This Does Not Compute

Technology, gaming, music and things that just don't compute

Copying OS X ColorSync display calibration files

With the arrival of my new-refurbished unibody white MacBook (more on that in a later post), I went through my new Mac ritual:

  1. Marvel at the fact that Apple’s cardboard boxes and packaging are better thought-out than some manufacturer’s products.
  2. Plug the machine in, fire it up, then stick the OS X install disc in and reinstall the OS without all the extra crap (3GB of printer drivers, I’m looking at you).
  3. Run Apple System Profiler and check out what companies all of the components are made by (I’ve found that Apple tends to use Toshiba drives in laptops, yet strangely enough, my Mac mini came with a Seagate in it).
  4. Set all of my preferences (Dock size/location/hiding on, firewall on, hide recent items, etc.).
  5. Install my usual programs.
  6. Calibrate the display.

It’s that last one that nobody really does, let alone knows is possible in OS X. Apple uses high-quality displays, but for some reason the ColorSync profiles it includes as default tend to suck. Too bright, too washed out, a little on the cool side. I’ll run through the calibration app in Expert mode once or twice and tweak the gamma, white point, curves and color temperature until the display gets decent contrast and ends up a little warmer. I think it makes the screen look a thousand times better.

That got me to thinking, what if you had two identical machines and wanted the same profile on both? Running through the calibration app on each machine separately, even if you were very careful to match settings, would still yield slightly different profiles. And oddly enough, even though you can see in great detail your calibration settings (by clicking the Open Profile button in the Color tab of the Display preference pane), you can’t actually edit any of them (even though they’re just numerical values). I figured those profiles were just regular files somewhere, and it looked like they’d have a .icc extension, but searches in OS X didn’t find them. It took a lot of digging online, but thanks to an Adobe technical document, I figured out where they’re stored:

  • Machine-global display profiles (the ones that come with the OS, and any you create and check the “Let any user access this profile” box) are stored in /Library/ColorSync/Profiles/Displays
  • Local user profiles (those you created yourself and didn’t allow others to use) are stored in /Users/username/Library/ColorSync/Profiles

They’re just regular ICC profiles, so you can copy them as you wish. Copy one to another machine, drop it in the right folder, open the Display prefpane and it’ll show right up (no reboot required).

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