The Color Checker

As an educator, I try to make a variety of devices available to my students for experimentation. One of the most recent tools we brought to the studio arsenal is the color checker (also known as a color isolator.) The color checker is a device that contains a viewfinder and an angled paint-holder (surface to hold paint mixtures.) The viewfinder is placed at a specific distance from the paint-holder so that the paint-holder will take up a portion of the viewfinder window when a user gazes through it. The concept behind this device, made popular by artist and educator Mark Carder in 2001, is to allow an isolated comparison between the color of a paint mixture and a target color found with an observable subject.

Early designs of Mark Carder’s Color Checker

(The Color Checker mentioned here is not to be confused with the device of the same name that is often used with photography/film-making. That type of color checker is a plate containing specifically formulated colors that are used as color reference target.)

(Wrong type of Color Checker.)

*Intended use of the Color Checker: A user places a paint mixture that is a potential match for an observed subject, on the paint holder surface. The user then “aims” the color checker at the target color that he or she is trying to “match.” The user then looks through the viewfinder (often at arm’s length) so that the paint mixture and target share approximately equal viewing space within the viewfinder window. In the simple context provided by viewfinder, the match should be relatively simple to assess.

Mark Carder would later launch his own line of artist materials/tools called Geneva Fine Art Supplies which would offer a much newer version of his popular device. You can purchase one of these newer color checkers for $87.00 from Geneva here:

However—many creatives have opted to make their own versions–and with the increased access to 3D printing–one can make a Color Checker quite cheap. Here’s a few free models on Thingiverse:

We printed these models out at the AAAW studio and the “Noisy Cricket” by TBarnabas was the hands-down favorite. The Paint Color Checker by ahughes114 seemed to have a viewfinder that was far too big for the paint holder (not too mention a seemingly flimsy arm that seems just itching to break off.)

I should mention for those interested in a 3D printing option—be mindful of how porous your printing materials are. Consider placing some type of gloss acrylic or perhaps polyurethane over the paint-holder so the printed checker does not become adversely affected from paint application.

The “handgun” version by Bassmark1 had a super small viewfinder and paint-holder—but it was easily one of the most fun versions:

With a little time and effort you can find quite a few variations of the Color Checker out there—or you can get creative and come up with your own design.

Shown: Another Color Checker made by NotQuiteLiving found on Etsy and a similar isolation device used by artist Paul Foxton which uses Munsell chips.

In the meantime—here’s a few videos from Mark Carder on the use of his popular painting device:

Mark Carder on Using a Color Checker:

Mark Carder’s History of the Color Checker

Happy Painting!


I have followed Mark Carder for quite some time and made a color checker as per his free directions some years ago. This tool was very helpful for me especially when it comes to proper illumination of the still life vs. the canvas. I had been painting still life’s that looked good on the easel but dark off the easel. This device helped me “see” the intensity differences so I could adjust the lighting on the canvas to better simulate that of the still life. Although I haven’t used it for awhile, there was a time I used it a ton. I learned a lot from it and I’m glad I have it. Here are a couple of pics of the home made color checker I made.


Very cool Dan!!! :+1:t2::+1:t2::+1:t2:

Something that took we awhile to notice in my practice was the importance of the angle of palette knife when ‘matching’. The angle of the color checker seems to be tilted a bit, suggesting that the paint on the canvas will be darker (in typical lighting). Do people match with their palette knife surface parallel to the canvas or tilted slightly? I keep mine parallel and match a little darker/more chromatic.


I wondered about that as well Maneesh. I’ll see if I can dig up what Carder or anyone else has to say about the angle of the paint holder on the checker.


Maneesh, I hold my vertical and that works for me. I think everyone’s visual perception is different as we are all made up differently and see different.y. I always go with the works for me so far ideA🙂