For The Most Accurate Scans, Calibrate Your Scanner

Save editing time by matching your scans to your printer or monitor

Epson Perfection V850 Pro Photo Scanner


If you think about it, between your monitor, printer, and scanner, the different components of your color management system (CMS) usually, without proper calibration, define and display the same colors differently. In fact, it’s quite common for various colors to “shift” to other colors between two pieces of equipment. Hence, to get the best possible results, you must keep your equipment calibrated, so that each component defines the same colors the same as the others.

It's important to calibrate your monitor to your printer so that these two devices define colors accurately between them. It’s just as important that your monitor and your scanner define and display colors accurately between themselves, too. Otherwise, the blues you scan might shift to purples and the reds to dark maroon.

Calibrating Your Scanner

In some ways, calibrating your scanner to your monitor is a lot like calibrating your monitor to your printer. You can use a good imaging program, such as, say, Adobe Photoshop, to begin the calibration process, or purchase a third-party calibration program. In either case, the process goes something like this (with slight variations, depending on the products involved):

  1. Procure a color reference sheet or IT8 target with known colors.

  2. Scan the color reference sheet with all color management and color correction features turned off.

  3. Clean up the scan as well as you can, by removing dust and scratches and other blemishes.

  4. Launch your scanner profiling software (or your imaging software, if you plan to calibrate visually) and load the target image or chart.

  5. Define the area to be analyzed.

  6. Make visual adjustments or allow the profiling software to make adjustments.

Your future scans should be color accurate (or at least much improved), but the truth is that this process is not foolproof and often requires more than one attempt, especially until you get prolific at it, and the scanner should be recalibrated at least every six months to compensate for changes to both your scanner and your monitor over time.

Visual Calibration

SCAR, or scan, compare, adjust, repeat as necessary, that’s the refrain when calibrating your scanner visually. Visual calibration means just what it says; you compare the colors from your scanner to those on your monitor (or printer, if that’s what you’re calibrating) manually, making adjustments as you go until you get the best match possible. Scan, compare, adjust, repeat.

Color Calibration with ICC Profiles

An ICC profile, these are small data files specific to each device, contains critical information on how your device produces color. In fact, often these premade ICC profiles themselves work well in setting up the device and often provide good enough results to allow you rely solely on your printer’s ICC profiles for color management.

IT8 scanner targets and their reference files can be purchased from companies that specialize in color management, such as Kodak and FujiFilm, and they range around $40. (However, if you shop around, you can find them cheaper.) Some higher-end photo scanners come with a target or two.

In any case, when your scanner and monitor work together, it makes using all this sophisticated technology much more palatable.