Gather Color Samples

The first step is to gather physical color samples of the colors you want to match. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Find examples of the colors in real-life objects. For example, if you want to match a red sweater, find a similar red sweater in real life to use as a sample.
  • Use paint or fabric swatches from hardware stores. Swatches give you a wide range of colors to choose from.
  • Order Pantone color books. Pantone provides thousands of precise, standardized color samples.
  • Buy a color matching tool like the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. This gives you scientifically calibrated color samples to compare to.

Having real-life physical samples gives you accurate representations of the colors to attempt to match.

Understand Color Properties

There are three main properties that comprise any color:

  • Hue – The pure color (red, green, blue, etc.)
  • Saturation – The intensity and richness of the color. Higher saturation means a more vibrant color.
  • Brightness – How light or dark the color is. Also called luminance or value.

The same exact hue can look completely different depending on its saturation and brightness. It’s important to pay attention to all three components.

Photograph Color Samples

Take test photos of your real-life color samples in the same lighting conditions that you’ll use for your final photos.

Make sure the photos are properly exposed and white balanced. Avoid mixed lighting conditions that can skew color.

Use manual camera settings with RAW images for maximum color accuracy and control.

Taking accurate reference photos gives you a baseline for how the colors should look in your specific shooting setup before matching to other materials.

Use Color Pickers

Applications like Photoshop have color picker tools that allow you to select any color on your monitor and get the precise RGB or hex code value for that color.

To match a color from a photo:

  1. Open the reference photo of the color sample in Photoshop.
  2. Select the color picker tool.
  3. Click on the color in the photo you want to match.
  4. Note the RGB or hex code the picker gives you for that color.
  5. Match to real paints, fabrics, etc. using that code.

This takes the guesswork out and gives an exact color specification to match.

Adjust for Different Mediums

The texture and material qualities of different surfaces will interact with light differently than a photo on a monitor. Adjustments may be needed to get an accurate real-life color match:

  • Fabric – Increase brightness/luminosity slightly to compensate for texture absorbing light. Satin finishes are closer to photos.
  • Paint – Matte and flat paints absorb light, requiring a luminosity boost. Glossy finishes are closer to digital.
  • Plastics – Can dramatically change hue depending on surface texture. May require hue tweaks.
  • Metals – Adjust saturation based on reflectivity. Polished metals may need lower saturation.

With experience, you’ll learn how much to fine-tune colors for various materials. Taking material samples into lighting is key.

Use Light Booths

For the most accurate final color matching, use a controlled viewing environment such as a light booth. These special enclosures isolate the sample from ambient lighting, allowing you to evaluate the color and achieve precise matches. Look for LED booths that allow you to tune the light temperature and luminance to match your lighting conditions exactly. While not absolutely necessary for color matching, light booths can make the process much more precise.

Confirm Matches Visually

After selecting the hue, saturation, and brightness for a real-life color sample, visually confirm it matches the photo color as the final step. Our eyes can discern subtle color differences the numbers may miss. Have someone else conduct a blind confirmation test as well. Getting multiple perspectives ensures the closest color match.

Matching colors from photos to real life takes some work, but following this process will get you from the digital to the real world very accurately. Take test photos, use color pickers, adjust for different materials, and confirm matches visually for photo-realistic results. With practice, you’ll be matching colors like a pro.

Tips for Accurate Color Matching

Matching colors precisely between photos and real life takes skill, but these tips can help improve your results:

Use Standardized Test Charts

  • Invest in a standardized color test chart such as the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. The calibrated sample patches make color corrections easier.

Custom White Balance

  • Set a custom white balance in-camera based on a white/grey card. This neutralizes any color cast from the lighting.

Shoot RAW Files

  • RAW image files contain far more color data to work with compared to JPEGs.

Match Lighting Conditions

  • Sample real-life colors under the same lighting you’ll use for the final shots.

Avoid Mixed Lighting

  • Don’t mix natural and artificial light sources. Keep lighting consistent.

Check Histogram for Exposure

  • Properly exposed images retain the most accurate colors. Check the histogram.

Work in a Color-Managed Workflow

  • Use a calibrated monitor and color-managed software like Photoshop to minimize color shifts.

Confirm Matches Visually

  • Our eyes discern color differences the numbers might miss. Always visually confirm matches.

Following these best practices will take the guesswork out of color matching between photos, video, and real life subjects. Match colors accurately every time with these pro tips.

Troubleshooting Color Mismatches

If you’re having trouble matching colors precisely between photos and physical objects, here are some steps to troubleshoot the issue:

Retake Reference Photos

  • If your sample photos have exposure or white balance issues, reshoot them in controlled conditions.

Use A Standard Light Source

  • Try shooting raw photos under a known Kelvin temperature light like daylight at 5600K.

Eliminate Mixed Lighting

  • If you have mixed lighting washing the object, shift to a single consistent light source.

Check For Metamerism

  • Some colors match under one light but not another due to metamerism. Test under different light temperatures.

Adjust for Surface Texture

  • Increase brightness for fabrics, lower saturation for metals and plastics to compensate for light interaction.

Try a Different Camera Profile

  • Switch your camera’s color profile from default to Adobe or a flat logarithmic curve.

Use Black and White Points

  • Setting the pure black and white points in Photoshop maximizes dynamic range.

Calibrate Your Monitor

  • An uncalibrated monitor can skew color perception. Use a colorimeter to calibrate.

Let Your Eyes Be the Judge

  • Have another person conduct a blind visual color match as the final confirmation.

With some systematic troubleshooting, you can overcome tricky color matching challenges. Follow these tips to pinpoint and correct color issues.

How to Match Colors From Photos to Paint

Matching photo colors to real paints accurately requires understanding how paint interacts with light. Here are some tips for matching paint colors to images:

Select Matte or Flat Paint Finishes

Flat, matte paint has a non-reflective surface that absorbs light similarly to printed photos. Stay away from glossy finishes.

Boost Brightness Slightly

Since paint absorbs more light, increase the brightness/luminosity by 5-10% compared to the photo color to compensate.

Confirm Under The Final Lighting

Paint can look very different under various lighting conditions. Check under the final desired lighting.

Use RAW Photo References

The wide color gamut and post processing latitude of RAW files provides more accurate color information to match paints.

Photograph Paint Swatches

Shoot paint swatches with your camera and lighting to compare real-world colors side-by-side with the photo references.

Try Mixing Custom Colors

Pre-mixed paints are limited. Mixing custom paints gives you control over every hue, saturation, and brightness variable.

Check Batch Numbers

If using pre-mixed paints, check that the batch numbers match. Different batches can have slight color variations.

Apply Paint Samples to Test Boards

Before painting entire walls, paint color swatches on boards to evaluate the colors side-by-side under the final lighting conditions.

Matching photo colors to real-world paint colors takes some work, but following this process will result in accurate color translations every time.

How to Match Colors From Photos to Fabric

Fabrics reflect and absorb light differently from flat photos, so adjustments are often needed to match colors accurately:

Select Matte Finishes

Matte, non-reflective fabrics like cotton absorb light similarly to photos printed on paper. Avoid satins or silks.

Boost Brightness Slightly

Fabric textures absorb more light than a smooth print, so increase brightness 5-10% to compensate.

Match Lighting Conditions

Evaluate fabric under the same light source intensity and color temperature as the reference photo.

Take Photos of Fabric Swatches

Shoot fabric swatches with your camera in your lighting conditions to directly compare to the reference photo colors.

Order Fabric Samples

Get small cuttings of various fabric types to analyze colors before purchasing yards of material.

Adjust Saturation

Some fabrics may require a slight saturation boost or reduction compared to the photo depending on the dyeing process.

Confirm Matches Visually

Our eyes can detect subtle color differences better than numbers. Visually confirm the match looks identical.

With care taken to account for the unique properties of fabric, you can achieve accurate color matching to photos for sewing, interior design, and other projects.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most accurate way to match a color from a photo?

The most accurate process is to use a color picker tool to sample the color in Photoshop, record the RGB or hex code value, then match real-world paints, fabrics, etc. to that digital code under the same lighting conditions as the photo was taken in.

How do you adjust colors from photos to match real life?

Adjustments like slightly increasing brightness and saturation are often needed to compensate for the different ways materials like fabric and paint interact with light compared to a digital photo on a screen. Proper lighting is key.

Why don’t my paint colors match the photo?

If paint colors appear different from a photo, it’s likely because the paint is absorbing and reflecting light differently. Try using matte finishes, boosting brightness, and matching lighting conditions for more accurate photo paint color matching.

Can colors be perceived differently in photos vs real life?

Yes, primarily because screens emit their own light while real objects reflect ambient light. Metamerism can also cause colors to appear to match under one light but not another.

Should I use JPEG or RAW images to match colors?

RAW image files retain far more color data and give you more post-processing control. RAW is best for color critical work like accurately matching colors from photos to real life.


Matching colors from photos to real-life materials requires careful attention to color properties, light interaction, surface qualities, and visual confirmation. With test photos, color pickers, proper lighting, and adjustments for different mediums, accurate color matching is achievable. Just take the process step-by-step. In time, you’ll be able to translate colors from digital to real life seamlessly, opening up many creative possibilities.