How to Pick Screen Colors with the Mac Color Picker

Use the Mac Eyedropper to Identify Color

Want to save and reproduce or use and know a color on your screen? Find out here how to use the built-in eyedropper on a Mac to pick the color of any pixel on the screen and learn (and easily copy) its RGB value in various color spaces.

First, They Set Fire to Stone

Miners set fire to stone in the Hindukusch six score years ago. Then, icy water was thrown after the flames.

The sudden cooling cracked open the rock and stone, of course, and brought to light a much sought-after gem: in the 1880s, sky-blue lapis lazuli pigments were mined using the “fire-set” method.

Want to know the RGB values of that sky-like blue on your Mac’s screen? You need neither throw fire at it nor high water; follow these steps instead to crack the coloring code:

How to Pick Screen Colors with the Mac Color Picker

Time needed: 5 minutes

To find the color value (in RGB) of any pixel on your screen using the macOS Digital Color Meter (Mac eyedropper tool):

  1. Open Digital Color Meter.

    Here’s how: You can find Digital Color Meter using Spotlight search as well as using Launchpad, of course, or open the Utilities folder in Finder.

  2. Turn down the Aperture Size to its very smallest (on the left).

    Identify a single pixel color on screen: This will allow you to see the color value of a single pixel; with an aperture bigger than this, you will get an average value of all the pixels in the selection square.

  3. Position the mouse cursor exactly over the pixel for which you want to identify the color.

  4. Optional: Press Command L to lock the picker on the currently selected pixel or pixels.

    Horizontal and vertical lock: You can also press Command X to individually lock the horizontal dimension and Command Y to lock the vertical dimension, respectively.

  5. See the RGB color values listed under RGB.

    Copy the values: You need not copy the values by typing.
    Press Command Shift C to copy the color values as a triplet of plain text numbers.
    Press Command Option C to copy a 74⨉74 square filled solid with the color; you can paste it into a graphics program, for instance, or just into Notes.
    Identifying color with the Mac eyedropper tool (Digital Color Meter)

How to Pick Screen Colors with the Mac Color Picker (Eye Dropper): FAQ

Are there more capable alternatives to the built-in color picker?

Yes, third-party tools offer additional niceties such as

  • exporting color values in various formats (such as UIColor and ARGB),
  • precision magnifiers and
  • building palettes or saving colors.

In particular, the Mac color picker apps ColorSlurp and ColorSnapper are worth examining.

What do the RGB values mean in Digital Color Meter?

The RGB values are the amounts of red (R), green (G) and blue (B) that combined make up the measured color. The values are from 0 (lowest) to 255 (highest).

A RGB value is relative to a color space.

Can I choose a different color space for the values?

Yes. Select the desired color space in the Digital Color Meter’s drop-down menu; choices include various standard RGB color spaces as well as the human-eye L*a*b color space.

What is a color space?

A color space contains all the colors a specific device can produce and a method to express them. Specifying the color space together with the RGB values lets you reproduce the same color accurately across devices.

Choose a color space that the device where you want to use the color supports.

What is the L*a*b color space?

The L*a*b color space contains all the colors the human eye can see. Instead of using red, green, and blue, L*a*b defines colors as brightness (0–100)—‘L’—, colors from red (-128) to green (127)—‘a’—and colors from blue (-128) to yellow (127)—‘b’.

Can I convert the color values to CMYK, XYZ, HSL and other color spaces?

Yes, though Digital Color Meter itself will not do that for you.

Turn to a site like Colorizer to enter the values gained from Digital Color Meter and have them converted to the color space and specification you need.

(How to use the Mac color picker to identify the color of any pixel on screen tested with macOS Sonoma 14.3, Ventura 13.3, Monterey 12.3, Big Sur 11.3 and macOS Catalina 10.15; updated March 2024)

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