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What Color Is It?

Spyder2Pro knows, and tells your graphics card, too By Charlie White

If you try to do research about color space and the way we see colors, or how to calibrate monitors so that you can see the correct colors in whichever display youre using, youll end up mired knee-deep in techno-babble. But ColorVisions Spyder2Pro Studio ($299, Mac or PC) helps you bypass all that mumbo jumbo, supplying a scientific instrument that can see colors so precisely, by comparison were all color-blind. I dangled the Spyder2 Colorimeter in front of all sorts of monitors, and noticed that some needed little adjustment, while others needed a compete overhaul.

Lets wrap our brains around what this tool and its attendant software does. At the risk of oversimplifying the process, here goes: It looks at your monitor, determines what your monitor needs to do to show you colors that look exactly the way theyre supposed to, and then tells your graphics card exactly how to go about making those colors look right. The aptly-named Spyder2 looks like a sleek, industrially-designed version of an eensy weensy spider with three stylized legs instead of eight, and dangles in front of your monitor just like its eight-legged namesake would. Its a beautiful thing, and it looks like something out of a futuristic movie like Minority Report. Its versatile, too if youre using a CRT monitor (Cathode Ray Tube the big, heavy, old tube-type monitor many of us are still stuck with), it has suction cups that hold it to the screen, for flat-panel LCDs it just hangs there by virtue of its elegantly-designed counterweight attached to its USB cable, getting a close-up view of what your monitors doing. 

Making all this work is the Spyder2Pro software, which employs an easy-to-use wizard interface to walk you through the proceedings. First, you install the software, and then it asks you to plug in your Spyder2 colorimeter into a USB port. Once you do that, it takes you through a series of questions about the type of monitor youre using. Is it an LCD or CRT? Does it have brightness controls, RGB color adjustments, Kelvin presets? -- things like that. It also wants to know what your target is will you be using it for NTSC colors? Will you be going to print? How about PAL? Make your choice here, and itll calibrate the monitor for that specific purpose. Youre also able to do a number of calibrations, each for its own special reason. Once youve described your monitor, it asks you to dangle the Spyder2 onto the monitor, showing you the correct area to place it in the middle of your screen.

[Click graphic for enlargement] Here's the Spyder2 colorimeter dangling in front of an LCD monitor. Notice the monitor control on-screen display on the lower right, and the color indicators on the upper right in the precisely calibrated position inside the box.

The first thing the color wizard wants to do is rough in your colors, showing you how to adjust the monitor to a point where red, green, and blue are equally represented. You do this by manipulating the controls on your monitor itself, and then clicking on a button where the Spyder2 checks what youve done.

[Click graphic for enlargement] Screen shot of the Spyder2Pro user interface

As soon as youve aligned all the colors properly into a narrow range, then the real science begins. Heres where the Spyder2Pro begins to create your color profile. It plays back a series of colors, the Spyder2 watching its every change and measuring each parameter. This process takes about 15 minutes to complete, and when its done, the software asks what youd like to name this color profile. After that, it places that color profile in a place on your computers hard drive where your graphics card can see it every time your computer boots up. When you start your computer, there it is, a little dialog box that tell you ?the calibration data were successfully loaded into the video card. Also, applications that are whats called ICC profile-compliant (see explanation of that in the next paragraph) are told by this color profile exactly how to interpret the colors in your work. Premiere Pro, Photoshop, After Effects, Illustrator, OS X, Corel Painter and a few others are all members of this club whose applications ask the ICC profile for advice before showing any colors on its monitors.

As a quick explanation, ?ICC stands for the International Color Consortium, a group of eight industry vendors that was established in 1993. These people were tired of colors looking entirely different from one application, operating system, or device to another. Their idea was to develop standards of color for all computer platforms that artists and content creators could refer to when using monitors, printing materials, scanning photos, making motion pictures, and anything else that required consistent color from start to finish. The result of this was a concept called ICC profiles, which make it so one device and another speak the same color language. Now that this format has been embraced by Microsoft, Apple, and many others including Adobe, we can all transparently move these profiles and images with embedded profiles between different cameras, scanners, monitors, printers, different software or even operating systems and be sure the colors stay the same throughout.  

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Related Keywords:color space, calibrate monitors, ColorVision, Spyder2Pro Studio, scientific instrument, Spyder2 Colorimeter, monitors, flat panel displays, ICC, International Color Consortium, Adobe, ICC profile


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