FCP X: Secrets of the Match Color Effect

Posted on by Larry

If you haven’t played with the Match Color effect recently in Final Cut Pro X, you are missing a powerful tool to give your images some interesting looks.

Match Color does more than simply match colors between clips. Once you understand what it is REALLY doing, you can use it to create some fascinating effects.


(Image courtesy: Model Railroad Builders (www.franandmileshale.com)

Match Color was invented to quickly match the grayscale and color values of one shot to another. In this screen shot above, the left clip is blue/green, compared to the right clip.

NOTE: To display both images, I enabled the Event Viewer (Window > Show in Workspace > Event Viewer). The left image is in the Browser, the right image is in the Timeline.

To match the left clip to the right:

Match Color is not perfect. While it improves the original clip, top, the color results are not as good as manually color grading the clip. In most cases, while the color is better, the grayscale is a bit washed out.

Matching colors is how the Match Color effect was designed, but, there’s a much more we can do with it.

NOTE: In the video Inspector, the Match Color effect lets you change the source image, but there’s nothing to adjust.


The Match Color effect maps the grayscale and color values from a good clip to the bad clip. This is not a content mapping, but a color mapping. It isn’t replacing any colors, rather it is blending the new colors with the old.

Unlike other effects such as chroma key, if you color grade the good clip before applying Match Color, the color-graded image is used to determine changes in the source clip. In other words, Match Color matches using the current state of a clip.


In this example, this wide shot of desert canyons is washed out and green.

Here are the colors I’d rather the wide shot contain, displayed on the right.

Apply the Match Color effect and the original clip looks like this. Not just color values, but grayscale, too, were transferred.


Hmmm… Match Color applies grayscale and color values from a source to a destination. What if… we don’t use images at all. What if we use gradients?

Here’s the source image. Petrified rocks in the desert. Very green petrified rocks.

The rule is: To remove a color, add the opposite color. What’s the opposite of green? Magenta.

If I apply a solid color, all the grayscale values in the destination wash out. Instead, I need to apply a gradient.

Here’s a magenta gradient that I created in Final Cut. Match Color applies the color of highlights in the source to highlights in the destination. It applies the color of mid-tones in the source to the mid-tones in the destination. And the color of shadows to the shadows in the destination.

In this gradient example, the highlights are set at 75%, which means the destination image will darken. The color hue is the same throughout the gradient, but saturation never exceeds about 20%.

NOTE: If you remark to yourself that – ah HA! – there is no requirement for all these colors to match, you are getting the right idea.

This is the result of using Match Color with a gradient to create an interesting color look, that also manages to kill the color cast.

Let’s go even further. This is a “day-for-night” gradient. Again, colors are not saturated, highlights don’t exceed 75% and black levels are parked at 0.

NOTE: There’s nothing “magical” about these numbers. Create your own gradients and experiment with your own clips. See what happens when you vary both highlight and shadow levels in the source clip.

Here’s the result.


Match Color does more than match shots. It maps the grayscale and color values from a source image onto a destination. And, because of that flexibility, it gives us lots of ways to experiment with creating special looks for those clips that need it.

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