Color management guide by Arnaud Frich

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Updated on December 19, 2017

How to calibrate an iMacor iMac 5K Apple ?

Color management specialists do not like these displays. But they are so beautiful ! Obviously, for color management that does not really matter... except that many photographers and designers use them. As I find them better than what we are willing to say, I am going to help you, at least, to correctly calibrated them...


Key points if you are a beginner ...

Here are the key points to remember on iMac, iMac 5K, Mac display and Apple Display calibration. The rest of this page will be dedicated to those who want to go into more details.

iMac Apple 2013

They are so beautiful ! I can not blame you to have one, even if you are a photographer. Who has the right to decide for us what should be or not?

Their biggest drawback can not be corrected through calibration : panel reflections.

I can assure you that the iMac display starting from 2011 are amazing, once calibrated. They have no tone breaks when calibrated with the i1Display Pro or the Colormunki Display. That does not make them be equivalent to a graphic art monitor or a monitor for pro retouchers but it is more than okay. At most their gamut is not very wide. And by the way, we do not retouch, all of us, every day, highly saturated colors...

Last generation colorimeters (since July 2011, from X-Rite or Datacolor) are significantly better than the previous one, to calibrate an iMac or other Mac displays. If you have to choose today, my preference is for both X-Rite models.

If you want to achieve the beautiful color temperature of 6.500 K (neither too hot nor too cold to my taste), I recommend the i1Display Pro model. Certainly it is a little more expensive but guaranteed for three years thanks to its glass filters.

Whatever colorimeter you choose, target a brightness between 100/120 Cd/m².

And whatever happens, do not ask an iMac to reach a good retouching display quality. However, I argue that the panel, espacially for the recent iMac, are much better than we are willing to say.

Because of their reflections, very annoying indeed in many bright environment, Mac displays and the beautiful iMac have very bad press. In addition, they have very limited settings: just brightness.

Since July 2011 and the release of a new generation of calibration colorimeters, in particular the one from X-Rite (Colormunki Display and i1Display Pro), it is quite possible to calibrate these monitors, and in my opinion, with a very nice result.

Personally, I would say that their main drawback is the reflection and perhaps, a not very large gamut. But who needs a wide gamut every day : I assure you, not everyone !




iMac & Mac monitors calibration specificities

What makes the Mac Display or iMac / iMac 5K so difficult to calibrate ? Is it because of their panel ? Their settings ? Their graphic cards ?

iMac 2015 Apple

What about the iMac and Apple Display panel quality ?

There are currently three major categories of panel quality for computer monitors : TN, PVA and IPS. The more the quality increases the easier it is to calibrate, and especially to retouch your pictures and perform photo editing. Why ? Mainly because the bad panels are distinguished by their lousy viewing angle. With these panels it is impossible to keep the same brightness as soon as you turn or head down. However, Apple, since two years, uses the best IPS technology. Before 2011/2012, the iMac displays were complicated to calibrate but things have improved considerably since.

  • iMac displays use white LED IPS panels since 2012,
  • Apple Displays use fluorescent tubes (CCFL) IPS panels.


Mac Display quality and releasing dates ...

It is undeniable that if the Mac display have always been beautiful objects to be placed on his desk, the quality of the panels were not at the same quality level until recently.

History of iMac Apple

However, since 2011/2012, Mac panels are much better and very good once calibrated with the great X-Rite colorimeters. Best proof of what I am saying, being the 2012/2013/2014-2017 Apple iMac.

This does not place them at the NEC or EIZO best graphic art monitor level, but they are beautiful monitors for one not needing or seeking for this graphic art quality level.


Almost no adjustment possibilities on iMac and Mac Display

However, it is now possible (since July 2011) to correct or even cancel their second big drawback : the lack of monitor settings apart from brightness. As seen on the page dedicated to monitor calibration, brightness is used to set the white point and contrast used to set the black point. This little miracle is still possible thanks to a new feature included in X-Rite colorimeters Colormunki Display and i1Display Pro : ADC standing for Automatic Display Control.

My advice !

The only thing you have to choose is the brightness (with X-Rite or Datacolor colorimeters) and make sure on X-Rite models, the button "Enable ADC" is checked. (Fig. below).


Fonction ADC des sondes de calibrages X-Rite activée


iMac brightness adjustment

At best, it is physically possible to set your display brightness on 16 different levels. Difficult in these conditions to find the right adjustment compared to the targeted value you have chosen. You will be at 4 or 5 Cd/m² from your targeted value but it does not matter so much.

Brightness adjust with i1 Display Pro

With the X-Rite Colormunki Display or i1Display Pro you must define a target value (here 120 Cd/m²) and then tell the software what settings you are able to adjust (here only brightness since it is an iMac) .

With the Datacolor Spyder4Pro and Spyder4Elite, it is even easier to do because the software asks you what type of display you want to calibrate (here I chose a laptop because they traditionally have the brightness as only setting).

Réglage de la luminosité des écrans de portables avec la sonde Spyder4Elite

With the Datacolor colorimeters, the adjustment is a bit less precise.


Mac or iMac displays default color temperature settings

The time of Mac displays at 9.300 K default setting is over. They all come out today in less flattering but very nice 6.500 K. However, I prefer them with a color temperature a little lower : 6.000 K, neither too hot nor too cold.

Datacolor vs X-Rite
color temperature !

The color temperature of the display calibrated with Datacolor colorimeters are slightly cooler (some would say neutral !) than with X-Rite colorimeters. However, it always remains a slight grey dominant color with the Datacolor colorimeters that can only be seen if you have the opportunity to compare.

See images below...

To find all my tips for calibrating a display, refer to my other pages :





What is the best colorimeter to calibrate iMac, iMac 5K and Apple displays?

The question now arises whether a colorimeter (or colorimeter) stands out as best to calibrate those monitors.

Comparative tests between X-Rite and Datacolor colorimeters

Here are some pictures of a comparative calibration done on the iMac 27 "2012 of a friend ...


Laptop calibration with i1 Display Pro

Laptop calibration with Spyder4Elite


My analysis :


  • The number of tone breaks is slightly more important with the Datacolor colorimeters.
  • The color temperature is more neutral or cold with Datacolor colorimeters compared to the targeted color temperature. However, there are still some very minor dominant in the greyscale with Datacolor colorimeters, unlike X-Rite colorimeters, giving a very "clean and neutral" result .
  • For an identical targeted gamma (2.2), X-Rite colorimeters allow to obtain a greyscale more progressive than Datacolor colorimeters. Blacks clog faster and less gradually with Datacolor colorimeters.

Remember !

First thing first, I highly recommend you to calibrate your Mac or iMac displays, whatever your usage is, because it is easy to perform since 2011. They are then so beautiful.

You have the possibility to choose between 4 models, even if I have a preference for the X-Rite colorimeters : Colormunki Display and i1Display Pro.

The iMac panel (since 2011) is very nice after calibration with X-Rite colorimeters : no tone break, very progressive greyscale, nice color temperature, nice contrast but a smaller gamut than a same range EIZO monitor for instance.

The difference between Datacolor and X-Rite colorimeters is really small compare to the past. Only real unknown, the gelatine filter lifetime of the Datacolor colorimeters.





Read my tutorial and buy a colorimeter using this website...


Box i1Display Pro X-Rite

i1Display Pro X-Rite


My opinion about the i1Display Pro d'X-Rite

The X-Rite i1Display Pro model is the calibration device reference today. It allows to calibrate monitors and laptops screen - Read reviews of Amazon buyers



My grade : 9,5 / 10 - The best colorimeter of the market, but also the most complex to use !


Buy the i1 Display Pro from...

  Price Seller
Buy from


Boîte Colormunki Display

Colormunki Display X-Rite

$143.99 *

My opinion about Colormunki Display - X-Rite

The X-Rite Colormunki Display model is a calibration colorimeter for expert amator and most professionals. A bit limitated compared to the i1Display Pro :

  • Slower,
  • less adjustments and limitated detailled calibration report,
  • No possibility to calibrate a beamer...
  • but really good with laptops and iMac.
  • Read reviews of Amazon buyers

My grade : 8,5 / 10
Best quality/price ratio choice !


Buy this colorimeter from...

  Price Seller
$143.99   $168.99
Buy from
  $143.99   $168.99


Boîte Spyder5Pro Datacolor

Spyder5Pro Datacolor


My opinion about the Spyder5Pro - Datacolor

The Datacolor Spyder4pro model is a professional calibration colorimeter, but slightly limitated compared to the Elite model. In both case, you will get the same colorimeter.

The missing feature would be the multi monitors possibility, less adjustment settings and the possibility to calibrate a beamer. However, it allows you to calibrate an iPad and also, a wide gamut monitors - Read reviews of Amazon buyers

My grade : 8,5/10
Spyder5Pro is Excellent quality/price ratio : recommended.



Buy the Spyder5Pro from...

  Price Seller
$159.99 $188.00
Buy from


Box Spyder5Elite Datacolor

Spyder5Elite Datacolor


My opinion about the Spyder5Elite - Datacolor

The Datacolor Spyder5Elite colorimeter is the most complete calibration kit. It has everything you can expect from a professional colorimeter today and even more ! - Read reviews of Amazon buyers

My grade : 9,0/10 - This colorimeter clearly competes with the i1Display Pro and offers almost infinite possibilities. Excellent colorimeter, but ... just behind the i1Display Pro !



Buy the Spyder5Elite from...

  Price Seller
Buy from
Buy from


Summary > Monitor calibration > Calibrate iMac and Mac Display



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