Color management guide by Arnaud Frich

Generalites about colors Monitor calibration Printer calibration Manage colors with Photoshop Resources on Color Management

Updated on June 17, 2017

How to calibrate a laptop display or a MacBook Pro and MacBook Pro Retina ?

Because they have the reputation for having bad panels and you can not adjust their brightness, laptops seem quite good just to clear our memory cards during a journey. And what if the situation was slowly changing ?




Key points if you are a beginner...

Here are the key points to remember on laptop display or MacBook Pro calibration. The rest of this page will be dedicated to those who want to go into more details.

Although the settings of their monitor are basic, some calibration colorimeters can now take full control of them.

It is perfectly possible to calibrate a laptop display or screen today.The quality of the result will depend very much on the quality of the laptop panel and there, you can have a lot of disparity.

I can assure you that the MacBook Pro panel starting from 2011 is amazing, once calibrated. They have no tone breaks, once calibrated with an i1Display Pro or Colormunki Display. That does not make them be at the level of a graphic art monitor for pro retouchers but it is more than okay.

Last generation colorimeters (since July 2011 X-Rite or Datacolor) are significantly better than the previous ones to calibrate laptop display. But if you have to make your choice today, my preference is for both X-Rite models.

If you want to achieve the beautiful color temperature of 6.000K (neither too hot nor too cold according 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. Laptop settings are less accurate than conventional monitors but it does not matter much.

And whatever happens, do not expect a laptop display to reach a good desktop monitor quality. However, I argue that the panel, including recent MacBook Pro are much better than many desktop monitors.

On paper, the calibration of the display of a laptop is very difficult if not just impossible due to the lack of settings and the poor quality of the panel. It has been true for a long time. However, since the release of a new generation of calibration colorimeters in particular from X-Rite (Colormunki Display and i1Display Pro) and from Datacolor (Spyder5Pro and Spyder5Elite), surprises are interesting on some high end laptops. It is even quite possible to calibrate his laptop in 2013, at least neutralize the dominant color, modify the color temperature and display a good brightness. Obviously, the final quality will depend very much on your monitor but the calibration of a 2011 MacBook Pro or 2012 MacBook Pro (Retina) is really amazing.



Specificities of a laptop calibration

But what makes laptops so difficult to calibrate ? Is it because of their panel ? Their settings? Their graphic card ?



What the quality of a laptop panel ?

There are currently three major categories of monitor panel quality : TN, PVA and IPS. Quality is improving and it is getting easier to calibrate, but especially to correctly edit photos or perform basic retouches. 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 move your head. Now, the vast majority of laptops have these kind of panel due to very low selling prices, therefore, this is the main problem that calibration will never be able to correct or minimize.

A display at the right height !

Mstand and MacBookProIt is important to place your display at the right height, especially with TN display (the most basic panel). It is therefore interesting to note that the brand "Rain Design" manufactures a support for MAC (with a MAC design !) not only to heighten the laptop but also to improve the cooling system. A superb job for only $45 ! Suivre


MacBook, MacBook Pro *
* 13, 15 or 17 inches





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Display technology choice : CCFL or white LED backlight ?

The majority of laptop display have very basic panels, called CCFL which is a fluorescent technology. Few laptop display are using LED technology, known ones being the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air from Apple since 2012.

My advice ! Most laptop display are CCFL technology. The default choice is the right one. All Mac laptops (MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are using LED technology since 2012), some Asus laptops and Sony sold since 2012 are also using LED technology : then choose LED or white LED technologies.

Almost no settings on laptop display

However, it is now possible (since 2011) to correct or cancel their second biggest drawback : the lack of display settings except for brightness. Now we had seen on the page dedicated to monitor calibration that brightness was used to set the white point and contrast to set the black point. This little miracle is still possible thanks to a new feature implemented in X-Rite Colormunki Display and i1Display Pro colorimeters : the ADC functionality (Automatic Display Control).

My advice ! You only have to choose the brightness you want (with X-Rite or Datacolor colorimeters) and make sure, on X-Rite models, that "Enable ADC" is checked.


Fonction ADC des sondes de calibrages X-Rite activée


Brightness adjustment on a laptop

The best possible case is to be able to adjust the brightness of your display on 10 levels. Difficult or even impossible, in these conditions to reach the target you have chosen. You will not be closer than 10 Cd/m2 from the targetted value, but it did not matter much.

Réglage de la luminosité de votre écran de protable avec la sonde de calibrage i1 Display Pro

With X-Rite Colormunki or i1 Display Display Pro colorimeters you must define a targeted value (here 120 cd/m2) and then tell the software what settings you can adjust (here only brightness as it is a laptop) . In my case, I can not get closer to my targeted value (115 achieved for 120 targeted).

With Datacolor Spyder4Pro and Spyder4Elite colorimeters it is even easier as the software asks you what type of monitor you want to calibrate (a laptop fot this example) and will therefore know that you will have only brightness setting adjustment possibility.

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

With Datacolor colorimeter, I could not get closer to my targeted value (106 achieved for 120 targeted, otherwise I would have been at to 135).


Laptop display color temperature by default

The majority of laptop displays have really basic panels whose color temperature is arround 9.300 K by default (this is so blue, so cold). It's more flattering and flashy for games, but this is far from the 6.000/6.500 K we seek as photographers or graphic designers.

My advice ! Do not try to get too low in color temperature because the monitor will become more yellowish than warm, espacially if you are seeking for a value below 6.000 K. Only the best panels know how to display a 5.000 K without falling into an ugly yellowish caricature. Between 6.000 and 6.500 K, it seems fine to me, neither too hot nor too cold.

Datacolor vs X-Rite color temperature colorimeter !

The color temperature of the display calibrated with Datacolor colorimeters are slightly cooler (some would say neutral!) than with X-Rite colorimeters. However, a slight dominant color remains with the Datacolor colorimeter that cannot be seen unless you have the opportunity to compare.

See images bellow...

Check that your ICC display profile is activated when booting your computer

I noticed that on laptops, the ICC profile of the monitor is not always activated when booting, especially with Windows (7 in my case and even with previous versions, I did not check with Windows 8) .

My advice ! When you have calibrated your laptop display, reboot your computer and see if the colors displayed changed. On most laptop using TN or PVA panels are set by default at 9.300 K, therefore you will be amazed by the result !
If this is not the case, simply run the program that loads the screen profile, called gammaloader ... or something like that! It should be located in the folder :
Start Menu/Folders/Startup...

To get all my recommendations on display calibration, I suggest you to read those page :


What colorimeter to calibrate a laptop display ?

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

Comparative test : X-Rite vs Datacolor colorimeter

Here are some pictures of the comparative calibration test performed on a 2012 MacBook Pro, but it is also the same on a MacBook Air or on a Dell Latitude 6500...


Calibrage d'un portable MacBook Pro 2012 avec l'i1 Display Pro


Calibrage d'un portable MacBook Pro 2012 avec la Spyder4Elite


My analysis :


  • The number of t one breaks is slightly higher, whatever laptop display is calibrated with a Datacolor colorimeters.
  • For a same targeted color temperature, the Datacolor colorimeter delivers a more neutral or colder result. However, there are still some very minor color dominants in the grayscale with Datacolor colorimeters, you will not get with an X-Rite colorimeter that is always delivering a very "clean and neutral" result.
  • For a 2.2 targeted gamma, X-Rite colorimeters will deliver a more progressive grayscale than Datacolor one. Blacks drop faster and less gradually with Datacolor colorimeters.

Remember !

Above all, I strongly recommend you calibrate your laptop display, whatever the use you make of it, as it is now easily possible since 2011.

Even if I have a slight preference for X-Rite colorimeter, you can make your choice based on four different models : Spyder5Pro, Spyder5Elite, Colormunki Display or i1Display Pro.

MacBook Pro panel (since 2011) is beautiful after calibration with the use of an X-Rite colorimeter : no tone breaks in the grayscale. The result is really progressive, with a beautiful color temperature.

The MacBook Air panel as many other panels can be calibrated, but the result will show a lot of tone breaks. Still amazing results and it is clearly to put on the credit of the new colorimeters, with the incredible i1Display Pro.

The difference between the Datacolor and X-Rite colorimeters is really smaller than in the past. Only one real unknown, the gelatin filters lifetime resistance of the Datacolor colorimeters.



Read my tutorials 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 !



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Boîte Colormunki Display

Colormunki Display X-Rite


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 !


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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.



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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 !



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Summary > Monitor calibration > Laptop calibration



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