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Colour Management

What's the difference between colour calibration and profiling?

Posted: 31 Mar 2017

We all know that colour management is the key to a great print, but what some people don’t know, however, is exactly what individual steps make up the colour management process. Some photographers often mix up the terms when they talk about colour management, even if they’re a pro at actually doing it. Given that the two processes are used in conjunction with each other, it’s not surprising that people confuse the two words.


We’ve decided to explain the difference between calibration and profiling to help make it clear to those of you who are just starting out on your colour management journeys and to those of you who are experts in colour management but occasionally get a little tongue twisted.


So, what’s the difference between calibration and profiling in colour management?


We recently put together a printing jargon buster which gave the meanings of frequently used printing words. In this instance, it makes sense that we also start with some basic definitions.


Calibration is the act of setting your device to a state of optimum neutral output, including luminance, gamma, and white point. This is mostly done on your display, whether that’s a desktop monitor, a laptop screen, or even an iPad. It’s usually a misnomer when people talk about calibrating their printer, as more often than not, that happens in the factory.


Profiling is the process of measuring the actual colour output in comparison to what it should be displaying and altering it so that it’s accurate. You can profile both your monitor or your printer/paper combination.


During your colour management process, you will typically begin by calibrating your monitor using the hardware adjustments on the device to bring it to a known standard. You will then use a colorimeter (such as those made by DataColor) to create a profile for your monitor. A colorimeter is a device with three filters of red, blue, and green that mimic the response of the human eye to light. The profile it creates is essentially a numerical description of the mapping between your device source and your target colour space.


Next, you will typically turn to profiling (not calibrating!) your printer and paper. You will do this by either using a generic profile that comes with your printer or paper, or by using a custom-made profile specific to your printer and paper combination. We provide this service for all our papers as it’s the best way to make sure that your on-screen results match your print.



So now I know the difference between calibration and profiling, what tools do I need for each process?


For Displays

We carry a range of quality and trusted colour management tools from DataColor that you can use to achieve great results with your prints, including colorimeters for profiling your monitor.

For hobbyists, we would recommend the DataColor Spyder5express. Its 4-step process means it’s a simple solution for calibrating displays.

The DataColor Spyder5pro has more advanced features which will make it more suitable for serious photographers, while the DataColor Sypder5elite is great for experts who feel comfortable with total control over their colour.


For Printing

For perfect prints, the DataColor SpyderPRINT is a complete solution that gives you the ability to create profiles for your printer, inks, and paper by printing a choice of targets and using the accompanying software to build a profile.

However, if you’re using any type of Fotospeed paper, we recommend that you get in touch with us to create a custom profile for free. We know our papers inside out, so all you need to do is print a target, send it to us, and let us do the rest.


For more information about the colour management products we offer, you can get in touch with our team. For more information on our custom colour profiles, check out our support page


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