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Product Review: ColorMunki From X-Rite

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To paraphrase an old Beatles song, "Everyone has something to hide except me and my ColorMunki!" What do I mean? It is the hidden colors that exist in your photo, and because of any number of reasons, don't show up either on your monitor and/or on your printer, because they are not calibrated correctly and together. That is what the ColorMunki can do.

ColorMunki is the latest offering in the profiling and calibration market from X-Rite corporation and it brings some exciting capabilities to the prosumer photographic market as well as to the graphic design community. There are three models of ColorMunki, the ColorMunki Create, the ColorMunki Design, and the ColorMunki Photo.

Just what is a ColorMunki? In the case of the latter two, it is a full circle calibration and profiling product that makes round tripping from your monitor to your printer affordable to non-professional photographer and designer. It runs on Windows 2000, XP Vista with a Pentium IV/Athlon XP or better, or Mac OS X (10.4 or higher) G4 or higher processor, you need a powered USB port, a color monitor with 1024×768 or greater resolution, 16-bit video card (24-bit recommended), 512 MB RAM, and 300 MB of hard-drive space.

 ColorMunki Photo

There are really two types of ColorMunki. One is geared for Photographers and the other two are targeted to graphic designers and illustrators. The version that I am reviewing is for photographers and is called the ColorMunki Photo.

The ColorMunki functions in two main areas. One is for monitor calibration and the other is for printer profiling and calibration. Anyone who has worked with photographs for any length of time is familiar with the problem with getting the image from the camera, through the computer and on to the printer and having it come out reasonably close to looking like what like what you shot.

One thing to note is that because of the fact that my screen and printer are calibrated differently than yours, there is no way for me to display my results and guarantee that you will see anything close, so all that I can do is explain the process. The company who makes ColorMunki has been making profiling devices for many years and is well established in the professional market and so they bring a lot of respect and reliability to this new device.

When you get the ColorMunki, you get a USB spectrophotometer; that is based on the much more expensive i1 Pro product from X-Rite. It is zipped in a pouch with a sandbag handle. It looks about the size of a construction grade tape measure. You also get a small manual and the installation software. The CD only contains a downloader so you will need an internet connection to get the latest version of the software; and since this is a new product you will definitely want to keep up with updates. The product license also allows you to install and activate ColorMunki on 3 separate computers.

 ColorMunki Photo

After installing the software, to use the ColorMunki as a monitor profiler you select ColorMunki icon and you are presented with three options. The first is for round tripping between the monitor and the printer; which is probably what you will want to do when you first set up the system. The second option is for monitor calibration; which you will want to do on a regular basis, and the third is for printer calibration. Because the first option encompasses the latter two, I will focus on the second two as individual steps.

The beauty of the ColorMunki system is that it walks you through everything that you need to create a color calibrated monitor. Once you make a couple selections you are requested to hang the product over a spot on the monitor and the system takes over. Basically what happens is that the software displays specific colors on your monitor and the ColorMunki uses its spectrophotometer to measure the colors displayed for correctness. After it completes its process it then gives you the opportunity view the before and after results. You are then asked to save the profile.

 ColorMunki Photo

Part two is the profiling of your printer. This consists of printing a test chart that contains 50 sample colors in five strips of ten. Once the test chart is printed, you are asked to wait for 10 minutes for the sample to dry; the system puts a timer on the screen which can be overridden if need be. This is where you will need to use some judgment because the longer you wait for the image to dry the better your representation will be, but that could lengthen your workflow because that will also be how long you will need to wait for your actual images to dry to see if your colors are matching.

When profiling you are given the option to create a new profile or optimize an existing profile. One thing to note, you will need to create a new profile for each printer/paper/ink combination. For most people this will really be one printer, one type of ink, and multiple papers. In this case, you will need to create one for each type of paper. Again the ColorMunki gives you options.

Once you select your printer, you will give your profile a name. This will usually identify the type of paper; possibly ink if you are using multiple ink systems. You are then asked to print the 1st test chart. One thing to pay attention to is that you will need to turn off any kind of printer color management that your printer supports. You will need to look to your printer documentation or online support to find out how to accomplish this. If your printer software allows you to, you should save this as a profile within your printer setup because you will need to do this for every test strip you print as well as when you print from your application. One thing to note here is that at this point, the ColorMunki profiles are geared toward printing in Photoshop and QuarkExpress.

 ColorMunki Photo

Once everything is set, you print your test chart and wait 10 minutes for your sheet to dry. Once it is dry, you take the ColorMunki out of its pouch and place it at the bottom of the first of the five test strips. You can see the example. There are also videos available that show you how as well. On the screen you see a yellow box around the first test strip. You hold the button on the side and slide the unit somewhat slowly over the strip. When you reach the end, you release the button and on the screen you will see either a green or red box around the strip. If it is green, the box moves to the next strip. If it is red, then you will need to rescan the strip. When the color turns back to yellow, you can then rescan.

Once you successfully scanned all of your strips you will be asked to do this again to a second test strip. You will need to select the same setup profile to your printer that you used before. You then print the new strips, dry them, and repeat the scanning. The other option that you can use is to optimize a print profile. What this does is lets you choose an image to further enhance your profile. If you do a lot of portraits, you might choose an image with skin tones, or landscapes, one with outdoor colors. You then print an additional test strip with colors based on this image and scan it for greater accuracy of print rendering.

 ColorMunki Photo

In most cases, no additional scanning is necessary, or perhaps round one of the image-based optimization will be enough for most people. Without going into too much detail, what this additional scanning does is allows the ColorMunki to target a specific color area in the printer's gamut. If your device is "well behaved" and the colors are linearly spaced when color management is turned off, then the initial profile should perform very well. If not, you may want to experiment for better precision of your color space.

One of the benefits that I really liked in using the ColorMunki is that you have the choice to spend as much or as little time to get much better prints. The optimization allows the ColorMunki to figure out what is going on inside the printer gamut and more accurately characterize the color presented in your photos. It is important to note that you must be consistent with your printer setups or your profile will take a left turn and your output will look nothing like what you intended when you use the profile. While the ColorMunki is a complex device, once you catch on to making sure that a few things are correct, your output will be so much better and reflect more accurately what you see on the screen.

Some other capabilities of the ColorMunki Photo include what is called a "DigitalPouch" program that will let you send images and photos to a client, friend, coworker in a digital package and this package will alert them when they are viewing the content in an environment were the color management is not setup correctly and the colors may not appear correctly. The ColorMunki also has the ability to do 'spot' color measurements that in turn let you use those measurements to build up palettes and color schemes. The ColorMunki also calibrates projectors as well.

There are three models of ColorMunki. I have described the Photo version which was designed with the emphasis on screen-to-print color matching. The other two are more geared toward a color selection, palette creation, and a palette management tool. When you launch the ColorMunki Photo you are presented with a profiling tool, and you have the option to use a color picker tool. With ColorMunki Design however, you first are directed to the powerful tool for color selection and palette creation, and the profiling is just a small button away.

The third product is ColorMunki Create and while it, too, is aimed at the design community, it comes with a colorimeter as opposed to the spectrophotometer. The display profiling option has been simplified quite a bit by removing many of the options, and there is no printer calibration as well.

My personal view is that the ColorMunki is a very welcomed and much needed product in this price range; $499.00 USD for the ColorMunki Photo and ColorMunki Design, since there is not a lot out there under $1000 that does full circle calibration and profiling. The ColorMunki Create is $149.00 USD.

It took a little bit of experimentation to learn how to use the product, but once I spent the time, I have been generating some of the best images from my system to date. From my understanding this learning curve will get smaller as X-Rite adds videos and additional training information to their site along with more in-depth customer support.

I guess at this point, if you have spent hundreds to thousands of dollars on your camera, more on your lenses, another $500 or more on your printer, why would you not own a ColorMunki to get the best output possible? Don't let the most accurate colors of your image hide in your printer; bring them out with ColorMunki. I very highly recommend the ColorMunki.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.