Calibrate multiple monitors with a Spyder4express™

Anyone who is serious about the color accuracy of their photo or video projects knows the importance of display calibration. Using a hardware sensor is the way to go, but if you have multiple monitors and opt for one of DataColor’s popular Spyder products, you better be ready to shell out some serious cash for a more high-end version. That’s because the software for the entry-level Spyder4express limits calibration to a single display… or does it? The other Spyders do have additional advantages over the Spyder4express, but by using a bit of ingenuity it is entirely possible to calibrate multiple monitors using this little guy.

THE PROBLEM

The way the Spyder4express software keeps its users from calibrating multiple monitors is quite simple. After it finishes running its process on the first monitor, a color profile is created for that display. So far so good — this is the way every calibration software works. But as the user attempts to calibrate the second monitor s/he will run into the first obstacle: the program window seems to be “stuck” on the same monitor as before, meaning it will only be possible to calibrate on that monitor. This part’s easy to get past. On Windows simply open the Displays control panel and set the second monitor as the main display. The Spyder4express software will only calibrate whatever display is set as the main display.

The big problem comes after you calibrate the second monitor and realize that the color profile created has overwritten the color profile for the first monitor. There is no way to name color profiles from within the Spyder4express’s software — it will automatically name every profile it creates “Spyder4Express.icm”, overwriting any earlier profile with the same name.

Spyder4express

THE SOLUTION

The way to get past this limitation of the Spyder4Express’s software is to rename each color profile right after creation. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as renaming the file, although that’s a good start. Navigate to your system color folder (in Windows 8 it’s C:\WINDOWS\system32\spool\drivers\color), find Spyder4Express.icm and give it a more descriptive name.

Now the next step involves renaming the profile’s “internal name,” the name stored within the file — the name the Spyder4Express’s software actually cares about. And that’s not so straightforward, at least not on a PC. I believe that Macs come with a pre-installed software that allows modifying a profile’s internal name, but PC users will first have to download Andrew Shepherd’s ICC Profile Toolkit.

After installing the program, it might be a good idea to take a look at the ReadMe file for a short lesson on how to use it. It mentions tooltips and a context menu, but for some reason I couldn’t see either even after following the troubleshooting directions. Not a big deal. Simply navigate to the folder where the program was installed and run ChangeDescription.exe.

From there you should be able to open the profile you want to edit and make the changes. But let’s back up a little because to be honest even that didn’t go so smoothly for me. Strangely enough I was not able to browse to my system color folder from the Open dialog box. No problem, I just copied the path (C:\Program Files (x86)\ICC Profile Toolkit) into the “File name” field, hit enter and voilà!

Oh and for quickly switching between profiles may I suggest a free program by X-Rite called “DisplayProfile.” I will not link directly to it because I want you to access it from this guide, which explains yet another good reason to use “DisplayProfile” AND gives you an extra bonus. Curious? Click.

Color Spaces

If you’re like many people who work with photos and other images for print or the web, there’s a good chance you’re confused about color spaces. In fact, you might just ignore them altogether. I hope this article will help you get your head around the topic. Since I deal mostly with Photoshop and Lightroom, I will focus on these two programs and how color spaces relate to my own workflow. But no matter how you work with your images, I believe there is a lot of useful information here and I think you will get something out of it. Let’s jump right into it…

Photoshop

Photoshop

  • When an image is opened in Photoshop, the program assigns your current RGB Working Space to it if it doesn’t have an embedded profile. This behavior can be changed in Color Management Policies under Edit > Color Settings…
  • To change an existing image’s color profile, go to Edit > Convert to Profile (not Assign to Profile).
  • If your image is embedded with a color profile other than sRGB, Photoshop will automatically convert it to sRGB when you choose Save for Web. This is because most browsers have that as their default color space. However the conversion will change the colors of the image so it is better to change the image’s profile using Edit > Convert to Profile before using Save for Web.

Lightroom

Lightroom

  • Lightroom works in its own color space, which has a wide gamut. You don’t need to choose color settings or color profiles until you are ready to output your photos, i.e. exporting them or choosing to edit them externally. Color spaces for exported files can be chosen in the Export dialog box, while External Editing color spaces can be chosen in the External Editing tab of Lightroom’s Preferences.
  • When you are finished editing a photo outside of Lightroom, just choose Save to import it back into Lightroom. The color space will be retained. From Lightroom you can export it for different purposes and the program will automatically convert color spaces accurately. If you want to use Save for Web from within Photoshop, remember to choose Edit > Convert to Profile and choose sRGB first, otherwise the colors will be changed.
  • If you get a pop-up that says “This version of Lightroom may require the Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in version x for full compatibility” upon choosing Edit In > Photoshop from within Lightroom, here’s what it means and what you can do (thanks to Jim Wilde at the Lightroom Forums):

That message will always be issued whenever there’s an “ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) Mismatch” between Lightroom and Photoshop. In other words, this happens when the two programs are using different versions of the Camera Raw plug-in. When the ACR levels are in sync, what happens when you use “Edit in….” is that LR passes all the relevant information to PS which then uses its ACR plug-in to render the file into PS’s working space. This means that a new file (Tiff or PSD) isn’t actually created on disk and imported into Lightroom until you select “Save” in the PS file menu… in other words if you change your mind and close the file in PS without saving, no new file will exist.

However, you don’t have to upgrade PS or its ACR plug-in just to get the ACR levels in sync…..when you receive the mismatch warning in Lightroom, simply use the “Render using Lightroom” option. This uses Lightroom’s ACR engine to render the file, then passes that to PS for editing…..the only real consequence of doing this is that the rendered file (Tiff or PSD) is created by Lightroom (and appears in Lightroom) before it’s passed to PS for editing. If you edit and save in PS, no difference to a workflow that is in sync, but if you cancel out of the editing in PS you are now left with a Tiff/PSD in LR which you probably don’t want and so have to delete. Other than that, the workflow works fine.

Using “Open Anyway” means that Lightroom passes all the edit information to PS which then uses its ACR plug-in to render the file….however because the ACR plug-in is at a lower level than LR the consequence is that any LR edits done using tools that were introduced AFTER the ACR plug-in for your version of PS will not be understood by PS/ACR and so will be ignored.

Other useful stuff

gamuts

  • Hex colors are just RGB colors written in a different format (example: pure red is written as “255, 0, 0” in RGB and “FF0000” in Hex).
  • Many cameras allow you to change the color space that photos are captured in. If you’re shooting RAW, you don’t need to worry about this; otherwise it’s a good idea to choose Adobe RGB (1998). That way your images will have a wider gamut of colors and you can always convert them to another color space from within Photoshop (recommended for displaying them on the web or printing in printers that don’t support or are not calibrated for Adobe RGB (1998)).
  • Range of colors (gamut) from smallest to largest: sRGB -> Adobe RGB (1998) -> ProPhoto RGB
  • A color space with a smaller gamut has the advantage that average monitors can display all its colors (what you see is pretty much what you get). Web browsers use sRGB so anything else doesn’t make sense if your images will be displayed on the web.
  • Color spaces with a large gamut have the advantage of… more colors. They are good for working on photos (especially with high-end monitors that can display all the colors) and for printing with high-end printers that support and are configured to take advantage of the large gamut.

More information

Check out these resources for other useful articles on color spaces: