REVIEW: ColorMunki Design Puts Everything In One Package

ColorMunki logo

Over a year ago I reviewed the hueyPRO, a monitor calibration device produced by X-Rite and its recent acquisition, Pantone. I found it to be a solid and useful little device but with a few issues. Now Pantone has released the ColorMunki, which I reported on back in March when the announcement was made. Last month I finally received a review unit of the ColorMunki Design, the professional-level unit for designers, and it’s immediately clear that Pantone is serious about producing the ultimate all-in-one color management device.

Calibrate everything

The ColorMunki Design can calibrate monitors, printers, projectors and also test ambient light (though it doesn’t check ambient light constantly like the hueyPRO does). Calibrating my monitors was the first thing I did with the ColorMunki Design and it worked wonderfully, though it’s a little more complex than I expected. The device has several modes that are selected by a turn of the unit’s main wheel, and each mode sets the device up to measure ambient light, projectors, monitors or prints and other materials. To calibrate a monitor, hook up the ColorMunki Design and select the proper mode—the ColorMunki software walks you through it with detailed illustrations and videos so it’s easy to do. Once it’s set up the software and device will take care of the rest.

ColorMunki Design

The ColorMunki Design comes with the unit and also the powerful ColorMunki software.

One thing I did not like about the hueyPRO was its use of little suction cups to attach to the monitor—it left marks and sometimes fell off. The ColorMunki Design comes in a cool-looking black sleeve with a weighted strap, and it not only looks cool but it’s designed to hold the device in place on the monitor. The strap hangs over the top of the monitor and the whole rig works very well. I like it when products are designed to be functional and useful.

Maybe overengineered

“Swiss engineered by X-Rite” is stamped right on the ColorMunki Design’s cool white plastic, and for designers the quality of the product design is an important aspect of the user experience. The ColorMunki Design certainly looks sharp (and the black ColorMunki Photo looks even sharper) but probably the most disappointing feature to me was the product engineering. The main wheel requires turning every time one wants to change modes, but the bumps and ridge on the wheel are not tall enough to allow a good grip—I had to press the unit into my fingertips in order to get a good grip for turning the dial. Also, the shape of the device is such that sometimes you can get it turned around and confuse which end is the front. There were a few times I put the unit on the monitor or the page, only to realize I had it turned around. These are only minor disappointments—the unit itself physically performs like it’s supposed to—but I expected a little more from a fancy Swiss-engineered product.

Measuring everything

ColorMunki scanning

The ColorMunki Design can measure the color of practically anything: light, prints, products, monitors and more.

I really like that the ColorMunki Design measures practically everything—prints, swatches, products, and anything else you put under the unit. The device has a little targeting foot so you know where the sensor is looking before you place the unit. For example, building a printer profile requires the printing and scanning of a few different print proofs generated by the ColorMunki software. The proofs are nothing but bands of colors, and scanning requires a smooth and steady stroke but it’s really as easy as dragging the device across the bands. After a minute of practice I was able to handle the device perfectly in one swipe.

The software: Adobe Bridge for color palettes

ColorMunki also ships with software that reminds me of a cross between Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Bridge. It’s designed to:

  • Create and maintain custom color palettes
  • Store colors from major Pantone libraries such as the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM (PMS) and Pantone Goe
  • Store colors captured by the ColorMunki, whether from prints or products
  • Create color palettes from imported images
  • Suggest colors based on psychological word searches (“happy,” “natural,” “fresh,” etc.) and color harmonies, variations and similarities

Color palettes can be synchronized with Adobe Creative Suite and Quark software so most working designers have an easy method to transfer colors from the ColorMunki software to their applications. It worked pretty easily for me in CS3, though I didn’t try testing it in CS4.

ColorMunki software

The software that comes with ColorMunki will be familiar with anyone who uses Adobe Bridge. Here you can see how the software is smart enough to select colors from an image. Click the image for a better view.

The software works beautifully and working with colors is a lot of fun with it. Adobe has a similar web-based application in kuler, but I think I like the ColorMunki software better—it seems more robust and has more features. The only downside is that I don’t expect everyone needs such a robust application for building color schemes: I for one have always selected colors within my design applications without a problem, and I don’t know if I need to fire up the ColorMunki software every time I want to put some colors together in a unified scheme. But if I really want to experiment with colors or base a palette off of an image or product, I can’t think of a better application to use.

Conclusion

On one of the user groups I frequent, someone commented about the ColorMunki and considered it a very fine instrument, though for photographers it might be overkill. Perhaps, but I believe the ColorMunki Design is built very well for designers and has all the tools one needs for color management, input and output. The only real ding against it is how some parts of it are engineered, and at $499 it is not a cheap device. But anyone who is serious about color and profiling will consider adding it to their arsenal.

ColorMunki Design
Pantone/X-Rite
Rating: 9/10
US$499