Every year monitors get more pixels, their displays get brighter and the images get further away from the print output. The monitor you are reading this on displays images with colour and brightness levels that are different to my monitor, my laptop, your tablet/smartphone. This massive inconsistency is something we tend not to register until it comes to printing our beloved photographs.
When you print at home you can do a test and adjust brightness and contrast on the output. Lightroom's print module is great for this, it lets you make adjustments without harming the source file. After a couple of tries your prints will match what's on your screen. If you just print for yourself or only sell the occasional print this is ideal. Trouble is we don't always have the time to spare to create that perfect print. Plus sending your files to a professional gives you access to larger prints and a wider chose of products.
The problem now is that none of the professional printers have access to your monitor display so they don't know how your picture should appear.
Most printing companies offer colour correction but this is based on industry standards and not on artistic interpretation. Short version, your super cool and moody photograph gets turned into a perfectly exposed catalogue shot (not cool). What you need is a monitor that displays your photographs as they will look when printed. Ironically this is where those industry standards come into play.
Every colour has a reflective value, a number. Professional printers use these numbers to set up their workflow. We just need to do the same via calibration. There are several systems out there but the one I chose was the X-rite ColorMunki Display. It has full manual control and a very straight forward auto procedure. I've installed and used it on my laptop and the primary display of my pc. (This thing also does projectors). Each monitor took less than ten minutes to calibrate. You hang the sensor so it sits on the centre of your screen and the software runs a series of colours through different shades and brightnesses. The sensor measuring each one and comparing them to the recognised standard. The ColorMunki uses the Pantone chart. After the test has finished the ColoMunki takes control of your monitor and makes all of the necessary adjustments and saves these changes as a profile that it uses every time you turn on your computer. On top of this you can leave the ColorMunki Display on your desk and it will measure the ambient light in the room and make adjustments to your display every few minutes. Also recalibration is automatically scheduled so as to compensate for changes in your monitors performance.
Yes the brightness will be reduced but everything on your screen will be clearer and yes all of your favourite photographs will look a little different so you might decide to go back to them and adjust their levels. The choice is yours.
Now all you need is to do a test print of your own or you can order a test print from your chosen professional and do a side by side comparison with what's on your screen.
So in the end it is really straight forward to get your display set up to give professional results.
One point I will make is that the newer devices have minimum requirements for your monitor resolution and graphics. Older displays and graphics cards may make the process more difficult. So check before you buy !
I'm just waiting on a test print from my chosen printer and then I'll report back.