Dell U2711 + MacBook Pro for web or UI design

If you’re a print designer or a photographer, this post is probably not very useful, but stick around and see if provided links can help.

Dell U2711 is significantly cheaper here in Croatia than 27-inch LED Cinema Display. It’s a smart alternative, especially if you don’t like glossy screens.

But are there any caveats?

Color-spaces for web design

Internet is all in sRGB, i.e. a relatively small color-space. This standard was invented by Microsoft and HP back in the days, to create a common denominator for consumer grade systems and it’s a default for Windows PCs.

I found this article a good starting point to understand differences between various color-spaces: Setting a Work Color Space in Digital Photo Professional.

If you are designing for the web exclusivelly, it’s best to work in sRGB. Learn how to set up Color Management for web design.

Oversaturated colors issue

Macs output colors in Apple RGB, so if a monitor can handle it, it will display colors more vivid, and somewhat truer to the real colors.

Apple’s displays do not support wide-gamut color space, but probably only Apple RGB. At the time of this writing I haven’t found exact technical specs.

Apple displays are calibrated to Apple RGB color space and for an average PC user the picture on Apple devices is richer in colors than they are used to. Apple’s products are also evenly calibrated to keep consistent experience across platforms, but that also gives you troubles once you pair an Apple product with a hardware from other manufacturers.

Dell U2711 is a wide-gamut monitor, which means out-of-the-box colors will look too saturated than you probably used to using your laptop’s display or regular (lower-gammut) LCDs.

The U2711 has quite a lot OSD controls, which was in my case miss-leading. There’s an option to set gamma for a PC or for a Mac and also some handy color-space presets, but as you will see, you don’t need to mess around with those settings.

In Snow Leopard, default gamma is 2.2 (like the rest of the World) and not 1.8 like in Leopard (read how to make your display’s gamma in Leopard match Snow Leopard). So, selecting Mac option for the monitor gamma would create over-saturated picture. In addition, if you tried different OSD presets, you’d probably notice that nothing changed, even though you were switching between sRGB and Adobe RGB color space which should — at least in theory — render significantly different results.

To make Dell U2711 display proper sRGB colors, set gamma back to PC and choose sRGB from the presets menu. This gives you the most accurate colors for web design and general use via built-in OSD.

At this point you might want to calibrate your display with OS X calibration software under System Preferences – Displays – Color – Calibrate. In my case Dell’s default .icc profile was a little greenish (Dell’s profile was already in there when MacBook Pro detected the new display). I was not happy with the results, so I calibrated mine using Spyder3Pro. Download .icc profile and see if this suits your particular display.

The created profile is more or less accurate. Spyder3Pro is a calibration tool for photographers and from what I learned on the internet forums not very accurate with spot colors, so I’m interested to give ColorMunki Design a try sometimes in the future, just to make sure this is true (Belgian graphic and web designer Veerle Pieters wrote a ColorMunki review back in 2009.).


I’m still working on a MacBook Pro with DVI port, so it was a breeze for me to connect the display with included Dual-Link DVI cable.

Newer Apple laptops are being shipped with Mini DisplayPort, which means you’ll have to buy either Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter or Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable (Dual-Link DVI and DisplayPort cables are included with the monitor). However, I didn’t try them, so I suggest you investigate more about Dell U2711 + MacBook Mini DisplayPort.

The former is available in Apple Store, but costs $99 or $75 in OWC, and the later is $25 in OWC store (I’m not affiliated with OWC, but they ship items almost anywhere in the World). A cable is usually a better option than an adapter, but it might not suit your particular setup.

Marko Dugonjić is a designer specialized in user experience design, web typography and web standards. He runs a nanoscale user interface studio Creative Nights and organizes FFWD.PRO, a micro-conference and workshops for web professionals.

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