Color Accuracy: Everything You Need to Know

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color accuracy
Color might be one of the most striking aspects and a key deciding factor in any considerations we make based on one of the most important sense perceptions: sight.

In fact, a marketing study claims that up to 90% of rapid-fire judgments made about products rely on color alone. The effect of color is paramount, then, and anything being “off” (without getting into discussions of qualia) about our perception of color gives rise to an unsettling quality within us – or, at the very least, it’s a substandard and uncomfortable way to play games, watch videos, or edit photos.

What Is Color Accuracy?

Monitor color accuracy is a term that refers to how close the colors you see on your monitor screen are to the intended or standard value that they’re meant to conform to.

Color accuracy affects what we view on our monitors. The slightest inaccuracy can mean the appearance of an orange hue where there should be a natural red, even with the best 1440p monitors, skewing colors, shades, and ultimately, how “put-together” an image is, which harms our enjoyment level, if not altogether making us worried about how our equipment is faulty or lacking.

Other quality factors would also, unfortunately, be relegated to secondary importance as our focus is lost and muddled as we see uncanny colors where we expect to see something else.

It also casts aspersions on whatever visual medium you’re experiencing; directors, artists, photographers, and many others work hard to achieve a certain level of color accuracy, paying close attention to color palettes and color ranges.

In many cases, color “speaks”; going back to the opening paragraphs of this article, we can see that different colors make different emotions, different understanding well up inside our perception.

Artists using certain colors to emote certain feelings and convey a certain mood rely on the color reaching the audience as accurately as possible; we can understand this simply in terms of bright colors, “warm” palettes and cool palettes, dark cinematography, and so on, but there are also many advanced theories, stories, and philosophies of color out there.

For professionals working with colors, there’s also a danger of a needlessly complicated and infuriating workflow as the colors between different screens or printed mock-ups and the final product all fail to match with each other, all due to poor monitor color accuracy.

How Is Monitor Color Accuracy Measured?

Color accuracy is measured twice in most monitors: once pre-calibration and once after a calibration. Having a monitor that has great color accuracy from the get-go is better since full, proper, technical calibrations cost a lot. This is particularly important where color-sensitive work is involved, such as designing, editing, post-production, and such, saving money on calibration.

For pre-calibration tests, a few important modifications are made to ensure accurate color depth and image quality straight away rather than the default, “one-size-fits-all” default settings. Even panel variances between different models can cause variation!

Some of these modifications are as simple as changing the picture mode or color temperature, and some require a bit more know-how, such as the RGB controls, or the gamma or contrast.

For changing the picture mode, it’s important to note that not all companies name their modes similarly, but trial and error helps us achieve optimal settings as compared to the on-screen display. Similarly, not all monitors have the option to change the red, green, and blue internal cuts/gains controls, so the warm/cool color temperature is relied on. Not all monitors have the settings to change gamma, either.

For changes to the contrast level, most tests involve moving the contrast to the maximum setting before it results in clipping. However, most monitors are very well-adjusted for contrast out-of-the-box, with some of the best ultrawide monitors out there being considered as having perfect contrast ratio.

During calibration, the colorimeter is calibrated with the use of a spectroradiometer, and then the software is used alongside the colorimeter to calibrate the monitor to the best results. Post-calibration, color dE, white balance dE, and gamma are re-measured; more on that in this next section.

What is Color dE?

Color dE is a measure of color difference. The difference between two numerically represented values of color allows for a very close approximation of the naturalness of how a human eye sees and perceives things; the lower the value, the lower the difference between the colors being tested.

A value of <3 (less than 3) is considered “completely” accurate, but anywhere between 3-6 is considered “good enough” for commercial use. Theoretically, a value <1 would mean a human eye would be unable to perceive any color difference. The usage of the dE200 (Delta E 2000) value ranges ensures standardization across the board for tolerable color perception. Colors exceeding the 13-25 range are considered two different color tones, and lower still, between 6.5-13, we can perceive a difference but consider them the same color, and from the 3-6 range (technically 3.2-6.5) the “impression” of both is the same.

Are There Monitor Color Accuracy Standards?

The most widely used industry standard for color accuracy is the Rec. 709 color standard. This was created by the International Telecommunication Union and is in use across the board: television screens, movie theaters, production houses, all displays, DVD players, Blu-ray specs and home theater projectors are developed and tested according to this to ensure uniform video specifications and ultimate, professionally calibrated color accuracy.

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