ColorMunki Create and Design in Review

January 3, 2009 11:41 pm

Tags: color management, ColorMunki, monitor calibration, Pantone, Photoshop, x-rite

Do color shifts between your monitor and ink jet or Giclee prints drive you insane? Do people tell you that you’re most recent gallery image is too dark or too light on their screen? This is a result of monitor calibration issues that can now be easily fixed.

Do you have two monitors that make your art look drastically different depending on which monitor is displaying it? Make them look the same.

Or, do you have a photo and would you like the on-screen colors to match the colors in the photo? No problem - it’s now easy to do.

Pantone, recently acquired by color calibration specialists X-Rite Inc., a long-time veteran of color management for the computer world and the “real” world, have provided some really cool tools for people that want to make their color-life better for either Mac or PC. They’ve created two tools: ColorMunki Create for the Hobbiest/Freelancer, and ColorMunki Design for the professional.

Here at Renderosity, we have a fairly complex mix of amateurs and professionals. Complex because some work in the design/graphic world but simply create imagery for fun, and others that work in other worlds completely but find creation of images deeply gratifying and fun. So, I’ll break this review into two parts to better highlight the ColorMunki options so you can see if it’s a good solution for you.

ColorMunki Create

Intended for the Freelancer/Hobbiest and costing $149 USD, this isn’t cheap, but it’s not expensive either. So how does it help the hobbyist?

  1. Eliminate wacky color on-screen. ColorMunki Create (CMC) immediately fixes the most common computer error amongst all computer users - monitor calibration. In speaking with both computer tech/repair and computer pros, most monitors are NOT set up to show good color out of the box. Couple that with users “adjusting” their monitors and it quickly becomes possible to create a monitor environment that makes it harder for others to see what you do on your monitor.
  2. Out-of-gamut correctlon/highlighting. What’s that? Because monitors create their images with light and printers create their images with ink, monitors can show colors on screen that are impossible to print, for reasons I won’t bore you with. CMC shows the user those out-of-gamut colors so they can be correct before printing - and disappointment. The software preview of how screen color will print was outstanding.
  3. Create color profiles. Our renders do not live on our computers alone. We import them into applications like Adobe® Photoshop® for post render effects and adjustments. Or, do you print through Quark Xpress or Adobe Indesign or Illustrator? CMC creates color profiles that, in effect, link your 2D paint or page layout programs ensuring consistency. So, what you see on-screen will be matched on import to Photoshop. Cool.
  4. Provide and create color libraries. This is really cool. If you open an image, CMC can create a custom palette from the image that you can import into other applications like Photoshop for more creative work. Additionally, CMC plugs you into a ton of premade color palettes and dramatically providing you, the user, with smart and coordinated color options instantly. It’s a nice time saver.


ColorMunki Design

The pro version of this cool little device offers an incredible array of services for a wallet pinching $499 USD. However, before you think “no-way,” you must also understand that it gives you the same level of hardware/software features found only in devices that cost THREE times that amount. The Design edition performs everything that the CMC does, but more. There is a good overview video here.

  1. With the ColorMunki Design (CMD) you can calibrate multiple monitors, and then keep them coexisting in visual harmony while CMD periodically tests the ambient light level of your environment and corrects both of them dynamically. Dragging images from one monitor to the other will leave the images looking the same.
  2. Test real world colors. The CMD also is a color scanner, letting you sample real-life items sitting around you for their color levels. This in turn can be used to create new color palettes, or to find the nearest PMS (Pantone Matching System) color for design specs. (Great for texture artists that create 3D content)
  3. Synchronize multiple devices. Absolutely the best feature of the CMD is the ability to color correct your monitor to your printer to your projectors. Having things look the same from device to device for presentations is HUGE.

Pros, Cons and Alternatives

Pro - While either of these devices can’t be had for pocket change, you get what you pay for. They work and work well. These tools are premium both in function, design and performance. The software is easy to use, beautiful to look at and work with. The documentation is complete. In my testing, I was never at a point where I was left scratching my head saying “Whuuuu?” If you want to calibrate your monitor and then connect what you see to the PMS system, you won’t regret buying either one of these.

If you are a pro, the CMD is the missing link for solid color management for any studio. The CMD will pay for itself in printer ink and client expectations in no time - even if you have a good color management solution in place already.

If you are a hobbyist or run a freelance studio, color correcting your monitor may be more of a shock than you’d expect, and you’ll benefit from linking PMS into your system from the monitor onward.

Con - They are expensive, although the CMD isn’t nearly as expensive as alternatives out there for what it does. If you don’t need your color management plugged into the PMS scheme and are comfortable using “best guess” methods of color selection, they probably aren’t a good fit. If the phrase “good enough” comes up frequently in your expectations, they aren’t a good fit.

Alternatives - Good monitor calibration is smart for several reasons. It will make your monitor last longer, make things “normal” to look at and, if you have multiple monitors, will remove the headache of trying to get things to look the same on each. For that, Pantone has some less expensive devices called Huey ($89) and Huey Pro ($129). These devices operate like the CMC, including room lighting adjustments automatically, but do cost less. The Huey Pro will do the job for dual monitor systems (I personally use the Huey Pro calibration and it’s wonderful). Photoshop actually ships with a monitor calibration routine that you can use if you want, and it works pretty well, unless you have dual monitors, then you’re out of luck. There are other calibrator solutions out there, but they start at about $175 and go up.

Recommendation - If you don’t work with color professionally, or aren’t a hobby color purist, the key features of the CMD and CMC won’t help you out. There are other alternatives for monitor calibration if that's what you need. However, if you do want a color management system, both of the ColorMunki choices offer excellent integration with PMS needs or custom palette creation. They are an excellent choice.

For more information, please visit the ColorMunki Website.

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Mark Bremmer is a moderator in the Carrara Forum here at Renderosity. He has operated his own commercial studio for 15 years. He’s been fortunate enough to work for clients like Caterpillar, Amana, Hormel Foods, Universal Studios Florida, and The History Channel; producing stills, digital mattes and animations. Mark contracts regularly as an art mercenary with production houses that shall remain nameless by written agreements. His production pipeline is Mac-based. He likes to fly perfectly good airplanes upside down and ride bikes on mountain trails in his native Colorado.
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Article Comments

moonrancher ( posted at 5:36PM Wed, 07 January 2009

I found this article to be very useful, to point me in the right direction. I'll be getting the Huey Pro instead, because I print everything through a book printing service. (It's my understanding that the printer must be local for these products.) I didn't know where to start, and also didn't realize my monitor could possibly be changing quite so much over time, and I have half a dozen, so I'm now looking forward to checking them all.