Photo by Scott Bourne

Many photographers have trouble matching the color on their screen with the color they get from their printers. And not everyone can afford the tools to solve this problem. But there is a fix that cost less than $20 that I would think everyone CAN afford.

Control the ambient light in your computer room.

If you use overhead lighting, or your monitor sits in direct sunlight, it is virtually impossible to get good color matching. Ambient light impacts the way we see color. If you have a cool light source dominating your room, it will make the images on your screen appear bluer than normal, and vice versa.

Spend $20 and get yourself a floor-standing lamp with a 40 watt bulb in it. Put it somewhere on a plane BEHIND your monitor so that its glare doesn’t reflect in the monitor. While the room will probably appear much darker than you are used to, it will greatly improve the accuracy of the color that YOU see with your own eyes on the monitor. And that is a great starting point for a good color managed workflow.

Maybe you need curtains or blinds to block the sun? Or maybe you have other ambient light problems like that great big red Santana poster that hangs on the wall right above your monitor. Get rid of it. It makes your monitor appear more red than it really is. Get the idea?

Now this trick won’t substitute the need for good color management software, calibration and profiles, but it WILL help you to get the most out of those tools and in the mean time will help you just eyeball your images far better than you could otherwise.

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Scott,
    what’s your opinion on glossy vs matte screens? I’m thinking of a second display for my workflow and it would be this second monitor that will have the photo on it.

  2. Joe I like to display images to clients on glossy screens but I like to edit on matte. Just my preference.

  3. I also like to use ‘daylight’ temperature bulbs. These are commonly in the 5000k range and are often called ‘Bright White’. I find these tend to remove that warm feel you get from a standard bulb & on the plus side most of them are energy efficient so you’ll end up saving a little bit on your power bill;)

  4. Great tip Scott…..But I think the guys using Eizo monitors calibrated with Spyder2 Pros should still watch the light they edit in. I read once that you should even go as far as watching the colour you paint you walls…..But that seems a little much if you are not a pro making your living off your color corrections.

  5. Great tip scott!

    I’ve been having a lot of color management problems lately and I’ve been looking into spending some bucks on hardware (I’m especially interested in the new “ColorMunki”).

    I would love to hear more about color calibration tools on a future TWIP podcast


  6. Thanks for the tip

  7. I purchased the Eye-One Color Calibration puck for my monitor, it works great. Screen to Print is much more accurate now. It has a really cool ambient light sensor on it that will tell you if your room light is too warm or cool, and if it’s too dim or bright. Definitely look for a 5000K bulb.

  8. Thanks Scott,

    That is a great idea. This past year I have been trying to learn as much as I can about color management and have been struggling with the near double cost of color corrected prints from the lab. I bought a Spyder2 pro and calibrated my monitor, but have been on the fence about using my own color correction because my calibration worked, but always seemed borderline to me.

    I have an overhead light and never thought that would be an issue. After reading your post I had a Joe McNally moment and it clicked. Tomorrow I am off to Target to buy a dim light and stand and place behind my monitor so I can turn off the overhead room light and recalibrate. (Much more fun than watching another episode of Battlestar. :)


    BTW, the whole TWIP gang really rocks. You are my favorite site!

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