One of best monitor calibrator tools is a vital piece of kit for photographers, editors, designers, illustrators and in fact anyone who needs to be sure that their screen is showing them accurate colours. Straight out of the box, different monitors render colours differently, and even one monitor’s screen fluctuates over time. Ambient lighting also has an impact. This all means that even if you think the colours on your screen look good, they’re not necessarily going to be the colours that you’ll see on other supports, which can lead you to over or under-saturate your work.
There are downloadable apps that claim to be able to calibrate screens, but if you need to ensure the colours you see are really true to life, there’s no comparison to one of the best monitor calibrator tools – physical pieces of hardware that actually look at your display. And you can’t get away with simply calibrating your screen once and then forgetting about it either. Because monitor output ﬂuctuates, calibration should be carried out every couple of months at least.
We delve further into the question of why monitor calibration is so important at the bottom of this guide, but when it comes to choosing the best monitor calibrator, we find it’s a choice between two brands at the moment: Datacolor’s Spyder X range and Calibrite’s ColorChecker, although Wacom also has a calibrator specifically designed for its own drawing tablets if you’re using one of them. Datacolor and Calibrite both offer several models, with a standard option, an enhanced model with additional features or “studio” packages that can also calibrate printers.
Below, we’ve picked the best monitor calibrators at a range of price points taking into consideration accuracy, the types of screens they can calibrate and extra features like ambient light detection and multi-screen calibration. Bear in mind that even the best monitor calibrators can’t work miracles, so you’ll need to start with a monitor that has good colour coverage and accuracy. For a selection of monitors that meet creative artists and designers’ needs, see our guides to the best 4K monitors, the best USB-C monitors and the best monitors for MacBook Pro.
Datacolor is one of the best-known brands when it comes to monitor calibration, and it’s followed up its Spyder5 range of monitor calibrators with SpyderX, which we’ve found to improve on nearly every aspect of the previous models. SpyderX monitor calibrators use a new lens-based sensor system that makes calibration faster while also increasing accuracy so you can be even more confident in your screen’s colour accuracy. If you calibrate your monitors regularly (and we recommend you do), the faster calibration can save you quite a bit of time in the long run.
The SpyderX Pro is now the cheapest option in the Datacolor calibration range (the former Spyder5 range had a budget “Express” model). That said, it’s still one of the best monitor calibrators we’ve tried for overall value, offering useful advanced features like multi-monitor support. It detects light conditions to ensure a monitor looks its best wherever you’re working. We find Datacolor’s software, which comes with the device, is easy to use, allowing us to get started calibrating immediately. The more expensive SpyderX Elite (see number 5) offers some extra features, but for most people, this standard option will be all they need for reliable monitor calibration.
Previously named X-Rite i1 Display Pro, the brilliant Calibrite ColorChecker Display Pro is a monitor calibrator that offers a whole lot of features and options, although you do pay for them. The naming gets a bit confusing here because Datacolor’s SpyderX Pro (above) is its standard calibrator tool, whereas Calibrite reserves the “Pro” tag for this, the second model up in its range, above the cheaper ColorChecker Display but below the slightly more expensive ColorChecker Display Plus.
This monitor calibrator allows you to use your profile across multiple displays (either on the same machine or network) as well as assess the ambient light in your workspace to set your monitor up for best results. A technology called Flare Correct will measure and adjust your display profile for reduced contrast ratios caused by glare on your screen. Video colour standards are also incorporated, so video editors can set up their display for best results, too.
If you think the Calibrite Color Checker Display Pro is a little too expensive for your needs, take a look at the standard ColorChecker Display at number 4 in our selection of the best monitor calibrator tools. Or if you need to measure super-bright displays over 1000 nits, you’ll want to opt for the still more expensive Display Plus at number 5. All three of these products were previously part of the X-Rite i1 range, which has been rebranded as Calibrite ColorChecker but is produced by the reliable X-Rite.
If you’re a professional who has the budget, and space, for the SpyderX Studio, then this is one of the best purchases you can make. It comes with the SpyderX Elite monitor colorimeter (see number six below), as well as a SpyderPrint spectrocolorimeter for checking prints and the SpyderCube, which can be used to calibrate Raw images.
It’s essentially an all-in-one kit that gives professional photographers and designers everything they need to ensure every aspect of their work is properly calibrated. This means it’s pricey, and as there’s a lot of gear, you’ll need to make sure you have enough room for it in your office or studio. It will probably also all be a bit overwhelming for beginners. However, by offering a collection of some of the best calibration and color-assessing tools on the market all together, it’s a fantastic choice for people who want to upgrade their entire setup with a single purchase.
Sitting a couple of notches below the more expensive Calibrite ColorChecker Display Pro in our pick of the best monitor calibrator tools is the standard model in the range, the Calibrite ColorChecker Display (formerly X-Rite i1Display). It offers most of the same features as the more expensive model, with the key difference being the lack of ambient light monitoring. We found this to be a definite drawback for getting things perfect in an office environment with artificial lighting or glare. Also, the measurement speed also isn’t as high as the Pro, although it’s not like it takes a lot of time if you’re only calibrating the one monitor. If you’re looking to spend less, this will still calibrate your display very well without the extra expense of the Pro or Pro Plus (see below).
At the top of the Calibrite ColorChecker range is Calibrite ColorChecker Display Plus. We only place it lower on our list because of the price, since it’s more than what many people will need. However, while it’s more expensive, this is the calibrator to go for if you need to deal with super-bright displays. Calibrite’s other calibrators handle up to 1,000 nits while this will manage up to 2,000 nits. It also offers slightly better measurement for darker tones.
As such, it’s the best calibrator for HDR displays on this list, as well as other super-bright monitors that we’re now seeing more of on the market. It also supports Black Current Subtraction to minimise noise. And, as with the company’s other calibrators we’ve featured you can profile up to four separate displays.
Datacolor also has an enhanced model of its SpyderX calibrator that we put at number one in our list. The Spyder X Pro will cover most people’s needs but we found this SpyderX Elite colorimeter does offer some extra features that will be useful for some. It looks identical to its cheaper sibling, but this model can calibrate your monitor not only to conform to a typical 2.2 gamma and 6500 K white point, but also to colour space standards like sRGB, Adobe RGB, NTSC and Rec 709.
It uses the same hardware as the Pro and takes around the same length of time (about two minutes) to calibrate a screen, so this is really a recommendation only for those that specifically want to calibrate their monitor for video colour spaces or to have complete control over every part of the calibration process.
This bundle is an interesting buy for photographers and photo editors. As well as the SpyderX Elite monitor calibrator above, you also get other tools bundled in. You get the Spyder LensCal to your camera lens autofocus and the Spyder Cube to define white and black values and get accurate RAW settings for editing. You also get Spyder Checkr, which uses HSL-Presets to control colour consistency across cameras. These tools may not be of interest to anyone other than photographers – and many photographers may already have some of the tools, but it’s a good bundle for anyone who needs a full calibration kit.
This isn’t a general-purpose display calibrator unlike all the others here. Instead it’s designed specifically for use with Wacom’s own Cintiq pen displays (and not all of them, so be sure to check if yours is compatible). If you do use a compatible Wacom Cintiq tablet, then the Wacom Colour Manager is the best monitor calibrator we can recommend to ensure the accuracy of your screen. It’s fairly expensive – comparable to the Calibrite Display Pro at number 2 above, but it’s a specialist tool for a very particular task.
What is a monitor calibrator tool?
Monitor calibration involves measuring and adjusting the colours on your computer monitor to meet a set standard. The best monitor calibrator tools include two components to do that: hardware and software. The hardware takes the form of a sprectocolorimiter or colorimeter, which measures your monitor and records colour values, brightness and contrast, as well as other variables. The software takes that data and builds a colour profile for your monitor.
Why do I need a monitor calibrator tool?
Your choice of monitor and the working environment where you locate it can have a big impact on how colours appear on your screen. Every screen displays images differently, so the colours you see on a phone screen, your monitor or a client’s monitor will vary. That’s because the internal workings of every screen are different, and that’s before you factor in the screen settings and ambient light conditions.
This is a big deal for anyone who works in visual arts and design. Most computer screens give a vibrant, dynamic picture, but this isn’t always the best for editing your photos, for example. If you edit images on a monitor that hasn’t been calibrated, you may end up sharing pictures that are unintentionally oversaturated, too muted or have an obvious colour cast. It doesn’t matter which colour space you select on your camera or how you adjust Photoshop’s settings – if the screen has a warm cast or a cool blue cast and isn’t showing you an accurate picture, then any edits you make may be subtly or substantially out.
So which version represents the “true” colour? And will printed materials look like they do on your screen? This is where the best monitor calibrators come in. Technically known as colorimeters, they look at your screen and detect any discrepancies, taking account of how your display actually looks in your office space, whether that’s at home, in a co-working space or from a dedicated workspace.
They can then program your computer then programmed to compensate for the colour inaccuracy of your monitor. Calibrating your monitor also means looking after yourself because it helps reduce eye strain during intensive work sessions.
How do I choose the best monitor calibrator for me?
How much you need to spend on a monitor calibrator depends to an extent on what you need it to calibrate and what you use your screen for, but there are several features to consider
Screen types: Monitors use different types of technology, and that can affect their colours, so you want a calibration tool that can account for things like LED backlighting. Most of the tools we’ve included in our guide to the best monitor calibrators can be used on any monitor or laptop, and also on projectors, but always double-check the tool you’re going to buy.
If you print your work, you can also calibrate your printer to ensure its colours are also the best they can be. For that, you’ll need a calibrator designed for printer proﬁling, such as the Datacolor SpyderX Studio at number 3 or Calibrite ColorChecker Display Plus at number 5 in our list above.
Ambient light detection: look for this feature for customised calibration that adapts to compensate for the surrounding ambient light in your room or office.
Speed: how fast your monitor calibration tool works might not seem so important, but if you calibrate your monitor as often as your should, then you’ll be grateful for a fast device. Most options will actually remind you when it’s time for your to calibrate your screen again.
Other features: More advanced features to look out for on monitor calibrators are conformity with the best-known colour standards and screen calibration, which ensures you see the same colours across a multi-monitor setup.
How often should I calibrate my monitor?
All monitors change in colour, contrast, and brightness as they age. Because of this, the majority of the best calibration software suggests you calibrate your monitor (or monitors) every 2-6 weeks. With the monitor calibrators we’ve listed above, the process only takes around two minutes per monitor.
LCD monitors don’t age or change as quickly as older CRT technology, but you still want to rest assured that colours on your screen are accurate so even an LCD should be calibrated every six months at the very least. For a detailed look at how monitor calibration tools work, see our article on how to calibrate your monitor.