As someone who has practiced and preached color management for years, I was intrigued when I was invited to test X-Rite's new ColorMunki.
I was used to the Eye-One, a larger handheld spectrophotometer. The first thing I noticed was how different the two devices were from each other. The ColorMunki looks like an oversized tape measure. Perhaps the one thing that made me most skeptical was the price tag. I found it hard to believe that for around $500, I could calibrate a monitor and a projector, as well as profile all of my printers--especially when this same task was normally accomplished by a system costing almost five times as much. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
There were a few stumbling blocks I went through, but once I figured out the intricacies of using the ColorMunki, things went quickly. [Ed. Note: at the end of this article, check out the tips and tricks Gary learned in his review, so you'll be able to get through your first try with the ColorMunki with a lot more success.]
The installation disc really doesn't contain the software but directs your computer to go to the company's website and download the latest version. It wasn't a big deal, because the computer I was installing it to was connected to the internet, but for many of you who like to keep your production computers away from the internet and all the dangers it contains, this could pose a problem. These steps shouldn't be necessary; it would have been better if they put the software on the disc and gave you the option of checking for updates later, like most software does.
Using the software is pretty straightforward--it guides you through every step of the process, including what direction to turn the sensor wheel on the ColorMunki device in order to calibrate it and then target it either toward a monitor or a projected image or down onto a printed chart.
Once set up, the device calibrated my monitor in about five minutes and did a pretty good job. I calibrated my laptop, as well as a flat-panel monitor, and they were pretty consistent. It didn't give me a choice in naming the associated profile or where I wanted to put it, which I didn't like, but it's geared for the less-technical user who doesn't want to worry about where these things end up, as long as they work. Control freaks like me like to know where everything is and what it's called.
Calibrating and profiling the projector was almost as easy as my monitor; just like with the monitor, it took about five minutes to calibrate. I have to say it was the best my projector looked in years! I was definitely able to rely on the projected image to judge color and density.
Printer profiling with the ColorMunki is a two-step process. Don't forget that when profiling a printer, you have to turn off the color-management controls in the printer driver or you'll get unexpected results. First, the software prints out a chart of color patches. After reading this first chart, which is a set of generic colors, the software will create and generate a printer-specific set of colors and print out a second chart. You read it the same way as the first chart. Once both charts are read, the software creates the profile, and it's done!
As I mentioned earlier, I was skeptical about this $500 device's ability to profile a photo-quality inkjet printer. However, I used it to profile an Epson Stylus Photo R1900 and an Epson R2880, both with different papers. I was very pleasantly surprised. The prints were accurate and the colors were great!
It doesn't stop there. You can, if you want, fine-tune your profile by having the software print out color charts based on the kinds of images you print and really zero in to tailor your output to your specific work.
Perhaps the most unique thing about the ColorMunki is the way it can create what they call "digital pouches," which are color palettes based on the colors in the images you're working with. These palettes can be used to create perfect color-keyed borders and backgrounds in your prints, just to name a couple of things. Very cool!
While X-Rite could make some improvements in its software installation, I feel, for the money, they've got a lot going on in this little device. In my opinion, it's certainly worth the investment. Would I use it to profile a high-end/wide-format printer? Probably not. But for color-managing your monitors, projectors, and desktop printers, the ColorMunki passes with flying colors.
Learn from my stumbling blocks. Here are some things I found out while testing out the ColorMunki:
1. Documentation or the lack thereof. The ColorMunki came with a small, multilanguage booklet. Although it was about 42 pages long, it's size was due to the fact that each step was printed in 7 languages. I certainly wouldn't call it a manual as much as maybe a getting started guide. It's not very helpful and with all the languages, each page is really one line of information. The only way to get to know the software is to actually use it and follow the instructions as you go through the steps. There are flash movies that give visual instructions and guidelines. So it's not too bad. But I would have preferred a better reference guide than what came with it.
2. Using the software is pretty straightforward. The software guides you through every step in the process, including what direction to turn the sensor wheel on the ColorMunki device, in order to calibrate it and then target it either toward a monitor, a projected image, or down onto a printed chart. It even has an ambient light feature that allows you to measure the ambient light in the room and account for it in the calibration.
3. The device comes with a case to put it in and a weighted strap on the other end to counter-balance it when you calibrate your monitor. It's like a small sandbag, with Velcro, so you can fold it and maneuver it to keep the device on the monitor. I found it wasn't enough and had to actually tip my monitor up to keep it from sliding off. Other than that, it calibrated my monitor in about five minutes and did a pretty good job.
4. Calibrating and profiling the projector was almost as easy as my monitor, with two exceptions. First, the ColorMunki has to be very close to the screen, which means if your computer is across the room, the USB cable that came with the device won't be long enough for it to reach. Second, you have to fiddle with the device to target it to the screen before the software can do its thing. The first time I used it, the software kept telling me the sensor was pointed either too high or too low. I must have adjusted it six times before it was satisfied enough to start working. Once it did start working, just as with the monitor, it took about five minutes to calibrate. I have to say it was the best my projector looked in years! I was definitely able to rely on the projected image to judge color and density. Just as an aside, remember, if you do a lot of presenting and travel a lot, you'll have to recalibrate the projector every time you use it in a new environment. And that's mostly due to the fact that, just like printing on different paper stocks, projector screens are all a little different and will cause the image to look different. This fact is regardless of what device you use for calibrating and profiling.
5. Printer profiling with the ColorMunki was an interesting exercise. It's a two-step process. Don't forget, when profiling a printer, you have to turn off the color management controls in the printer driver or you'll get unexpected (bad) results. First, the software prints out a chart of color patches. Depending on the printer and the software settings, the software will impose a delay to allow the ink to dry before moving on to have you read the patches. In order to read the patches, you have to rotate the sensor so it points downward. The position of the sensor is indicated by a white line painted on the outside of the device casing. Then, when prompted, you simultaneously press and hold the button on the side of the device and move it across the first row of color patches. When done with that row, let go of the button. If you did it right, a yellow border will appear around that row on your monitor (there's a picture of the chart onscreen), and you'll be prompted to read the next row. If you didn't scan the row correctly, you'll see a red border flashing around the row of patches and you'll be prompted to try again. And you'll try again and again until you get it right before you can move on. The first time I profiled a printer, I must have read the first row a dozen or more times before I got it right. But I did learn the secret in the process. The sensor has to see the white of the paper before it sees the color patches on each row. I realized that if I position the sensor so the white line that I mentioned above is pointing to the white of the paper before the patches start, and I then drag it across the patches and don't stop until I get to the white paper at the other end, I get a perfect read every time. Once I discovered this, I was able to read the charts very quickly and easily.
After reading the first chart, which is a set of generic colors, the software will create and generate a printer-specific set of colors and print out a second chart. After allowing it to dry, you read it the same way as the first chart. Once both charts are read, the software creates the profile and it's done!
I used it to profile an Epson Stylus Photo R1900 and an Epson R2880, both with different papers. I was very pleasantly surprised. The prints were very accurate and the colors were great. And it doesn't stop there. You can, if you want, fine tune your profile by having the software print out color charts based on the kinds of images you print and really zero in and tailor your output to your specific work.
6. Perhaps the most unique thing about the ColorMunki, is the way it can create what they call digital pouches, which are color palettes based on the colors in the images you are working with. These palettes can be used to create perfect color keyed borders and backgrounds in your prints, just to name a couple of things.
For more information on the ColorMunki, go to http://www.xritephoto.com.
Gary Small of Photographic Creations (www.jsmallphoto.com) has been a pro since 1979 and in business with his father, Jerry, for most of that time.