Best Monitor Calibration Tool: Hardware vs Software Calibration

Best monitor calibration tool Hardware vs Software calibration

Color accuracy is critical for all digital artists, and choosing the best monitor calibration tool is the only way to ensure that the color displayed on your screen will be the one on paper or on screen when published. In general, the tools can be divided into software calibration and hardware calibration. While software calibration is easy to carry out and most crucial for everyday use, hardware calibration is a vital but more advanced process for professionals. 
 
Keep reading to find out more about the benefits of software and hardware monitor calibration or discover ViewSonic solutions for the creatives. 

For digital artists, photographers and all professionals working in visual media, learning about the best monitor calibration tool is crucial. Put simply, monitor calibration can be described as the process of fine-tuning your monitor so that colors and shading are displayed accurately and consistently. 

Imagine that you create a background for an image, and the color is pure red, meaning the red value is 100, the green value is 0, and the blue value is 0. This pure red color should always look the same. Yet, when monitors are not calibrated, subtle differences in hardware and software features could alter the way this pure red appears on other monitors or in print. 

The main calibration options available to you are software calibration, which is focused on fine-tuning the settings of the computer’s graphics card, and hardware calibration, which aims to adjust the display parameters of the monitor itself. In this article, you’ll learn about both options, including how they work and why they are valuable. 

The Importance of Monitor Calibration 

Before getting into the intricacies of software and hardware calibration it’s worth explaining the importance of monitor calibration in general. Knowing the basics, it’ll be easier for you to figure out which method better suits your needs. 

For digital artists, photographers, and other content creators doing digital editions, it’s easy not to overstate the impact of using a good monitor. After all, the perception of the work you’re creating, especially if printed, will rely almost entirely on what you see on the screen. If the colors displayed on the monitor during the editing process aren’t accurate, it’ll result in an end product (print, film, or digital graphic) not being true to the creator’s intention.  

A good way to think of monitor calibration is to view it as the process of setting up a monitor or several monitors up to a universal standard. This way you can maintain visual consistency throughout the whole creation from A to Z. Without this level of fine-tuning, the color accuracy of the product can never be guaranteed. 

best monitor calibration tool - monitor tool definition

Color Calibration 

In most cases, the fundamental aspect of monitor calibration for professionals working in the photography and design fields is color calibration. The easiest way to understand what this process entails is to think of a design as two things: what is seen on your screen and the actual finished product, which will be seen by everybody else on different devices. If a monitor is not color calibrated, there could be inconsistencies in what you see and what the finished product looks like. 

Color calibration involves setting a monitor in a way that accurately represents all color gamut and shading. Additionally, this process should ensure that colors are represented consistently across the entire screen, with no discrepancies. The outcome of a successful color calibration process is parity in terms of what you see on screen and the finished product. 

This process is especially important for print-based workflows. What is shown on screen will be a precise depiction of what will appear in print. Color calibration greatly enhances efficiency and eliminates time spent re-adjusting photographs or digital designs after they have been first printed for optimization.  

What is Software Calibration? 

Software calibration works by optimizing the settings on the graphics card. This card is connected to your display source, with a look-up table (LUT) being used to make any adjustments to the color display. The LUT is stored on the source itself (e.g., your computer), and the color corrections are processed by the software. 

As Digital Trends explains, both Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS have built-in calibration features, which can assist users with software calibration. Alternatively, there are a variety of third-party and online options available, which can help end-users adjust the colors displayed on their monitor via the graphics card. 

However, for those seeking the very best monitor calibration tool, you should use a dedicated hardware calibrator, along with the enclosed software. This grants a more advanced control on the calibration, improving the results not only in the short term but also in the longer term. 

What is Hardware Calibration? 

Hardware calibration is a more elaborate form of monitor calibration and the go-to solution for everyone with advanced needs. This applies especially to fields like photography, graphic design, print media, or online content creation. The process drives superior and longer-lasting results but can only be performed on certain monitors. 

Hardware calibration still utilizes a look-up table (LUT) to standardize the colors displayed on the monitor but keeps the information on a chip within the monitor itself. This then removes the software processing layer of the color calibration as the LUT isn’t stored on a source device. It is still performed using a monitor calibration tool, such as a colorimeter, but, keep in mind it cannot be done directly from your operating system.

Through a hardware calibration process, photographers, designers, and other professional creators can achieve superior color depth. They can also use the calibrated monitor with other devices and the settings will remain intact. 

best monitor calibration tool

What is the Best Monitor Calibration Tool? 

Essentially, when calibrating your monitor, you have the option of selecting software calibration, hardware calibration, or a combination of the two. To make it easier to identify the best monitor calibration tool for your needs, let’s have a look at the advantages and drawbacks of each approach. 

Software Calibration Benefits 

The main benefit of software calibration, and the reason it can be the best monitor calibration tool for many needs, is convenience. Software calibration is relatively quick and simple to achieve. It’s a cost-effective and easy way to calibrate a monitor, improve the accuracy of color and achieve consistency throughout an editing process. Additionally, for more casual users, software calibration is likely to be sufficient, and going beyond it may be overkill. 

Software Calibration Drawbacks 

While software calibration can be used with great effect to calibrate a monitor and improve color and shading accuracy, this approach cannot be easily adapted to different color spaces. A monitor set up for sRGB cannot be calibrated to Adobe RGB. Reliance on the graphic card for calibration means that eventual GPU defects can affect outcomes. This approach also means that connecting your monitor to a different source will require you to calibrate the monitor again. 

Hardware Calibration Benefits 

The most important benefit to be aware of with hardware calibration is the superior results. Removing the software processing layer eliminates relying on a graphics card which ensures precise color presentation. Beyond this, hardware calibration also offers greater flexibility and freedom because the calibration settings will still apply, even if the computer your monitor is connected to changes. 

Hardware Calibration Drawbacks 

The biggest drawback of hardware calibration is the fact that it cannot be performed on all monitors. Additionally, while the results achieved through hardware calibration are superior, especially in terms of color depth, the process may be too advanced, and this can make it unnecessary for those with more casual needs who have already performed software calibration. 

Factory Calibration 

Aside from the already mentioned software and hardware calibration options, some of the very best monitors will deliver color accuracy out of the box, as they are factory calibrated. A good example of this kind of factory calibration can be seen with ViewSonic ColorPro monitors. 

From a color management perspective, the primary benefit of using a factory-calibrated is the ease of use. The monitor will deliver complete color accuracy without requiring you to calibrate either the hardware or software manually first. These monitors come with sRGB/Adobe RGB color space options pre-installed and have been specifically designed with the needs of photographers, designers, and content creators in mind.  

Final Thoughts 

Hardware and software calibration both have important roles to play when optimizing a monitor. Both options help to ensure that the color display is consistent during the editing process and so accurate that the on-screen product and final product look the same. However, the extent to which either can be regarded as the best monitor calibration tool will depend on how advanced your needs are and the required level of precision.  

If you liked this read, you might also enjoy finding out the difference between Color Correction vs Color Grading or learning Why Creatives Need to Sync ICC Profiles.