It's important to have a good monitor calibration tool if you work (or play) in the creative industries. Calibrating your monitor for your design work isn't just a no-brainer: it's essential. Not only is it better for your eyes, doing so ensures the colours and blacks in your images are true. After all, people see colours very differently and displays differ as well.
So once you've got a brilliant monitor (see our buying guide the best monitors for designers for help choosing one), there are plenty of options for calibration including software downloads, online tools and the built-in calibration tools within Windows and macOS. But nothing offers the accuracy and continuity of a hardware calibrator.
A hardware calibration tool need not break the bank, so we've rounded up the five best options for you below.
1. Datacolor Spyder5ELITE
The best monitor calibrator for professionals
Settings: Unlimited | Laptop and desktop: Yes, plus front projector displays | Connector: USB
As well as making laptop screens and desktop monitors just right, the Spyder5ELITE provides a lot more in terms of setup but only takes around five minutes to calibrate (less for subsequent calibrations).
There's a simple wizard-based mode but also an expert mode, too. There are 'unlimited' calibration settings plus grey-balancing. You can calibrate all of your displays to a single target, while there's room light monitoring to determine the optimal monitor brightness. You're able to see 'before and after' results using your own images.
2. X-Rite i1 Display PRO
Another top professional calibrator
Settings: Unlimited | Laptop and desktop: Yes, plus projectors | Connector: USB
This incredible package comes with a heap of options, but then you do pay for it. You're able to use your profile across multiple displays (either on the same machine or network) as well as assess the ambient light in your workspace to set your monitor up for best results.
A technology called Flare Correct will measure and adjust your display profile for reduced contrast ratios caused by glare on your screen. Video colour standards are also incorporated, so video editors can set up their display for best results, too.
The X-Rite i1 Display PRO is a little expensive, so perhaps look out for discounts such as the upcoming Black Friday deals.
3. Datacolor Spyder5EXPRESS
The best entry-level screen calibrator
Settings: 2 | Laptop and desktop: Yes | Connector: USB
This is a really simple route to colour accuracy and is best for hobbyists, students and prosumers rather than pro designers. It's an easy four-step process with just two settings and you can see a 'before and after' view on preset images.
The software is available via a download link provided with the box. Professional creatives will probably be looking for more, though.
4. X-Rite ColorMunki Smile
Another super budget calibrator tool
Settings: Automatic | Laptop and desktop: Yes | Connector: USB
The X-Rite ColorMunki Smile features some of the best monitor calibrator software anywhere. All you need to do is start it up, place the ColorMunki Smile on your monitor and click 'go'. Quick and easy is the name of the game – just plug the device into your computer's USB port.
As with the other contenders here you'll be able to see the before and after results to check out the level of improvement.
5. X-Rite ColorMunki Design
Calibrate screens, projectors and printers
Settings: N/A | Laptop and desktop: Yes | Connector: USB
This awesome tool enables professional designers – or indeed anybody who works with colour – to calibrate LCD and laptop displays, RGB and CMYK printers, and digital projectors.
You can create and name unlimited custom colour palettes using the included software, while you can automatically synchronise your palettes to Adobe Photoshop and InDesign in addition to QuarkXpress. You're also able to export them to other photo and design applications.