Inspiration can hit at any moment, so it’s important to have some way to capture those fleeting thoughts, ideas, and images. A pocket notepad is enough for some, while others may keep a camera handy at all times. For color enthusiasts, two major paint manufacturers have introduced new iPhone applications to help capture color inspiration -- and automatically generate palettes -- all on the go.
Color in a Click
New from Benjamin Moore is the Ben app, sharing a name with the maker’s Ben line of interior paints, and able to help users sift through 3,300 hues to match those in their iPhone photos. Sherwin-Williams is also joining the fun with ColorSnap, an app that feeds off the maker’s more than 1,500 available colors. Both apps offer the same goal with different levels of functionality. Starting with a photo of a great landscape, an architectural detail, a beautiful fabric, or any number of inspirational images, both Ben and ColorSnap put the user in the driver’s seat to choose the main color they want to work with. For this review, I’ve chosen an image of a daylily in my backyard.
Upon opening either app, the user is prompted to “Move and Scale” the image they wanted to work with. On subsequent screens, users must slide their finger over the image to make color selections. After some trial-and-error, I learned that scaling the image first is important because it allows you to more accurately pinpoint the main color you want to work from.
This was especially important when using ColorSnap, which shows a mini “swatch” of whichever color you’re hovering over at the moment, as well as a wide swath of the same color across the bottom of the screen. Without zooming in first, finding the right color was tricky.
The same was true of Ben, however the app takes a slightly different, and perhaps inspirationally better, tack by showing the user a strip of colors across the bottom of the screen. The strip includes the main color over which they’re hovering, as well as several different tones of the same color, creating a color strip more like what you would find in a deck of paint chips. This helps keep the user from feeling locked into the specific tone they landed on. Double-tapping a color in the strip saves a color to the user’s “favorites,” while single-tapping flips over the photo to show a larger swatch of the selected color.
Mix and Match?
With a main color chosen, each app offers different approaches to finding complementary colors. In ColorSnap, the function is easy. Simply single-tap the color you’ve selected, and the system shows a palette with the main color plus two additional complementary colors. Tapping the full palette once more brings all three colors up on the next page with the name, Sherwin-Williams color code, and RGB code for each color.
The palette function is one thing that the Ben app lacks. Rather than showing a couple of trim or contrast colors, as ColorSnap does, the app has users select their color in the strip, then give a gentle shake to generate up to four additional coordinating colors. (You can generate the same colors by using the “Harmony” button at the top of the screen.) The feature is nice, but coordinating colors are generally the same tonal levels in different colors. For instance, the coordinating colors for a medium yellow I chose were simply pastels in pink, blue, green, and orange. Not exactly a palette one would use to paint a room. That said, ColorSnap doesn’t quite master the palette function either. Though you can save the palettes that the app generates for you, you can’t move colors around within the palettes to customize them, as you would do with Web-based paint selectors. Nor can you save individual colors, which you can do with Ben.
Ben also offers a “Color Wheel” function, which works independently of the user’s image. Users can expand or contract the color wheel to zoom in on the area they’re interested in and can then choose individual tones from the color strip across the bottom. Any individual color, from the color wheel or an image, can be saved to the user’s favorites, where more tools are available. There, users can choose any color they’ve saved and add notes, such as details about where the color was seen, or other inspirational items on how they want to use the color. Also, by tapping the color swatch in the notes view, users will see a full-screen version of that color.
Tips and Update Suggestions
Both ColorSnap and Ben let users capitalize on color inspiration as they see it. However, when working within an image and pinpointing a color in either app, users would be well advised to save any potential color candidates to their “favorites” lists right away. Even if you’ve zoomed in on the image, it’s difficult to go back and find precisely the same shade or palette later on. This is especially true considering how easy it is to accidentally navigate away from the image you’re working in. Though both apps let users go back to their image by using the buttons on the bottom of the screen (“Capture” in Ben, and “ColorSnap” in ColorSnap), many iPhone users might instinctively hit the top left button to go “back” after they’ve navigated away from their photos. Remember to look before you tap. The top left button in Ben is “Capture,” which will you back to the home screen where you’ll have to re-choose your image or take a new picture.
Finally, designers and color enthusiasts will already be aware that the colors that show up on your iPhone aren’t guaranteed to be exact matches to real-life colors. If you choose a color palette through Ben, ColorSnap, or any other color-matching app, be sure to look at actual paint swatches too, and see how the swatches work in different lighting levels in the room where they’ll be used.
Though both apps are fun, and feature good designs and attractive interfaces, I do have some upgrade suggestions for the developers:
ColorSnap: The palette function is this app is essential, but could use some tweaking, such as the ability to manually change the suggested complementary colors or make a complementary color into the main color. At one point, the app matched a golden yellow main color with a maroon tone and a stone gray. Not very pretty! It would be preferable if a little shake of the iPhone would generate a new palette (a la UrbanSpoon). Further, the ability to save individual colors and generate separate palettes off of those would be handy.
Ben: The color strip offered at the bottom of the screen is useful in color selection and is graphically interesting, however, it would be great if this strip was scrollable, letting users go even farther down the color strip. Ben could benefit greatly from a palette-generating function beyond the “harmony” color strip.
Both: Because flitting through thousands of color options can be daunting, a tool that automatically generates a palette for the photo, without choosing a main color, could be useful.
Overall, I give both Ben and ColorSnap a thumbs up, especially because both apps are free, easy to use, and a lot of fun when you’re looking for color inspiration. They also offer locators for stores where their brands are carried, so users can choose their colors and head out to find them right away. Ready to start playing with color? Download both apps today at the App Store.