Calibrating MacBook Pro Retina displays is pretty straightforward with a good calibration tool such as the Spyder5PRO from Datacolor. You only have a brightness control to adjust on the display and the Spyder software is very easy to use with plenty of online help resources.
Calibration and profiling will improve the accuracy of any display. However, if you are serious about image editing then I’d recommend a desktop display that’s been designed for the purpose, such as an EIZO ColorEdge. There are inherent compromises in any laptop display. They are often optimised for long battery life, have small colour gamuts and edge LED backlighting that can cause uniformity issues. The Apple Retina displays are better than most but still not as good as a desktop display. That said there are times when you are on location, travelling or working from home when you may need to do some editing on a MacBook Pro and so it’s a good idea to calibrate and profile it.
This blog will take you through the process of calibrating and profiling your MacBook Pro Retina display using the Spyder software. The Spyder5 is the latest in a long line of excellent calibrators and Datacolor have made specific improvements to help calibrate lower quality displays. Most of this blog will also apply to calibrating other laptops and iMacs as well.
The Spyder5PRO is the mid range solution in Datacolor’s line up. The Spyder5EXPRESS has software with fewer features and the Spyder5ELITE has more bells and whistles for experts result but the PRO has enough options for most users, especially for simple screens like a laptop. The actual colorimeter is the same for all the product levels. Datacolor provide lots on online help resources here.
Always calibrate a laptop when it’s plugged into the mains to stop it entering any power saving mode. Also, the MacOS has an automatic display brightness setting that should be disabled in System Preferences/Displays. Otherwise the Mac might decide to increase or decrease brightness based on room lighting.
Calibrating MacBook Pro Retina Displays – Step-By-Step Tutorial
The Spyder software uses a simple wizard interface starting with advice about what to do before you start. The screen needs to be warmed up, you should avoid any light falling onto the monitor and indeed any strong light behind as it can shine through the Apple logo on the lid. The best light level both for image editing and calibration is quite dim. The monitor should be the brightest light source in the room. The Spyder5 colorimeter should be plugged in, preferably directly into the Mac. Clicking Next will get you a screen where you can choose which screen to calibrate if you have more than one.
The Retina display will be listed as Color LCD.
Click Next again and you can select the type of display. Choose Laptop and click Next.
You can enter the manufacturer and laptop model. This information will be used to name the profile. Click Next.
The Calibration Settings screen is where you choose your calibration targets. The Gamma is the tone curve of the monitor. You can generally leave it at the recommended 2.2 value. A gamma of 2.2 is close to how the human visual system perceives changes in light intensity. Some video/film standards do use 2.4.
The White Point can also usually be left at 6500K. If you are matching to a specific lighting source then you could try one of the lower values but all the common RGB working space profiles such as sRGB and Adobe RGB use 6500K. On some displays you may get a slight green or magenta tint when you calibrate them to 6500K and if you do see any colour cast then select Do Not Adjust and you may get a better result.
Brightness should be adjusted as MacBook displays are often very bright – too bright for image editing. Select Adjust. Room Light can be left to off as you do not want the room light compensation active as you may well be taking the Mac into lots of different locations and may not have the Spyder plugged in all the time. It’s better to try and always work in dim light if you can than to try and compensate for fluctuating room lighting. Click Next.
Take the cap off the Spyder and slide it along the cable until it is in the right position to act as a counterweight for the colorimeter. Hang the cap over the back of the Mac and position as indicated.Clicking Next will start the measurement process.
The software and hardware will take a few measurements and then tell you how bright the display is. The target will default to 120 candelas which is fine for a laptop. It will give you the right level of brightness for most situations. You can adjust the brightness of the display using the brightness keys on the keyboard. If the Current value is higher than the Target then the brightness needs to go down. If the Current is lower then it needs to go up. Make an adjustment and then click Update and see how much closer you are. Repeat as necessary. Once you get close to the target you can hold the alt and shift keys down as you press the brightness key to get finer adjustments. Even with the fine adjustments it can be hard to hit the target exactly but as long as you get within the green area on the readout you’ll be close enough. Click Continue when you’re satisfied you are as close as you are going to get. The Spyder5 will then run through lots of different measurements and make adjustments using the graphics card look up tables to hit the other target values before then measuring colours to create the ICC profile. Click Finish when it has completed the measurements. You can take the Spyder5 off the screen now, but leave it connected to the USB port.
You can now Save your profile and set a reminder to recalibrate. Once a month is fine, just make sure you don’t change the brightness and keep the automatic brightness adjustment off. The profile will automatically be saved in the correct location and set as the profile for the display.
You can use the default SpyderProof image or load your own and then hit the Switch button to see the change that the calibration has made. The difference is sometimes small but the key thing about display calibration is that you can begin to trust what you see because you know the display has been calibrated and profiled. The display profile will be used by Photoshop, Lightroom and many other applications. The profile tells the applications exactly how your MacBook or other display actually reproduces colours.
Click Next and you’ll see a graph of the colour gamut compared to sRGB. You can also compare it to the NTSC TV standard or Adobe RGB. Now click Quit because you’ve finished and now have a calibrated and profile MacBook Retina display.
If you are using a MacBook alongside a calibrated and profiled desktop monitor you shouldn’t expect an exact match between them. The desktop display may well have a different type of back light and a wider colour gamut so there will always be some differences.