCD displays such as those form Apple have a Native Monitor White of approximately 6500 degrees K and a Native Gamma of 2.2. I highly recommend that you use these settings.

Step 4

Step 4

Optimising the Contrast (White Point)

This step begins with the user setting the Contrast control to maximum and then reducing it to the point where the little white/black triangles shown on the Contrast Quality Indictor are aligned. 

In Step 4 we are adjusting the monitor contrast control so as to optimise the White Point. If the white point is set too high the screen will be overly bright. The opposite is true if the contrast control is set too low. Once completed we can move onto the next step. If the monitor or supporting software (e.g. Apple LCD) is not provided with a contrast control then it's IMPORTANT to engage the checkbox so as to disable the measurement. Actually with Apple LCD's you should set the Brightness control (found in Displays control panel) to approximately 50%.

Note: It is not unusual for the two triangles to just about align even when the Contrast control is at maximum and the actual screen appears overly bright. Many users express concern/surprise at this- they shouldn't. If you find this happening I suggest that you reduce the Contrast control by around 5% and then remeasure. The two triangles will likely still align, but the screen brightness will be a little more acceptable.

Step 5

Step 5

Optimising the Brightness (Black Point)

In Step 5 we are adjusting the monitor Brightness control so as to optimise the monitor Black Point. For CRT type display it is absolutely essential that the monitor brightness control is set to minimum before commencing this step. The Eye-One software uses the monitors maximum black value as a base point and if this is set too high achieving a maximum black in Photoshop will be very difficult. Since the spectrophotometer is actually measuring black it will tend to cause the little white triangle indicator to jump around. In Eye-One Match version 1.0 this was a major headache. Fortunately subsequent versions of Eye-One Match (downloadable from http://www.i1color.com) have significantly reduced this problem.

As with step 4 it is important that the two triangles in the Brightness Quality Indicator are so far as possible, aligned. If the monitor is not fitted with a brightness control or supporting software (e.g. LCD type displays) it is again IMPORTANT to engage the checkbox so as to disable the measurement. Remember the Brightness control on Apple LCD displays acts like a Contrast control - don't confuse the two - for the sake of your own sanity engage the checkbox and bypass this measurement!

Step 6

Step 6

Adjusting the Colour Temperature of the Monitor

In step 3 above the user chose the desired or target Monitor White. In this step we will adjust the monitor colour temperature so as to get the numeric reading for Current temperature to match the Desired value. Whilst Eye-One Match can take advantage of monitors supporting individual RGB gun control,  attempting to get all three coloured indictors to align is pretty close to impossible on some monitors. So don't panic if they don't align. The key is getting the two numeric values to match

If the monitor is not fitted with a colour temperature control or supporting software (i.e. most LCD type displays) it is again important to engage the checkbox so as to disable the measurement.

Step 7

Step 7 is fully automatic and involves the software cycling through a series of 53 coloured patches. This step will take around 2 minutes to complete. 

Step 8

Step 8

Save the Monitor Profile

The Eye-One software automatically includes the date with all profiles so as to ensure that duplication or overwriting previous profiles can be avoided. On Mac systems ColorSync will automatically use the profile without any additional help. On Windows systems a small loader file is included within the Windows Startup folder. Users on both platforms should ensure that NO other profile loader (e.g. Adobe Gamma loader.exe is in use).

 

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