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10 Best Monitor Calibration Tools for Photographers

10 Best Monitor Calibration Tools for Photographers

Dwight Pavlovic
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An important utility for anyone working in the visual arts, a monitor calibration tool is designed to help maintain your display’s color accuracy. There are many errors that can start to creep in over time, especially on an aging device. Proper calibration guarantees the most accurate color composition possible in the images you produce, as well as anything you print or distribute.
Today we’ll provide links and more information on the following color calibration tools:
  1. Datacolor Spyder5 Express
  2. Datacolor SpyderX Pro
  3. Datacolor SpyderX Elite
  4. Datacolor Spyder5 Studio
  5. X-Rite ColorMunki Smile
  6. X-Rite i1Display Pro
  7. X-Rite i1Display Pro Plus
  8. X-Rite i1Studio
  9. X-Rite i1Studio Designer Edition
  10. Wacom Color Manager
A good monitor color calibration tool can help you improve the quality of your work and extend the life of your device. While purely software-based options exist and most computers have a built-in solution, combining hardware and software calibration tools provides the best long-term result.

What is the best monitor calibration software?

While many different manufacturers produce kits for monitor calibration, the most popular options are from a select few producers. To provide a good cross-section of prices and functionality, we focused on the most popular tools from Datacolor, X-Rite, and Wacom.
For most hobby photographers, a simple setup is a good place to start. Starter options are affordable and provide an easy way to learn about calibration equipment. Professionals and perfectionists should consider Pro versions and studio kits that provide deeper functionality, more variable controls, and sometimes more hardware.

Datacolor

One of the biggest names in color calibration, Datacolor has the majority of spots on our list. They focus on simplicity and ease of use with their designs, which has led to a substantial market share. It’s worth noting that they do still incorporate much of the technology originally developed by the competition at X-Rite.

1. Datacolor Spyder5 Express

Key Features: Easy to use, upgradable, popular with hobbyists and newer professionals
The Datacolor Spyder5 Express is acclaimed for its convenience and well-rounded features list. The 5-series devices are a bit older, but they’re often preferred for their sturdy build. Beginners get both a simple interface and interactive guidance, plus plenty of functionality to grow into as you get more experience.
Another important thing to remember about the SpyderX Express variant; you can upgrade to most of Datacolor’s higher-end calibration software suites without replacing the hardware (typically known in the industry as a colorimeter). That means you can get started with Express, keep your physical calibration tool, and simply upgrade to Spyder5 Pro or Spyder5 Elite as needed.

2. Datacolor SpyderX Pro

Key Features: Affordable, high calibration speeds, easy to use
Drawn from the newer X-series, the Datacolor SpyderX Pro introduces several new features. It includes a new colorimeter tool finished in white instead of black, which is an easy bit of color-coding that helps distinguish the newer SpyderX kits from their Spyder5 predecessors. As with the Spyder5 series, SpyderX colorimeters continue to work even when you upgrade to a higher service level.
The biggest selling point for many users may be the accessible price point, but it’s more competitive than most calibration tools at well below $200. And it also offers great features. SpyderX boasts extremely fast calibration times, around two minutes or less. Plus, new lens technology allows the system to provide an even higher degree of accuracy across multiple devices.

3. Datacolor SpyderX Elite

Key Features: Best for expert photographers, also designed for filmmakers
Intended for dedicated professional photogs, filmmakers, and other visual creators, the Datacolor SpyderX Elite offers the top colorimeter and software combination from Datacolor. Like the Pro, it provides incredibly fast calibration times and extremely high sensitivity.
The SpyderX Elite is packed with more customization features and support for a much wider range of calibration standards, especially for film and video makers. For that reason, it’s more than the average amateur may ever need, but it’s still ideal for anyone with a big workflow or that demands near-perfect consistency.

4. Datacolor SpyderX Studio

Key Features: Complete studio calibration kit, full hardware suite
The first full studio kit on our list, the Datacolor SpyderX Studio edition provides a comprehensive color calibration solution. With a full suite of supporting hardware and some of the best monitor calibration software available, it’s popular as a convenient all-in-one solution for experts and professionals.
When you open your case, you’ll find a Spyder Cube editing tool, high-speed colorimeter tool, and dedicated spectrocolorimeter accessory. It can even create a variety of customizable printer and ink profiles so you can color calibrate your own print media. For more about the kit and the hardware it includes, visit Datacolor’s SpyderX Studio portal.

X-Rite

An early pioneer in calibration technology and a corporate cousin of Pantone, X-Rite typically offers the most variety and best performance at higher price points. In addition to their standard monitor calibration tools, they offer a large selection of hardware kits and photo suites designed to make life even easier for professional photographers.

5. X-Rite ColorMunki Smile

Key Features: Easy to use, affordable pricing, compact colorimeter
The X-Rite ColorMunki Smile is a popular budget option with a streamlined interface, meaning you don’t really need any experience to get it up and running. That also means it’s particularly good for casual users and beginners.
It won’t take up too much room, either, thanks to the relatively compact colorimeter hardware, so it’s easy to use away from the office and store when you don’t need it. While it’s no longer available direct from X-Rite, the ColorMunki Smile is widely available at other retailers including Amazon.

6. X-Rite i1Display Pro

Key Features: Popular professional option, high calibration speeds, customizable
The X-Rite i1Display Pro is a fantastic option for professionals and provides a slew of software features and customization options. It’s also extremely fast and accurate, offering consistent results in under two minutes. It’s perfect for multi-screen setups, too, thanks to simultaneous calibration support.
Still, the more complex interface and design makes it better for pros and technically-inclined hobbyists. It’s a standout pick if you want a quality starting device and a large number of features to explore over time. It’s also one of two options on our list that you can buy directly from the Pantone Store’s Color Control section.

7. X-Rite i1Display Pro Plus

Key Features: Better for the brightest screens, projector support
Designed for brighter monitors and to support other display formats, X-Rite i1Display Pro Plus offers a slate of useful upgrades for not much more cost. While the previous two X-Rite entries support most standard screens, Pro Plus ups the ante to 2,000-nit brightness levels.
The audience for X-Rite i1Display Pro Plus kit is a bit more niche, though. Unless you work heavily with a projector or have a premium, high-brightness display, you may want to consider other options.

8. X-Rite i1Studio

Key Features: Easy to use, all-in-one hardware solution
The X-Rite i1Studio offers the full functionality of a studio color calibration tool without all the extra setup and equipment. It takes a little longer to calibrate, but it can produce a higher quality end result.
The all-in-one hardware design may seem intimidating at first, but it’s a simpler system overall compared to other studio kits. It’s great for printer and projector calibration as well, with support for multiple device profiles and simultaneous calibration.

9. X-Rite i1Studio Designer Edition

Key Features: Full studio solution, discounted Pantone Color Manager
Often marketed as the Pantone i1Studio Designer Edition, this kit combines the standard studio edition with access to the Pantone Color Manager. That saves a good bit at checkout and allows you to create and use custom Pantone color palettes.
It’s the perfect gift for Pantone brand loyalists and picky professionals, or if you want to save some cash getting a great calibration system and Pantone Color Manager in one purchase. Like the X-Rite i1Display Pro, the i1Studio Designer Edition is available directly from the Pantone Store.

Wacom

Based in Japan, Wacom is popular thanks to its tablet and touch-display lines. They don’t produce as many options for color calibration as Datacolor and X-Rite, but they do provide a reliable and well-priced mobile/tablet display option that isn’t restricted to Wacom devices.

10. Wacom Color Manager

Key Features: Designed for Cintiq, popular mobile option
The Wacom Color Manager is extremely popular for professionals who work with Wacom’s Cintiq touch and pen displays. It may be designed with Wacom displays in mind, but you can use it with many other devices. It also supports both Apple iOS and Android mobile systems.
The Wacom Color Manager is much smaller, too, which makes sense because you’ll use it with mobile devices. Otherwise, it provides many of the same management and customization features you can expect from a standard monitor calibration tool.

Choosing the best monitor calibration tool

If you’re still having trouble deciding, don’t forget to explore user reviews. Suitability can depend on your hardware and routine, so the best monitor calibration tool is something you may find through trial and error.
But reading through our list of The 10 Best Free Photo Printing Software Programs can always help you save some cash, and HP QuickDrop is a great transfer tool for hobby photographers and professionals alike.
Looking for a new monitor or planning your next upgrade? Check out our 5 Best HP Monitors for Photo Editing article for several standout options, plus a thorough guide on how to shop for monitors when photography or visual projects are your top priority. You’ll notice several devices are drawn from the HP Z family, which is particularly suited to photography and editing.
HP also offers great photo printer options after you settle on a new monitor calibration tool or desktop monitor. Start with our comprehensive guide on the ins and outs of photo printing, Photo Printers: What You Need to Know, then compare some affordable HP ENVY Pro All-in-Ones that also support photo print functionality.

About the Author

Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.

Disclosure: Our site may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.

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