The best monitor calibrator is a must-buy for anyone working in photography. Because when you're viewing and editing your shots on screen, you don't want your eyes to be misled.
Most computer screens give a vibrant, dynamic picture, but this isn’t always the best for editing your photos. If you edit images on a monitor that hasn’t been calibrated, you may end up sharing pictures that are unintentionally oversaturated, too muted or have an obvious color cast.
It doesn’t matter which color space you select on your camera, or how you adjust Photoshop’s settings – if the screen has a warm cast or a cool blue cast and isn’t showing you an accurate picture, then any edits you make may be subtly or substantially out.
To ensure your computer monitor is displaying colors accurately, it pays to regularly calibrate its brightness, contrast and color. To do this, you need a monitor calibrator, aka a monitor calibration tool or a colorimeter. You simply place it on your screen and fire a selection of colors at it. The device will detect any discrepancies, and your computer can then programmed to compensate for them.
No amount of calibration can make a mediocre monitor into a dream display. But by using a calibrator, you’ll at least know that your monitor is performing at its best. Read on, as we list the best monitor callibrators available today.
The best monitor calibrators in 2023
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SpyderX is the successor to Datacolor’s popular Spyder5 monitor calibrator series. It uses a brand new lens-based sensor system rather than the old honeycomb baffle on the Spyder5. The result is a claimed increase in calibration accuracy, especially in the lightest and darkest image regions, and a sub-2-minute calibration time, making this the fastest Spyder calibrator ever. In our hands the Spyder X Pro calibrated our test monitor in a staggering 1 minute 15 seconds. Given monitor calibration isn't a once-only procedure (you should calibration roughly once a month to ensure consistent color accuracy), such a noticeable time saving is very handy indeed.
Available in Pro and Elite flavors, both SpyderX versions offer features like ambient light monitoring and multi-monitor support. The Elite (number four on our list) adds projector profiling, pro-orientated advanced calibration options, and its video color space targets are useful for video editing, but for most photographers we reckon the Pro edition offers the best bang per buck.
Whichever version you opt for, Datacolor’s calibration software is easy to use, yet includes plenty of customization to suit lots of monitor types.
You usually need separate devices to calibrate a monitor and printer, but the ColorChecker Studio packs both functions into a single tool. Consequently it’s no surprise that this all-in-one device is bigger than a typical monitor calibrator, and it comes with a case to hold it on your screen during operation.
Monitor calibration is quick and easy, as is the printer proﬁling procedure. You don’t need to pause on every individual color patch on the two A4 test prints: just slide along each row of patches and the device automatically does its thing. Like monitor proﬁling, a custom proﬁle is then saved, and you select this rather than using your printer’s default settings the next time you print.
See our full Calibrite ColorChecker Studio review.
The Elite version of the SpyderX colorimeter may look identical to its cheaper Pro sibling (above), but ﬁre up the Elite’s software and you get a host of extra features.
The most valuable is arguably the ability to calibrate your monitor not just to conform to a typical 2.2 gamma and 6500 K white point, but also to color space standards like sRGB, Adobe RGB, NTSC and Rec 709.
Given that they use the same hardware, it’s no surprise that the Elite manages a very similar sub-two-minute calibration time to the SpyderX Pro. Both versions maintain excellent calibration accuracy scores with negligible Delta-E variation.
There's no doubt that the SpyderX Elite is an excellent monitor calibration tool, but we'd only recommend it over the SpyderX Pro if you specifically need to calibrate your monitor to suit video color spaces, or want complete control over every element of the calibration process. For more information, see our full Datacolor SpyderX Elite review.
Compared to the Spyder X (above), the latest Spyder X2 from Datacolor is more evolution than revolution. We found it delivers excellent calibration accuracy, while the calibration process is now considerably slicker thanks to the much improved accompanying software. Calibration speed remains the same, though that's no issue as the Spyder X was already fast enough.
The X2 Ultra's primary improvement over the Spyder X is its support for very high brightness monitors, but unless you're the proud owner of such a display, there's little reason to pick this over the cheaper Spyder X Pro. Sure, the new X2 software interface is a welcome improvement, but the core functionality is largely the same as in the older Spyder X app. We're also disappointed that OLED monitors and laptops are still not officially supported by Spyder X2, as this display technology is at the forefront of monitor image quality and is becoming much more commonplace.
When it comes to the best monitor callibrators, speed is important; because to ensure consistently accurate color accuracy, calibration at least once a month is advisable. The ColorChecker Display Pro is targeted at image quality purists who want top-notch calibration as quickly as possible.
The ColorChecker Display Pro is designed to be a comprehensive monitor calibration tool; to this end, its calibration software is crammed with features. There are also extensive options for setting a range of desired brightness, gamma and white point.
Keep things in Basic mode and it’s fairly easy to use, albeit not quite as intuitive as Datacolor’s SpyderX software. But venture into the Advanced mode’s interface and you may well be bafﬂed by some of the more technical options on offer.
The SpyderX Studio is actually a large collection of gear. The calibration kit consists of the SpyderX Elite monitor colorimeter, a separate SpyderPrint spectrocolorimeter for assessing printed output, and a small SpyderCube to help set the white balance, exposure, black level and brightness when shooting Raw images.
The monitor calibration hardware and software, and the resulting color accuracy, are identical to the SpyderX Elite. Printer calibration requires you to print at least one sheet of color patches, which you scan using the SpyderPrint and a plastic ruler guide.
Opt for the single-page print of 225 color patches and the scanning process demands accuracy, but it’s painless; choosing two pages of larger swatches is easier, and you can ditch the guide.
The ColorChecker Display Plus is Calibrite's top-of-the-range model, and as such the most expensive. It's specifically aimed at professional filmmakers, editors, colourists and photographers using super-bright HD and HDR monitors.
While the company's other monitor calibrators are suitable for displays up to 1,000 nits, this one can accurately measure luminance/brightness levels up to 2000 nits. It also offers higher accuracy in dark colours thanks to it use of black current subtraction technology. Plus as well as USB-A, you also get USB-C connectivity.
Otherwise, though, there's not much difference from the Calibrite ColorChecker Display Pro. So to choose between them really is a case of weighing up the extra cost and the usefulness of these specific features.
Five things to look out for
Monitor output ﬂuctuates, so you’ll need to periodically recalibrate. Most colorimeters will get the job done in a few minutes and remind you when another checkup is due.
Ambient light detection
Some calibrators can measure surrounding ambient light and adjust monitor brightness to compensate. Useful when comparing printed images with on-screen equivalents.
The tech inside your monitor will affect how it displays colors, hence a calibration device that can accommodate subtleties like LED backlighting should produce more accurate results.
Fancier options can calibrate color to conform to color standards, match color output across multiple screens, or calibrate a projector.
If you’re into home printing, your printer can also be calibrated to ensure it’s printing at its best. You’ll need a calibrator designed for printer proﬁling.
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