X-rite i1Photo

xrite i1I recently joined the Leica Users Group (LUG) Print Exchange.  The LUG Print Exchange is a neat program that encourages folks worldwide to exchange prints–a great way to learn from others and to get some spectacular prints.  The LUG is filled with picky photographers who are truly focused on quality–I learned quickly that a standard print from the camera sent to a photo processor just wouldn’t do.  I needed to step up my game.  I bought a high quality photo printer–however it was impossible to get the color on the printer to match the color on the screen–I needed to calibrate my monitor and printer so that the colors would match.

The X-Rite i1Photo system delivers all the tools necessary to implement an effective, predictable and accurate color-managed digital workflow in either RGB or CYMK production environments – from camera through production to display to final output.   The system allows you to calibrate:

  • Digital Cameras
  • Scanners
  • Monitors- LCD, CRT, and Laptops 
  • RGB Printers    
  • Digital Projectors          

It also allows you to:

  • Measure, mix and share and share: spot and PANTONE® colors
  • Measure and evaluate flash and ambient light using the included ambient light head.
  • Measure the color temperature of light booths

The i1Photo system includes:

  • Accelerated i1Pro Spectrophotometer
  • i1Match software for Mac & PC i1Share Software for Mac & PC (includes full Pantone® library)
  • Mini ColorChecker Scanner profiling chart (reflectance)
  • Ruler and backup board
  • Carrying case for i1 components
  • CRT/LCD monitor holder
  • Ambient light measurement head
  • Positioning target Calibration plate

The heart of the i1Photo system is the Accelerated i1Pro Spectrophotometer–accelerated because it measures at about twice the speed of the older device.  As the name implies, a spectrophotometer is an instrument for measuring or comparing the intensities of the colors of the spectrum.  The i1Photo Spectrophotometer is USB powered so that now external power is necessary.

Installation

I was a bit intimidated by the whole concept of managing color.  I didn’t understand the concept, terminology or methodology involved in managing color.  I reviewed the included Quick Start directions (unusual for me) and hooked up the i1Pro Spectrophotometer to the most accessible USB Port (on my keyboard) and started the installation process.  The applications installed but when I tried running the i1Match software it told me that the system couldn’t work with the Spectrophotometer on an unpowered USB port–I switched to the powered USB port on my machine and the system found the device.

Monitor calibration

The i1Match software is used to calibrate the devices and edit device profiles.  It is quite simple to use.  The screen is divided into three colums:  the left column shows the device being calibrated, and where you are in the process, the center column gives you the settings to choose from, and the right column provides some basic help.  The first device I chose to calibrate was the LCD Monitor in Easy mode.   The system starts by asking you to choose whether you are going to calibrate a LCD monitor or CRT Monitor; then asks you to calibrate the Spectrophotometer by placing it on its base plate (which has a white square used for calibration).

Next you “hang” the Spectrophotometer from the monitor.  On an LCD monitor you use a base plate with a weight that hangs off the back of your monitor to balance the device on the monitor.  In the easy mode, the system generates a set of colors on the screen and creates an ICC profile.  In the advanced mode you set individual parameters including: screen contrast, individual RGB levels if available (RGB Presets if individual levels are not available and then the luminance point.  The system then generates an ICC Profile–a neat feature is that it allows you to view a sample photo before and after calibration.  The software also allows you to set a reminder for you to recalibrate the monitor and creates a graph of how your monitors profile is changing over time.

Printer calibration

The point of monitor calibration is be able to “soft proof” the image on the monitor and expect the printer to produce what you see, the Holy Grail of the digital darkroom.  Most printer manufacturers and paper manufacturers provide profiles for each paper they produce.  The i1 software allows you to create custom profiles that are more accurate.  The process is straightforward.  The first step is to print a test chart on your printer.  Make sure that you have the appropriate resolution and paper chosen in the print driver and turn off any color adjustments–then click the print button and print the test chart.  After printing the test charts you have to wait for them to dry–24 hours to be safe.  Put the print on the backup board, mount the spectrophotometer on the included ruler guide and fire up the software.  Scan each line of the test print by pressing the button on blank area before the test batches and scanning across smoothly at a natural
pace.  At the end of each line, let go of the button, wait for the beep and then move to the next line.  The software will advise you if there are any errors and you need to rescan a line.

So is all this effort worth it? Yes!  After calibrating the monitor and printer I can now soft proof my prints.  I can accurately adjust color and light and shadow in Photoshop.

The i1Photo also allows you to create profiles for cameras–this requires studio lights and a target that doesn’t come with the kit.  We will update the review when we have tested this.

i1Share

The i1Share application allows you to accurate scan any color with a click of the Spectrophotometer. Like the color palette used in a brochure?  Click….click….click….now you can quickly convert it into Pantone colors, Photoshop, Illustrator or even a Microsoft Excel pallete.  You can measure the spectral distribution of the ambient light or flash light, evaluate them against standard illuminations and transform the colors to evaluate them in different ambient illumination.

Conclusion

The i1Share system is an easy to use, and accurate system for calibrating various input and output devices in a photographers workflow.  What differentiates it from less expensive systems?  Two things:  Accuracy and the number of devices that it can profile.  The included Spectrophotometer allows you to create accurate profiles
for your monitor, printer, projector, camera, and even measure the ambient light you are viewing your photos with or the quality of your flash.  What could be better?  About the only thing that I think needs improvement is the documentation.  While I muddled my way through by going through the included tutorials, online help and using Google better, more coherent documentation would have made it a lot easier.  For example, it took me a while to figure out that I had to use the i1Share application to measure and compare ambient light.  However, now that I’ve learned how to use the system it is a powerful tool for me to create accurate output of my photography.