How to match the colours on your monitor to your printer.

If you have ever designed a colour document on your computer and then printed it out on your inkjet or laser printer you may have noticed that the colours come out slightly different.  This is partly to do with the fact that  printing with ink on a piece of paper is a different process to creating colour on a computer monitor,  but it is possible to calibrate your monitor so that the colours match up as closely as they can.  This article gives you some tips on basic monitor colour calibration.

The colour on your Printer

Every printer uses slightly different inks and so the same ink combinations print out slightly different hues  on different printers.  Built into every Apple Computer is a technology called ColorSync which tries to address this problem.  ColorSync tries to match the colour on the screen with the colour that is printed on your printer so that if you choose a particular shade of green on your computer monitor, that same shade of green will be printed on the printer. It’s not failsafe, but it helps.

Apple computers come loaded with printer drivers for most printers, and these printer drivers contain the information that the computer needs to know how the printer will print certain colours.   Most printers will have a different colour profile for each type of paper you are printing on, so as long as you select the right type of paper (e.g. Gloss Photo, plain etc)  your Macintosh will know the colour that is being printed by the printer, and will try to match it to the screen.

The colour on your Monitor.

Different monitors display the same colours slightly differently. In most cases your OS X computer  will automatically detect the monitor  that is connected to it and use the correct colour profile for that monitor to try to match what you see to the colour that will print.  You can adjust the profile of monitor yourself and this article explains how.  What you see on your monitor is affected by your contrast and brightness settings, the age of your screen, the light in the room you’re working in, so it’s worth calibrating your monitor manually anyway.

Here’s  how to calibrate  your monitor using the built-in Apple calibration tool.

1.  Go to the Apple menu and open the System Preferences,  and click on “Displays”

2. Click on the ‘Color’  tab  and you will see a list of ‘profiles’  with one of them highlighted in grey. In my case ‘Cinema Display’ is  highlighted because I have an Apple Cinema Display.

Click on the color tab of the displays preference pane.


3. To manually calibrate your monitor, select ‘Calibrate’.  Don’t worry about losing your existing settings because at the end of the process you will be asked for a new name to save the new settings under. A calibration assistant will appear, choose ‘Expert Mode’ and then Continue.


There are 5 or 6 steps to the process, it will take you through them one by one, asking you to compare colours and move sliders. Sometimes it can help to squint.

Step 4 in the setup is called “Target Gamma”. Just go with the recommended 2.2.

Step 5 is Select Target White point. You will notice it dramatically changes what you see on the screen! It is trying to emulate the difference between looking at  a piece of paper under different lighting conditions. A piece of ‘white’ paper will be yellow or blue depending on the surrounding light conditions. White Point is setting the colour of your ‘white’. I suggest holding a white piece of paper up next to your monitor and matching the monitor white point to that. This way your monitor white point will be the natural whit point of your room. It may be that your room has an un-natural blue light and you’d prefer a more natural white point, it’s personal preference, but it will change the way you perceive colours on your monitor. I like to make a few different profiles with different white points and then I can easily switch between them. The standard white-point setting is 6500.

Step 7 is give it a name and then you are set.

I have my general monitor calibration setting. It’s set up for mainly internet work.

I also have one I use for professional printing jobs that I’ve tried to match to the printer I use.

Sending something off to get printed.

There are some colours that you can create on a monitor  that are impossible to print on a normal inkjet printer! For example certain oranges, fluorescent colours etc. The way the get these printed, for example on a logo, is that you specify the colour you want from a sample sheet of colours the printer gives to you. The printer then uses that coloured ink, rather than the normal CYMK ink. This is called spot colour. If you are doing a one colour logo or a T-Shirt you may want to choose a spot colour.

If you want to be certain of a particular CYMK colour you are printing you can get a pantone colour sheet from your printing company, it looks something like this:


Each colour entry tells you the CYMK values for that colour.

For example, here’s a sample orange colour from the printing company.

This means that if on your macintosh computer, you go to the colour picker in any program, and choose the CYMK sliders, you can set C to 0, M to 68, Y to 100 and K (black) to 0, and choose this exact colour.

Now that you have put in the exact colour by numbers, it doesn’t matter what it looks like on your screen or home inkjet printer. When you send it away and it gets printer by the printing company that sent you the chart, it will be EXACTLY that colour that you saw in their sample chart.

If you have a pantone colour chart from a printer (they are free -you just need to ask for one) you can put some of the colours into a color-filled box in a program like Pages and see how close your monitor (or home printer) is to the actual printed colours. This will give you an idea as to how well your monitor (or printer) is calibrated.

In the end, when doing Desktop Publishing, the main thing to remember is never trust your monitor, especially when choosing colours or editing photos, always check the colour of the printed out version.




5 responses to “How to match the colours on your monitor to your printer.”

  1. very interesting, thanks so much!

  2. Thank you so much for this!! :-)

  3. marty

    Wow, does this really work! I will give it a try.
    On another note maybe you can help me, I have a canon color printer….with a fiery.
    My old canon copier was not a fiery and I am having an awful time getting older jobs to print in the same color as the new printer…..I spent all morning changing settings, etc. but still I did not get the result I wanted. Do you have any tips for me? Thank you.

  4. Wow, this was really helpful. I did know that the colors changed with every printer, but this solution is something new. Great work.

  5. Bryant Fields

    Matching colors on your monitor to your printer can be challenging but not after reading this blog. I shared your article with one of my friends, and she says it worked for her. Thanks for this informative blog.

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