I am in the process of creating a wedding website for somebody and I am trying to match some of the accent colors to a fabric swatch that will be used for the bridesmaids dresses. I'm having a heck of a time getting the color on the screen to match what's actually on the swatch.

So far, I tried just picking a color from a photo the bride sent me of one of the dresses. However, the lighting was terrible and the photo was taken with an iphone, so the color really looks nothing like the actual color I need.

I've also tried simply "making" the color using the color selection tool in Photoshop, but I could never get it to look quite right. It was always odd that the color on the screen is "glowing" and the fabric swatch is obviously not. I also noticed that the color would match on one screen and then not look quite right on another.

Do you all have any recommendations? Maybe taking a photo of the swatch with a good camera under ideal conditions, including a sheet of white paper for reference to get the white balance right, and going from there?

I don't necessarily need it to be an absolutely perfect match, so it seems like purchasing an expensive screen calibrator would be overkill. Nobody else is going to be holding the color swatch up to the screen checking me. But I do want it to match fairly well...

What would you suggest?

  • 2
    You can't match them because the fabric is just reflecting available light. Monitors are way too bright these days, so maybe it's a good idea to decrease the brightness of your monitor and then try to match them.
    – Komental
    Commented May 20, 2014 at 13:08
  • Yup... definitely ran into that challenge. I felt like I needed to bring a spotlight into my office to try to light up the fabric so I could get an accurate comparison. Commented May 20, 2014 at 13:40
  • "I also noticed that the color would match on one screen and then not look quite right on another." = that's just how it is. Your best bet is to just eyeball it like you're doing.
    – DA01
    Commented May 20, 2014 at 14:33
  • context is important. there is no way your color will read the same on an rgb monitor as it will on a textured fabric: both because RGB is additive, and color (ie wavelengths of light detected by the eye) is actually perceived differently in different environments. We have in-built white point correction. The obvious correction after finding the match would be to desaturate. The monitor-to-monitor problem is unsolvable.
    – horatio
    Commented May 20, 2014 at 19:21

2 Answers 2


I feel your pain. I'm currently 3 weeks out from my own wedding, and as a graphic designer I was very vocal about the design decisions that my fiancee was making about her dress and accessories. when it came to color swatch/cmyk/rgb, this is a problem i thought about early in the process. but since you're working from backwards than i did, this may not help as much.

Pantone has an online tool for converting colors to different formulas. http://www.pantone.com/pages/pantone/color_xref.aspx

I found it incredibly useful for matching the clothes to the printed materials. So if you can swing it, try to find out the color of the fabric since most manufactures use names similar to pantone.

If you can't get that. Your idea with the camera would work. but your lighting conditions need to be precisely calibrated. I'd track down a digital gray card, instead of a plain white sheet of paper. and take the photo in Direct Bright Sunlight, or use the whitest sheet (or large tracing paper) you can to diffuse the light, either way, the key is consistant light. bright sunlight has a consistent light temperature, (about 5500k i believe) as well as bright indirect (aka shade) sunlight. they are so consistent that most cameras have built in white balance settings for them.

  • While everything you say is correct, I will say that my personal experience (color-matching separations to antique paintings) is to ignore color temperature and ideal conditions and focus on the real-world setting.
    – horatio
    Commented May 20, 2014 at 19:18

The key is to get your chosen color to match the fabric color as it will appear in the photographs on the website. So photographing the fabric and selecting your color from that image is your best bet.

In my experience, setting the camera to a custom white balance under shade works well enough for this type of work (for web display only). Most cameras will have the ability to set a custom white balance automatically by shooting a white piece of paper. This method should suffice, as long the camera can see only the white of the paper, and no other colors.

There's really no way to get a perfect match, since the ambient light will play various effects on the fabric's color throughout the wedding shoot. Anyone who's had to print a wedding, or please a picky bride after the wedding by making all the shots of her dress appear the same color, knows what I'm talking about.

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