How to Calibrate Mac Displays for the Best Picture & Color

Aug 26, 2014 - 12 Comments

Calibrate a Display in Mac OS X

Having an external monitor hooked up to a Mac can boost productivity significantly, and most users who get a secondary screen just hook it up and start using it – it works, so why mess around, right? But to get the best picture and color representation out of your external display, you’ll want to take the time to calibrate the screen through a built-in OS X utility. In fact, you should probably calibrate every display you use with your Mac.


Calibrating a display allows you to adjust various aspects of how the screen shows images on screen, letting the user create a display profile with a set native response, brightness, contrast, luminance, gamma, white point, and red, green, and blue levels. If you’ve never heard of any of that before, don’t worry, it’s easy to configure and you just follow your eyes to calibrate the display. If you mess it up, you can just recalibrate the display again, or go back to a default, nothing is permanently changed.

For what it’s worth, this works to calibrate internal displays on the iMac and MacBook series too, but those typically ship with a good profile already set by Apple, making this less necessary than it is with a third party external display. Nonetheless, some built-in displays which look dull can benefit considerably from recalibrating.

Calibrate a Screen & Create a Display Profile in Mac OS X

This works with any display connected to a Mac – whether internal or external. If you use multiple screens, you’ll want to calibrate them all and create a unique profile for each display for the best results.

  1. Connect the display to the Mac if it isn’t connected yet (obviously not necessary for an internal display)
  2. Open the System Preferences from the  Apple menu and go to the “Displays” preference pane
  3. Choose the “Color” tab
  4. Click on the “Calibrate…” button
  5. calibrate-display-mac-1

  6. Check the box for “Expert Mode – This turns on extra options” and choose “Continue”
  7. calibrate-display-mac-2

  8. Follow the on screen instructions and adjust the options as visually appropriate – each display is unique and thus the location of the sliders will be different per display
  9. calibrate-display-mac-2

    calibrate-display-mac-3

    calibrate-display-mac-4

    calibrate-display-mac-5

  10. When finished, name the display profile and save it by choosing “Done”

calibrate-display-mac-6

The newly created display profile will be selected by default, you can see the difference by choosing the older display profile (or the default Color LCD) from the profile list, it should look considerably better. If for some reason it looks worse, you can either recalibrate the screen again and make a new profile, or just go with one of the default options like Color LCD, though they are rarely optimal for third party displays.

calibrate-mac-screen

Remember, calibration and profiles are set on a per display basis. That means the internal display of a MacBook Pro would have a different profile than an external Thunderbolt display, and a different display from a connected TV screen or other display. Thus, if you connect a different display you’d want to re-calibrate that display as well. Additionally, if you use two or more screens, you’d want to calibrate them all for the best results.

Enjoy your newly calibrated Mac display. Make this a habit every time you get a new screen for your Mac, or hook your computer up to another display, it makes everything look much better.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

12 Comments

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  1. John Robinson says:

    I’ve tried this Calibration many times over the years for my 27″ iMac and the best screen profile I am ever to calibrate is the official “iMac” profile. Forget all the calibration stuff and just choose “iMac” profile if you use an iMac.

    • Steve says:

      Agreed with John. Apple did the calibration of every Mac at the factory. Not necessary to broke this perfection by manual tweak.

  2. Brooklyn Photographer says:

    In order to properly calibrate any monitor, you need a colorimeter and related software so you can properly measure monitor output and create a custom profile. The method presented by the author may work, but will not be accurate by any stretch of the imagination.

    • Paul says:

      For professional uses you are absolutely right, but this is certainly better than nothing if you just got a third party external monitor, and it can really make a difference in how the screen looks with the Mac.

  3. My problem is that I’m such a perfectionist that it will drive me nuts if the color isn’t exactly right. I could fiddle with this for hours.

    • Paul says:

      I tend to avoid changing the colors and just adjust gamma and contrast as a result. With external displays used alongside my MacBook Air I’ll try to match the MBA screen, but otherwise not overdo it.

  4. John Cavan says:

    I’ll echo the previous comment about using a colorimeter to do this properly. Over time this needs to be tweaked, frequency depends on your needs, but there’s drift. Being an advanced amateur, I do the calibration monthly, but professionals will aim for more regular calibration, such as weekly. In addition, lighting conditions are a factor and a good device allows for constant adjustment based on changes in lighting by taking frequent measurements. Long story short, if you really want the BEST (as is claimed in the title) then you need the proper tools to do it and software alone isn’t it.

  5. TonyM says:

    Doesn’t matter how much I tweak my 24 inch screen display I’ll never match the resolution you get on the 27 inch screen. Sadly I haven’t got the room for one.

  6. Dennis says:

    For editing my photo’s I use the Spyder4Pro from Datacolor (http://spyder.datacolor.com/portfolio-view/spyder4pro). When your serious need a constant and good calibrated monitor this is worth the investment.

  7. vdiv says:

    How do I calibrate the glare out of the Mac displays?

    • Alberto says:

      Exact.
      You will calibrate you monitor wearing a black shirt.
      But the day after you will be in front of you monitor wearing an orange shirt… at this point you’d better to recalibrate your monitor :D

  8. Alberto says:

    If you want a monitor with good calibration don’t buy an Apple monitor…
    Buy Eizo or Dell.

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