There are a number of ways to set up a color-managed system in your home, office or studio. But once you calibrate and profile your monitor and printer, how do you really know that your system is producing accurate color?
A standard calibration image (also known as a target) can help to make monitor and print testing much easier and more predictable. By inspecting a standard calibration image on-screen and printed out, you can easily compare various monitors, or print processes to each other. One very good target which I've used for years is known as the PhotoDisc target. This free, modified version of the PhotoDisc target is 7x10 inches at 300PPI, and is available from drycreekphoto.com.
Photo © PhotoDisc
A "grayscale ramp" made from neutral blocks of color (such as the QPcard) is one of the best ways to see how your monitor and printer reproduces neutral colors. Having a variety of skin tones in your test image can also help to make sure that your skin tones are in an acceptable range (not too saturated, for example). The vertical grayscale ramp shown in the PhotoDisc target supplied by Dry Creek Photo is a very good example.
Many other test target options are also available for download from Dry Creek Photo's website. The Kodak IT8 or GretagMacbeth Eye-One Scanner Test Chart could also work as test targets.
You can also create a custom background for your computer desktop that includes a grayscale ramp and/or a specific number of images or colors (even a target like the PhotoDisc target). This can be helpful because it will be seen when you start up your computer, and whenever your desktop is visible. In general, I recommend using a neutral background for your desktop. That alone can serve as an indicator that something may be wrong if you notice that it is no longer neutral.
Andrew Darlow is a photographer, author and digital imaging consultant based in the New York City area. He is editor of The Imaging Buffet, an online resource with news, reviews, and interviews covering the subjects of digital photography, printing, and new media. Portions of this article are excerpted from Darlow's new book, 301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers.