Monthly Archives: January 2009

Improve the Mac’s ability to display colors

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which in turn was reposted with the permission of the original author from a now-defunct Macintosh-oriented blog. It is reposted with his permission.

This article was originally posted in January, 2009.

One issue that some Mac “switchers” have encountered is that the colors on the Mac display look just a bit washed out compared to those on a PC. It’s generally not enough of a difference that anyone would complain; in fact, many new Mac users would think it was their imagination, or would attribute the difference to hardware variations (different display or graphics card).

In reality, however, there is a difference, and it is due to a configuration choice made by Apple. There is a page that describes the issue in some depth:

A solution to Mac “Save For Web” colour discrepancies

The gist of the problem is that Apple has chosen to, by default, go with a gamma setting of 1.8, whereas other systems use 2.2 as the default. On the above-mentioned page, it gives this bit of wisdom: “Unless you have a color management expert instructing you otherwise, select a 2.2 gamma and a D65 white point.” However, the white point is not as important as the gamma, and you may wish to use the default white point that has been determined to be right for your display. It’s most important to change the gamma setting, and calibrate the display in the process. How do you do this? By setting up a new color profile. This is fairly easy to do.

First of all, if you are using the “Shades” program (or any other program that gives you software control over display brightness or any other display parameter), go into the program or preference panel and turn it off before you begin this process, otherwise it may fight you at every step of the calibration process, turning an easy task into a really difficult one with less than satisfactory results.

Go to System Preferences, click on Displays, then go to the “Color” tab, then click on “Calibrate”:

System Preferences-Display-Color Tab

System Preferences-Display-Color Tab

Then follow the instructions. BUT, before you change the setting of your display’s contrast (using the control on the display itself), make a note of the current setting. You will be changing it as part of the calibration process but once you are all finished, you may decide that you want to go back to that setting, or something reasonably close.

During the calibration, when you are asked to adjust the monitor’s brightness, it will say to set it to where you can “just see” the oval:

Display Adjustment screen

Display Adjustment screen

The only problem is, Apple’s idea of “just seeing it” and yours might be a bit different. We wound up using a setting that was a bit more than where the oval was just barely perceptible, but still a bit less than where the two halves of the surrounding rectangle started to appear as different, and that seemed to work best. Originally we tried setting it where the oval was just barely perceptible, but then after the adjustments were completed we couldn’t get a monitor setting that we liked (everything was too dark for our liking, particularly on some of the wallpaper).

When you get to this screen:

Target Gamma Selection

Target Gamma Selection

You want to select the “2.2 Television Gamma” because that is the setting used on most non-Apple computers, and therefore that is the setting that most graphics (including those on the Web) are adjusted for. This is the setting that Apple probably should have used in the first place – at least they give you the option to use it, but we think it should have been the default. On the next screen you’ll be asked to select a target white point:

Target white point selection

Target white point selection

We suspect that “D65″ and “Native” are very close on modern displays (perhaps even identical). You can try both and see which works best, or you can just go with the recommendation from the above-mentioned article to use D65.

EDIT: The second time I attempted to do this, the display calibrator crashed before I could save the settings.  If it happens to you, try this: In Finder navigate to Macintosh HD/System/Library/ColorSync/Calibrators/Display Calibrator.app and right-click on the application, then click on “Get Info”, and when the information panel is displayed, you should see a checkbox for “Open Using Rosetta.”  Check that box, and the problem goes away (at least it did for me, and for the people who posted replies in this thread).

When you are all through, you are likely to see color in places that only looked grey or washed out before. That is because Apple’s default color profile and gamma setting tends to wash out certain colors. But, unless you have just acquired your Mac, it will look strange to you, because it’s not what you’ve become used to. You may have to try adjusting the monitor’s brightness and contrast to get something you like. The interesting thing is that whites may seem “whiter” than before and that may throw you a bit, but it will also show how screwed up Apple’s default color profile is. Try it for at least a day or two before you decide you don’t like it. We found that by setting the monitor’s contrast back to the original setting (the one we told you to note in the previous paragraph) and then using the brightness to adjust the monitor for best picture yielded the best results, but your results may be different.

If you decide you really hate the calibrated profile, you can always go back to the default Mac color profile for your monitor, but then you can expect displays on other computers to look strange. Keep in mind that if you’ve gotten used to looking at washed out colors, it may take some time to adjust!