ColorMunki – Review

See the earlier posting  ColorMunki – Features for a description of the ColorMunki. This section is on my experience with the device.

Ease of use

The ColorMunki itself and its software are generally easy to use. The device’s design are a bit of reminiscent of Apple products (the brochures states “Swiss Design” for whatever that’s worth) and there is even a white version called ColorMunki Design (as opposed to the black ColorMunki Photo). The software tries hard to hide the technicalities of color management. This is good for the many users interested in just getting the job over with – especially when you need to recalibrate a monitor every few weeks. It is a bit less suited for nerds or other control freaks who want to be certain that they are getting the best results possible (although v1.1 software does give a bit more control than the v1.0 software).

Nevertheless, some useability issues remain (although I downloaded the latest PC software, the hardware and firmware is a bit older, so there is a chance some hardware issues may have been fixed):

  • Sliding over glossy paper
    It is tricky to push or pull the device across glossy photo paper due to the extreme friction. A bit like trying to slide a rubber eraser over a glass table. It is best to push the device away, with your other hand (behind the device) holding the paper down.
  • Dial and software sometimes disagree
    The ColorMunki has a large dial to change between usage modes. The dial actually mechanically rotates the internal sensor to point down (profiling and spot measurements), up (ambient light measurement), 7:30 (device calibration), 10 o’clock (projector calibration). The software sees the dial position, but regularly looses track. This is easily worked around because the PC software what it thinks the position is. If it looses track, you move the back and forth a click.
  • User Interface quirks
    Similarly, the software guides you though a multi-step process: connect, calibrate, scan, etc. The software can get confused if you accidentally deviate from the standard path. A simple example: when installing the software, you can register (web site) and activate the product. The activation button is often disabled – e.g. because the device is not connected. You don’t get a message why the Activate button is disabled, and you can’t proceed until you figure it out.
  • Confirmation
    The designers focus on getting the user to do the steps they believe are needed for profiling. Fine – they know their color management. But no optional steps/checks are provided to demonstrate or prove that the profiling worked well: You don’t get to see the profiles as graphs/projections/3D shapes. There is no feature to easily see before/after prints (feed same sheet through printer twice, and show before/after as left/right). There is a before/after feature for the monitor, but the test image is small and limited compared to the similar feature on Spyder 3. You don’t quantitatively see how random colors are off from the previous- or ideal colors (the device can more or less objectively measure its own performance).
  • USB power consumption and hubs
    The device needs to be plugged into a USB port of the PC, or into a powered hub. Plugging it into an unpowered hub will result in an error message (unpowered USB 2 hubs support devices up to 100 mA). This is because the ColorMunki’s USB interface reports that it needs 500 mA (@ 5 Volt = 2.5 W). This number is presumably over-pessimistic for a device with an LED and presumably very little silicon. At 2.5 W, I expect to be able to operate a device like an iPhone with its most power-hungry features enabled. You won’t run into this problem if you plug the device directly into the PC, but I lost some time on this because a device that looked like a passive USB extender turned out to be a hub.

The above list is longish, and I think that te software still has rougher edges than a key competitor (Spyder 3). On the other hand, none of this is a big deal. The list is mainly intended to increase the chance that things are fixed.

Accuracy

In reviews, ColorMunki generally has a good reputation for accuracy. But one practical problem is that there is little you can do to check whether it is working well for your display/printer: you will generally get different colors (especially for the display) but this doesn’t tell you whether you made things better or worse.

Some attempts at checking the setup with my Samsung SyncMaster 206bw display and HP B9180 A3+ pigment printer:

  • I scanned a pad of shocking pink Post-Its and compared the color of the pad to the swatch color shown on the screen. This didn’t work well. There are, however, 2 serious technical flaws in this test:
    • Firstly the ambient light used to judge the Post-It will obviously affect its perceived color. Professional color specialists avoid this problem by using color booths: tabletop miniature rooms with calibrated lighting ( D50 or D65 color spectrum).
    • Secondly,  a Post-It color may be the worst possible thing to reproduce. It seems to have fluorescent properties: incoming light of one wavelength can result in light of a different wavelength. Fundamental color spaces do not account for this (exceptional) condition. Scanning of more standard printed material worked better.
  • An ICC profile viewer (free PerfX 3D Gamut Viewer) can be used to compare a new profile made using ColorMunki against a from the a monitor/printer/paper manufacturer or other source. The measured and downloaded profile pairs looked similar – but not identical – in shape for both my display and my printer. This confirms that the results are more or less OK. But it only (?) shows the extremes of the color gamut (surface of the L*a*b plot). And it doesn’t say which profile is better. Fancier commercial ICC profile viewing software is available from Imatest (Gamutvision) and CHROMiX (ColorThink).
  • An obvious other test is to do a before/after comparison for the screen. The screen had been previously calibrated using a borrowed Spyder3. The difference was visible (more or less a color temperature difference), but it is obviously tricky to say which is right. To complicate matters, you even can specify what color temperature you want the screen to be. For printer calibration, the printer was previously presumably calibrated in the factory and using a built-in self-calibration feature. The differences were clearly visible for parts of the color gamut (degree of yellowness of a light orange/brown). Again, the tricky part is which print was better.

5 thoughts on “ColorMunki – Review

  1. Stacey

    What would you recommend as the best software to use to ensure accurate pc to printer colour?

    Reply
    1. pvdhamer Post author

      Calibration of screen and in some cases printer is done with software supplied by the calibration hardware vendor (here: XRite). If you don’t have the hardware to calibrate your printer, you should make sure that you use an appropriate ICC profile for the printer/paper combination.
      Once you get that done, many post-processing software products can be used for the actual printing: Photoshop, Lightroom (that’s what I use), Aperture, etc. The post-processing software is not critical for the actual color management (that is done by the operating system), but if you go mainstream, it is easier to find the right information on how to set up color management related settings.

      Hope this helps,
      Peter

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Review | Peter.vdHamer.com

  3. ranjan

    I have a B9180 and got a colormunki! But my prints are dark! When I talked to colormunki support they say they don’t have that printer so they could not guide me to trobleshoot. Could you please tell me how to print the color patches. I printed with the option application manages color. But it didn’t do it.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    thanks,

    ranjan

    Reply
    1. pvdhamer Post author

      I don’t have my HP B9180 anymore. It broke down (see my blog).

      “my prints are dark”.

      Assuming…

      • these are prints of photos (and not the calibration color patches)
      • you are allowing the application to manage color (as you stated)
      • you are using reputable glossy or lustre paper (which?) so that you have access to reliable ICC profiles and don’t have to worry about problems with mat/matte paper
      • the printer driver is set to the right ICC profile for your printer/combination (profile source?)

      …this usually means your monitor is not properly calibrated (set too bright, use 120 cd/m2 or less). Your monitor can simply be brighter than typical room lighting. You print can never have brighter white than room lighting. You monitor can. So “prints too dark” almost always means “monitor too bright”. Calibrating your printer will make very little difference compared to using ICC profiles from your paper vendor (HP, Ilford, whoever).

      In fact, I would first get basics right by calibrating your monitor and getting the printer settings right. Thus postponing actual calibration of the printer using the ColorMunki. If all is setup well, you will find that the fine-tuning using the ColorMunki produces a minimal change which you might not even be able to see.

      how to print the color patches. I printed with the option application manages color. But it didn’t do it.

      Unfortunately, that doesn’t win a prize for clarity. Prints still too dark? Or printing of color patches failed? Or calibration using ColorMunki Photo failed?

      My guess is “prints still too dark”. And my guess is that it is due to the monitor being set too bright (this is a standard problem, and the standard solution). Once you fix the monitor part, it will look a lot darker on screen (like on paper). And then you can decide how to tweak the image.

      If this doesn’t solve things:
      * check Youtube for how-to videos
      * Google on “prints too dark” and confirm my suggestions. E.g. Northern Light has a good posting with that title.
      * get a book or DVD on color management or Luminous Landscape’s DVD on “Fine Art Printing”. It is cheaper than the Colormunki and may pay for itself in terms of less wasted prints.
      * send me screen shots of the relevant setup menus: device driver, Lightroom/CSx, Colormunki (I will send you an e-mail)
      * there is an HP B9180 support group on yahoo groups. Check their archive: you will certainly find “prints too dark” there.
      * once you get more confidence with the basics, try being more precise on what you are doing. I bet (hope) XRite support doesn’t normally give up on customers… they could have provided all the above info with no specific knowledge about the HP printer.

      Peter

      Reply

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