What are you looking at?
Monitor calibration and why everyone needs it.
If you were to walk into a big box retailer that has a wall of televisions on display you would immediately notice that almost every picture looks a little different. Some are brighter, darker, some have more contrast and different color.
The same holds true for monitor displays. Every monitor has its own nuances and out of the box they are set to their factory default settings. If you were to compare your desktop monitor to your laptop monitor there would be a big discrepancy even there.
So when you are doing photo editing, regardless of what program you are using, you are making adjustments to your images based on what you see. If your monitor makes your file look very bright and very blue, you will then make adjustments to make the image look darker and warmer. Now when you go to print that file whether you are printing it yourself or sending it to a lab you may be very surprised with the result.
How do you get your prints to look like your monitor?
The first step in any color management workflow is monitor calibration. You will need to purchase a colorimeter that comes with software that will create a custom color profile of your monitor. The colorimeter is a device that plugs in with a USB and you place the device on the monitor. When you launch the software a series of colored patches appear on the screen, reds, greens, blues, black, white and gray. After all of the colors have been read the software builds a profile for your particular monitor. Now what you are looking at is a calibrated standard so when that file is then sent to print you will get a predictable result.
There are several calibration devices on the market. Some offer more features than others including the ability to calibrate multiple devices, ambient light detection and customizing profiles. The simplest version would be any of Datacolor's Spyder series. The colorimeter can be used on multiple computers and because monitors tend to shift in color and brightness it is recommended that you calibrate your monitor once a month.