The importance of having your monitor correctly set up cannot be over emphasised, it's your window to the world.
A profiled monitor is the most important step in getting good results either for printing or for use on the web and seeing others work in the correct manner. Given a correctly profiled monitor the generic printer profiles will show a distinct improvement and with custom print profiles an even better result.
Ideally you should use a calibration tool such as the ColorVision's Spyder 2 Pro which has become an industry standard and follow the instructions to the letter. However at about £200 this is quite an investment for the average hobbyist, there are less expensive calibration devices such as the new Pantone range starting at about £60 that will give reasonable results.
Aldridge Photographic Society has a Spyder 2Pro Studio calibration tool for the use of it's members, please contact a committee member for details.
You can do a visual calibration on a PC using Adobe Gamma, this comes packaged with Photoshop, or on a Mac the Apple Display Calibrator Assistant. As I suspect the majority of members are using PC's I'll concentrate on Adobe Gamma.
Open the Control Panel and select ‘Adobe Gamma', if the icon for this is not showing open Program files/Adobe/Calibration.
Select the Assistant radio button
If you have a profile supplied by your monitor manufacturer, these are found in the ICM Color Profiles folder, select the appropriate one and click ‘Load'. If there is not a dedicated profile select the nearest generic one such as ‘sRGB Color Space Profile'.
Check the ‘Step by Step (Wizard)' button > next
Give the profile you are going to generate a name > next
You will see a box with a white outer and a dark rectangle inside it with another rectangle inside that.
Set the monitor contrast to it's highest setting.
Now adjust the brightness so that the inner box is as dark as possible without going completely black and keeping the outer white frame bright. > next
In the phosphors box keep the setting generated by your setting in step 3 > next
Deselect the ‘View single Gamma only' box. Three boxes with a central box will appear, one for each colour channel.
Use the sliders under each channel box to make the center box fade into the outer box, squinting slightly can help determine when this happens.
Now select ‘Windows Default Gamma' 2.2 in the gamma box. > next
Now set the white point, a figure of 6500K > next
In this screen leave the setting at ‘Hardware White Point' > next
This screen shows before and after radio buttons. Check ‘Finish'
Finally remember monitors change quite quickly so get into the habit of adjusting it regularly. A CRT should be done weekly, and LCD monthly.