Apple's Colour Picker

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 19.10.09    

I have had a seemingly long and sordid history with digital colour calibration. Back in college it was all about matching print output. Then it was web-safe (as in not web-safe). Then video chromaticity, gamma values, and black level IRE. Now I’m just constantly screwed by Apple and the OSX colour picker – it’s perfectly simple, has an easy to use colour swatch system, and … never keeps the right colour values. Ever.

In Lightwave, if I select a colour with a hue of 30 degrees, saturation and value set at 50%, next time I open it in the OSX colour picker? It’s a degree off, and perhaps 7% darker. Inexplicable. Same thing happens in Apple’s own developer tools, albeit without opening the colour picker at all – just by editing an element’s width or height in Dashcode, for example, can cause the object colours to: darken, skew, desaturate, and, if you have an alpha value selected, slowly fade into oblivion. It’s maddening I tell you!

What’s worse, Snow Leopard apparently is expanding colour management issues to inconsistently do the same thing to random UI elements. Such as the dock icons, which are now a pale imitation of their former glory, while still showing up in full vibrancy when viewed in a finder window. Utterly inexcusable.

It’s truly a bad position for Apple, as they have typically catered to those with keen eyes for colour – with colour management and ICC profiling built into the very OS, you’d think this the type of thing that wouldn’t happen. I’ve always loved the monitor calibration utility, but I have serious doubts as to how it’s affecting colour values across the board.

Yet, (and perhaps this is the mark of a sold-out fanboy) even with all these issues – the OSX colour picker is pretty dang helpful, if only because it is ubiquitous. I don’t trust it like I used to, but there are some plugins and tools that can make it, perhaps, useful again.

From Panic software, there’s the Developer Color Picker for easy copying of values for any number of Apple development tools (including full declarations for HTML or CSS code). There’s also the HEXcolorpicker for simpler HTML and CSS styling. You can even get Kuler integration with Mondrianum, which lets you load and browse colour schemes created with the online Adobe tool.

Mac OS X Hints posted an article recently detailing the simple steps needed to make the system colour picker into a standalone application. Especially useful when picking colours, as you’re able to use the magnifier icon to select any pixel value from, well, anywhere on your screen!

There are plenty of other plugins are out there, let me know if there’s something I should add to the list above.