Review: X-Rite ColorMunki Photo

If you print your own photos, make sure colors are accurate. (November 28th, 2011)

The X-Rite ColorMunki Photo comes with everything you need to color calibrate your monitor, printer, and paper in a reasonably sized portable package. Many of us complain about dark photo prints and this color calibration tool solves that problem.

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Product Manufacturer: X-Rite, Inc.

Price: $499.00 US

The Good

  • Easy to use.
  • Simple directions, some with video.
  • Profiles automatically save into correct folders.
  • Profiles paper and printer combinations.
  • Works well.

The Bad

  • Dial may be hard to turn for some.
  • Expensive.
  • Should add more information on selecting profiles when you print.

Color calibration is the art of tweaking your monitor so that the colors represented on screen better match real life and your printer output. Mac system software includes a calibration tool in the Displays System Preference, but it just doesn't do a very good job and it doesn't significantly affect the brightness of some iMac models. Colorimeters, the device used to measure your monitor and correct color are not cheap, but may be worth the investment because they solve the problem you experience when your photo prints look great on your computer and terrible in print.

Becoming a color print expert isn't on my bucket list, but I didn't have a choice because my prints do not match what I see on screen. My mid-2007 iMac screen is extremely bright, and I hear other models are also bright. Nothing that comes with the Mac OS changes that brightness, including the slider in the Displays preference. It is so bright that every photo I print or I send to an online printing company comes out too dark.

My journey into color calibration started with using the PANTONE Huey, now owned by X-Rite. The Huey earned 4 1/2 stars in my 2006 review, but while it worked fine on my LaCie Electron 19-inch conventional CRT monitor, it didn't generate any measurable difference on my iMac's LCD screen. Next, I tried the PANTONE Huey Pro, with the same lack of result. It was obvious that I had to step up my game and look for a more advanced solution. A bit intimidated by the hundreds of pages I read about color processing, it was a number of questionable prints done on the HP Photosmart Pro B8850 and the Epson Artisan 800 that pushed me to step up to the significantly more expensive ColorMunki Photo. Basically, every bad print wasted expensive paper, not to mention the wasted ink.

nocolormanage.jpg

X-Rite Graphic Tweaked to Highlight Color Problems


The ColorMunki comes in three options: ColorMunki Display ($189), ColorMunki Photo ($499) and the ColorMunki Design ($499.00). The products work similarly by measuring your monitor output and calibrating it to display colors correctly, so that your prints or slideshows look better. The difference between the products is that the Photo and Design also include the ability to profile paper or color swatches. X-Rite targets the Photo product to wedding, portrait, and event photographers, but landscape and wildlife photographers should also use this device. For more in-depth information on color management and how it affects your documents, you should download X-Rite's "Complete Guide To Color Management ."

xtand heights

ColorMunki Photo Hardware


The ColorMunki Photo device is a small spectrophotometer, which measures light intensity, i.e. a photometer. X-Rite's glossary defines a spectrophotometer as a "photometric device for the measurement of spectral reflectance, transmittance or emission (monitors)." You can read more information in Wikipedia, but it's more technical then you need.

badly edited photo

Photo Edited on Uncalibrated Monitor-Horribly Yellow


ColorMunki Photo includes an almost idiot-proof calibration wizard that you can use in Easy or Advanced mode. The hardware connects to your computer with an included long USB cable. The excellent screen instructions walk you through the process and some screens provide video links.

Profile Wizard

Profile Wizard


The device captures the ambient light within a room, measures your monitor, and gives you a profile that better displays color.

ColorMunki Screen Placement

ColorMunki Screen Placement


As you walk through each screen the wizard displays the measurements in easy to understand graphics. The odd shaped device comes with a bag and weighted strap, so that you can place it on your monitor to read the display's colors.

Wizard Brightness Adjustment

Wizard Brightness Adjustment


The final step displays various colors and presents you with a monitor measurement that automatically saves to your Display Profile list in the Displays system preferences.

Profile Created

Profile Created


The monitor profiles the ColorMunki Photo installed reduced the contrast, brightness, and yellow tint of my iMac display.

Edited Photo - Calibrated Monitor

Photo on Calibrated Monitor


This makes photo editing easier, but it is only half of the equation, if you want to print your own shots. The shot below highlights the problem.

 Photo - Uncalibrated Monitor

Printed Photo on Uncalibrated Printer/Paper
Notice loss of yellow, orange, and red tones.


Paper and printer profiling with the ColorMunki Photo is also simple and, as you can see from the screen shots above, necessary. For best results you profile the specific paper you want to use and the printer together. (Note: Photo paper is 50% off at Staples this week!)

Printer Profiling

Printer Profiling


Again, the wizard walks you through the steps, which include printing two color swatches, measuring the prints with the ColorMunki Photo, and it automatically store the final results in your monitor and printer profile folders. The second swatch created is different for each type of paper.

Printer Profiling Color Chart

Printer Profiling Color Chart


This process takes about half an hour, which includes time to allow your ink to dry between measurements. These profiles are available from any application from which you print, such as Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements, or Apple Aperture and iPhoto.

Save Printer Profile

Save Printer Profile


The ColorMunki Photo can profile dual display systems and you can install and run ColorMunki Photo software on all the computers you own, instead of the original 3-license restriction. You can also profile digital projectors, but I did not have one to test. Other software that comes with the package includes a Digital Pouch that lets you send photos or graphics with embedded profiles, so that another computer can see the correct viewing condition. A ColorPicker application allows you to create custom palettes that can be used in any application that supports them.

I must admit I wasn't happy that I had to print color swatches every time I switched paper, because of the time and ink involved. Yet, the output was well worth that effort and expense. I like to use specialty 8.5" x 11" or 13" x 19" papers, so why waste the media on lousy prints?

The ColorMunki Photo works with Mac OS X 10.4 through 10.7 Lion and is PPC, Intel, and Windows compatible. Through Dec. 15, you can get $75 cash back on the ColorMunki Photo through X-Rite, which puts it around the same price as you can find on Amazon.

Photographs Ilene Hoffman, 2011

by ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor


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