Finding the Best Lighting for Color Calibration and Print Evaluation

Back in the day when I, Tom Hauenstein, was on the road teaching the principles of color management I was often asked, “What color temperature bulbs should I use for evaluating prints?” Another common question was, “What color temperature should I use when calibrating my monitor?”

The answers to these questions are actually related to each other, and the right answer to each is… whatever color temperature you prefer.

Color Temperature Reference ChartHowever, these two color temperatures – for both the monitor and the lighting you use for evaluating prints – need to be consistent. Start by determining which monitor color temperature is right for you.  The usual options range from 5000 K to 6500 K.

I find 5000 K to be a little too warm and 6500 K too cool, Goldilocks. Therefore, I feel that a color temperature of 5500 K is just right.  Most new calibration software allows you to calibrate your monitor to different white points. This makes it easy for you to test which color temperature is right for you.

The Test
Find a file that is a good evaluation image. The PDI target usually works and can be found on LexJet’s website at the following link:

White BalanceCalibrate and profile the monitor to 5000 K. Open the evaluation image and examine it at this temperature. Pay attention to the gray build in the file and the flesh tones. Then, calibrate and profile the monitor for 6500 K and do the same thing.

Most likely you will prefer the look of one over the other. If you have two computers, then it is really nice because you can place them side by side. You can then calibrate and profile one to 5000 K and the other to 6500 K and not have to rely on your memory.

Then do a third calibration and profile halfway between these two at 5700 K and compare them to the other two. This will give you an idea which color temperature works best for you. I know this test takes quite a bit of time, but it is something you will have to do only once in your life. Once you decide which temperature is the best for your eyes, your job is done.

Light Bulbs
Now that you know which color temperature you like best for the monitor, the light bulbs are easy. You simply need to find bulbs with the same color temperature as your monitor.

You should evaluate prints in the same temperature as you color corrected them on-screen. This will eliminate a lot of the discrepancies between the print and the monitor. You can usually Google a certain color temperature and find a bulb that matches it.

Doing this should tighten up color management, and allow you to trust your soft proof.

Tom Hauenstein is a technical sales specialist for LexJet’s line of primers and coatings for HP Indigo presses, and brings his expertise in the printing process and color management to commercial and large-format printing customers across the U.S. Tom is also a member of the Technical Advisory Board for Sign & Digital Graphics magazine.