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Color Management on a Shoestring Budget

(January 2009) posted on Thu Jan 29, 2009

A little color management is better than none at all.

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By Stephen Beals

The Munki and the Spyder
Both DataColor and X-Rite have a wide array of products including simple monitor-calibration units that sell for less than $100. Of course both manufacturers would prefer to sell you their high-end devices, but they also realize that many smaller print shops simply aren’t able to put that kind of investment into a problem they don’t consider that significant. The shops can deal with the fact that some of their machines are "a little off," at least until their customers start complaining.

But two things are happening. First, customers buying color output are becoming not only more critical of color but also more savvy print buyers. What used to be "good enough" no longer is. Secondly-and quite thankfully-the prices of good color-management software and hardware have come down significantly, and systems that will calibrate and profile both monitors and output devices are now available for less than $500, a price almost any small print provider can afford to pay to get their color right.

One such device is X-Rite’s ColorMunki. At $499 (MSRP), it’s an easy-to-use, reasonably accurate device for calibrating monitors, profiling printers, and reading and importing color swatches from nearly any substrate. There’s a Design and a Photo version, and the difference is in software. Print providers will almost certainly want the Design version. In that version, color palettes can be Picker software. If you also do design work, the extra software that comes with the ColorMunki may be enough to make it your choice.

A couple of warnings though: In its current incarnation, you can only load the software on three machines. You also need an Internet connection to download the software to run the device. And even though the interface is simple and easy to use, some folks have had trouble getting everything set up properly the first time around. Having said that, I have some experience with color-management products and found it to be simple and straightforward and much easier to use than most high-end products.