By now, anyone reading this blog probably knows why it is important to calibrate and profile any monitors you’re using for serious editing or review work. But many of us also use multiple different monitors, sometimes on different systems, and perhaps haven’t been as careful trying to get consistency between them all. In my case, the purchase of a new laptop to help me plow through the 4K video from my drones and my D850 RAW files seemed like the perfect opportunity to get my virtual house in order. Fortunately, the StudioMatch feature of Datacolor’s SpyderX Elite software is designed to do exactly that. Here’s how to do it.
First: Define the problem
It is tempting to go all-in and try to match all the monitors you use. That probably isn’t a good idea unless they are nearly identical. That’s because matching high-end monitors with others that aren’t as capable results in compromises. So, in my case I decided what I really needed to do was two things: First, match my laptop’s native display with the BenQ SW270C monitor I’m reviewing and using as a second monitor while I’m back in the studio. And second, match those monitors to my main photo and video editing monitor, my BenQ SW320 which I really love. I have additional monitors in the studio, but they are mostly used either for palettes on my main system, or for email and writing on other machines. So, in my case the goal was to match the Dell display and two BenQ monitors. Fortunately, they are all excellent displays, with roughly 100% Adobe RGB coverage. They also use similar technology. If the Dell had an OLED display, that would make it challenging to both take advantage of the display’s full capabilities and still have it match my LED monitors.
Second: Run SpyderX Elite’s StudioMatch on your main monitor
When you fire up SpyderX Elite you’ll see a Shortcut menu in the lower left that gives you an option to launch StudioMatch. Start there. It will give you the option to match one or more of the displays on your current computer, or on multiple computers. By default, like you see in this screenshot, it starts by selecting all the monitors on your current computer:
In my case I wanted to match just the main monitor on this system, and the two on my laptop, so I selected the option to match displays on multiple systems. Because I did that, a new field popped up, asking me for the lowest brightness level of all the displays I’d be matching. You can get that by calibrating those displays and remembering what you got as the maximum brightness or running Spyder on them again and checking the display information. If you’re only matching displays on one system, Spyder can do that for you. It does that by running you through a quick maximum brightness test, and then measuring room light level.
Measuring maximum brightness is key to setting values for the final target.
After you’ve measured the brightness of all your monitors, StudioMatch will recommend a brightness setting that you can keep or change. I tend to set mine a little high, because I often find myself editing in situations where there is a lot of uncontrolled light when I’m in the field, or even when I’m working on other projects in the studio that require a lot of light. For maximum color fidelity, it is probably best to go with the recommended value.
Once all your displays are measured, Spyder makes recommendations
You can also select your target Gamma and White Point here. Sticking with the defaults of 2.2 and 6500K are probably safest, unless you have a reason to change them. At this point you’ll get to save your new target, which is key to multi-computer matching. You’ll copy the target over to the other computer (if using monitors on more than one computer) and then use it to re-calibrate that display to match the one you just measured. I found I needed to manually place the target in the SpyderX Elite targets folder on the other system (probably the same path where you copied it from on the first system) in order to get the Spyder software to see it.
Use Advanced Settings to load the target you’ve created
At this point, the Spyder software will guide you through the process of re-calibrating any of the appropriate monitors on the system you’re running on, using the new target. It’ll then Save that calibration and make it the default. You can of course tweak it using SpyderTune, and evaluate the results using SpyderProof. Once you’re satisfied, then you’re finished with that system. If you are only matching monitors on one machine, you’re all set. Otherwise you need to head to the other machine, and run a re-calibration using your new Target. To load the new Target, you need to choose Advanced Settings when you calibrate, after you have copied your Target into the default folder of targets. Once you’ve run that calibration, tweaked it as needed, and Saved it, you’re good to go.
Finally, recalibrate your monitors with your new Target and use the Tuning sliders for any finishing touches.
In my case, while the changes were very subtle – as I suppose I should expect with three high-end monitors that each cover 100% of my favorite Adobe RGB working space and were already calibrated with a SpyderX – but bringing the brightness levels in line definitely helped make it easier to directly compare images on the monitors. And the visible color differences were greatly reduced. The only issue I found is that the suggested lower light level was fine for controlled lighting, but when I find myself teaching or editing in the field with my laptop, I need to bump the brightness and reload my original profile that I created with a higher brightness target.
It is hard to show minor differences in display color using photographs of the screen, but below are the before and after shots of using StudioMatch on a Dell XPS 15 with 4K touch screen and a BenQ SW270C. Note that in the before shot, both monitors have already been calibrated and profiled with SpyderX Elite, but they still don’t match as closely as I needed them to.
With monitors calibrated, but not matched
After running StudioMatch and making a slight tweak to the white balance in the tuning dialogs provided, the test target is rendered almost identically on the two monitors
Troubleshooting Tip: If, like me, you’re a Windows user and your systems have updated to build 1903 since the last time you created a profile, you may be in for a nasty surprise. Microsoft has thrown a monkey wrench into 3rd party color management software in that build. In my case, to get profiles to Save & Display properly, I had to do two things: 1) Disable the Display Enhancement Service, and 2) Run Spyder as Administrator. There is a note in the Spyder Knowledgebase about the problem and various solutions, fortunately. The problem drove me nuts while working on this article until I found the Knowledgebase entry. Thanks, Datacolor support!