Screen Reference Tips (PC monitor screen)

I'm trying to work with pictures from a screen and having trouble in color checking, as well in matching my white paint with the white color of my computer screen, which was a tip I've seen in one of Mark videos, but aside from that, I've never seen him talk about this subject again, I'd be glad if u guys had some tips for me!!! Cheers from Brasil


  • edited January 2021
    @pedrocaogrande, you cannot match colours with the screen. Your paint will never be as bright as the colours emitted from a screen. Paint reflects the light that hits it whilst the screen emits its own light. The best you can do in paint if your working from a screen is to get the relative values right, or as close as possible to right.  :)

    ( Edit: Seems I was wrong. See discussion below.)
  • As @tassieguy said the colours on a screen will always be able to be more vivid than paint pigments.

    But you can match the values. Here's what I do:

    I have a piece of card with titanium white acrylic painted on it, and a very powerful daylight lamp. I then have an image on my monitor with the photo I want to paint from and using an eyedropper tool in a paint program I can select a colour and see it in a swatch on a certain position on the screen.

    Now first of all I select pure brightest white from the source image and then I hold up the painted acrylic white against the screen so the two swatches are side by side. I look the swatch of white on the screen compared to the painted cardboard and I move the daylight lamp closer and further away until the value of the white for both of them is matching as close as possible.

    Now the maximum values match and I can select other colours and hold a paint brush up against the swatch on the screen in the same lighting and match colours against this. The values will be correct as long as the lighting stays the same.

  • edited December 2020
    That sounds like it should work, @Richard_P. It's the powerful daylight lamp on the paint swatch that would make it work. But it would have to be pretty strong to equal the light emitted from the screen but that should be achievable.  My concern then is that the light source illuminating the paint swatch also shines on the screen and produces glare that washes out the screen. Like looking at your computer monitor with the sun shining on it.  I'm trying it now as I write this and I can't get it to work. I can't see anything because of the glare on the screen. Maybe my light source is too focused or maybe I'm doing something else wrong. I'd like to be able to make this work for my landscapes because I could save a heap of money that I spend on ink and photo printing paper and a heap of time spent on tiling photos and printing them out. And when the painting is done the photos get tossed out which is such a waste of resources.  How do you deal with the glare on the screen?  :)
  • Don't point the light at that screen. Have it pointing down and then hold the swatch under that. Like this:

    I've used it for several paintings (including the forest one and the 2nd wedding photo) and it works well for me. :)

    Hope that helps..?
  • edited December 2020
    I do quite similar as suggested above, but I use my square spatula to hold up my colors to the screen. I have to have my laptop angled away a little from the studio lights to get it right. Careful not to get paint on your screen. Also, my laptop screen is close to my easel, same viewing angle as my painting, similar to having a photo set up by the easle. Another thing that I like about using the comptuter display, is that you can zoom in for greater details & clarity in the photo.
    I wish that I could use my PC much larger screen, but can't get windows 10 to keep my photo on display without it going to sleep on me, lol!
  • Thanks, @Richard_P. I'll give it a go. I'd love to make this work.  :)
  • Let me know how it goes.. :)
  • Hi @pedrocaogrande, I had a go at this recently, using an iPad. Similar to @Richard_P I have a reference titanium white card that I held at arms length, close to the screen. I then adjusted then screen brightness until the value of the white on the screen matched the value on the card. I have natural daylight lamps behind me, but at a distance and giving enough illumination to light up the canvas, as if I was painting from a photo. My iPad was vertical and adjacent to the canvas, as per the DMP method for displaying a reference photo. Then for color checking I just held my brush close to the screen. It seemed to work, but I only got a couple of sessions in before my (ancient) iPad died. I’ve just bought a replacement iPad, so will try again - I agree with @tassieguy that there is a lot of pfaffing about and expense with printing photos out, which is why I’ll give this another go. 
  • edited December 2020
    Thanks for that, @Roxy. I'm glad to hear that it's actually doable.  I'm going to try it. I have a small tablet but not sure how that would work.  I may need to buy some sort of screen for displaying photos after I've done my thing with them in Affinity photo - something quite large that I can mount next to the canvas. Ink and photo paper are so damned expensive. Doing it from a screen would save time, money and resources going to landfill.  :)
  • You said it so well! this is very much how I work from my screen as well for quite similar reasons, and I do have plein air experience so I relate quite well. I think you nailed it essentially.
  • Thanks for that, @gar3thjon3s. That is a great help. I've never painted from a screen before but now I'm looking forward to trying it.  :)
  • @tassieguy great! I’m sure you’ll have no problems adapting. I credit it with helping me mix and match colour from life very much.
  • edited January 2021

    This tech luddite got a photo on his tablet, stuck the tablet to his canvas under the lights he uses for painting, and, hey, it works. I can adjust the brightness of the tablet screen and my lights shine downwards so there's no glare on the screen.  I can balance whites. I didn't think it was possible. Fantastic! No more tiling and printing photos. No more $$$$ wasted on printer ink and photo paper. No more old photos going to landfill. I can edit my photos in Affinity Photo on my computer, transfer the photos to my tablet, stick my tablet to the canvas, zoom in and, well, just paint. Thanks so much to @Richard_P , to @Roxy and to @gar3thjon3s.

     And, @gar3thjon3s, you're right, so much more is visible on a screen than on a printed photo. It's much closer to life. Maybe now I won't need to stand out in the weather making colour notes for my landscapes on scraps of canvas. (I might find that hard to give that up, though)

    BTW, I had a look at Richard Schmid's work again. His landscapes are gorgeous. If he can work from a screen then so can I. 

    Thanks again, guys.  :)
  • Hurrah! Glad it works for you :) It is much easier when you get it right than working from a printed photo.
  • @tassieguy awesome! Glad it works for you too. I think colour notes from life are still the best as I’m sure you’ve found. 

    I think 95% of Richard Schmids paintings are done from life outdoors based on reading his books, but he does occasionally use photographs and I’m sure those 60+ years of experience painting outdoors are a huge help!
  • Excellent news @tassieguy. Spurred on by this discussion I started a small test painting yesterday, but rather than use my new iPad I dug out an old monitor I had lying around to give a bigger view area. Like you I’m finding it works well once set up and is in many ways superior to printed photos. So yes, thanks all!  

    And if anyone is interested, to save desk space I have the monitor hooked up to a spare Raspberry Pi that I also had lying about (, and am using a wonderful program called MyPaint to zoom, pan and, if needed, create color swatches ( 
  • You can try to trick your eye all you want matching color to a monitor but... it ain't gonna work. To have to be at one with your palette to paint from a monitor. I just gave it up until I can get a new monitor. I was using a 4k 27' iMac which I bought well used from a magazine. Just recently there was a noticeable shift after upgrading the os. I have a great large format printer that I just resurrected and its back to prints for not. You know I am fine it easier.

  • edited January 2021
    Following on from the discussion above, I started today on a little 12' X 16" seascape (small for me) using a reference on my tablet. I'm doing this just for fun after the brutal work load involved in getting 12 big paintings ready for my show this year. It will be my first real experiment using only a screen as my reference rather than a printed photo that I adjust to accord, as far as possible, with the on-site colour notes which I make on scraps of canvas for each landscape painting.  Before transferring the photo to my tablet I did my usual thing with it in Affinity Photo on my PC to get it to look as close as possible to what I saw onsite. (Affinity doesn't work with my Android tablet so have to use the PC)  When I copied the adjusted reference to my Android tablet it looked good. Just to compare, I also printed out the photo. I made the printed photo the best I could make it in terms of getting colour/value to match my colour notes by editing it in Affinity and juggling the controls on my printer.  Bottom line is that the screen is much better than my printer can manage. The subtlety in value and colour I see on the screen just can't be matched by my printer. My screen more closely matched my colour notes. It's much closer to life.

    So, happy with the reference on my tablet, I stuck the tablet on my canvas, zoomed in and started mixing colours. First I did a white balance. This works fine as long as I stand in exactly the same place under my lights and in front of the tablet screen. This is important because the colours on the screen change if you change position vertically or horizontally. (Try it on the monitor you're looking at now and you'll see what I mean). For colour matching I use a bit of clear plastic on which I paint swatches of colour and hold the swatches flat to the tablet screen so that the colour swatch and the screen are at exactly the same angle to my studio lights. It works. The whites balance. I matched a bright white breaking crest of a sunlit wave with titanium and the tiniest touches of yellow and violet and a couple of molecules of blue. I will use this white mixture as a reference point and base for mixing all the other off-whites in the waves. Next I matched the darkest blue in the sky and blocked the sky in. Lighter values and subtle hue changes will go on top of this base sky colour. I also mixed the colour for some distant hills and blocked those in. 

    And that's as far as I've got. But not bad for a day's work. It's fun to know I might finish a small picture in a few days instead of the few weeks it takes with my big ones. If all goes well and it doesn't end in disaster I'll post a photo of the work later this week.  

    I'll be really happy if I can make this work. And I'll be less poor because I won't have to spend so much on ridiculously over-priced printer ink and high quality photo paper. And all the hours I waste tiling and printing photos I'll use to paint.   :)

    Thanks again to @Richard_P, @Roxy and @gar3thjon3s for your insights. 
  • Sounds very promising then! Thank you for the detailed explanation, that was an enjoyable read :)

    I haven't printed a print off since I first started with DMP, like you I found the screen much better than any print I could get.

    Bear in mind as well that tablet screens vary in quality, with a really good one or a monitor you might even get more accurate results. :)
  • @pedrocaogrande

    In DMP, the process of looking at a monitor as your reference is exactly the same as looking at a real life subject. The issue is ensuring that what you are looking at looks like the real thing.

    As you know in the standard DMP approaches you either

    1.look at a real subject, and then using a well lit color checker, canvas, and palette, get to work. or

    2. use a print-out of a subject which is laminated or otherwise protected, and use color dabs directly on the print out to color check, the print out should be well lit (as should everything else).

    In either case if the paint you mix matches what you check against, you will end up with a realistic image.

    When you consider how these processes work, when using a monitor, you are simply replacing the real subject of 1) above, whether it be a still life, landscape, or whatever, with a monitor screen.  The challenge is to make the light coming from the monitor match what otherwise would have come from the subject.

    I do not think monitors pose any inherent problem, but they must be set up with care, and the source image likely must also be processed, properly exposed and not over saturated.  The DMP website has much to say about this.

    I would only add one other thing for consideration:

    Consider using your Camera as a Light Measuring Device

    If you have access to your subject and if you have a good camera, you can use your camera as a light measuring device to adjust the image you are displaying on your monitor, so the same light is emerging from the monitor as would emerge from your subject.  

    Set your camera to a manual mode where you have complete control of exposure time, aperture, and ISO.  Take a picture of your subject with settings which, to your eye, looks best/closest to your subject, on your monitor.  Be careful not to change the settings after you find the best set for taking your picture.  Now, the image on your monitor, although the best you could do by eye, likely will not be exactly the same as the light coming from your subject.  To determine what changes need to be made to your reference photo as displayed on the monitor, take a picture of your photo being displayed on your monitor.  Make sure you are using those same settings you used when you took the best photo of the real subject.  Keeping the same manual settings means you can reliably compare the light/colors coming from the displayed monitor image and the light/colors originally measured from the real subject. Compare the pictures in software, (One method is to scale and or skew the image taken of the monitor to match the original, and subtract it from the original ) Determine the adjustments (brightness curves, hue, saturation) necessary to make the photo of your monitor look the same as the original.  Make a second copy of the original photo (keep an original version for further comparison) and make those adjustments to the second copy.  Display the adjusted second copy on the monitor and take another photo... compare your adjusted second copy as displayed on the monitor with your original, determine what further adjustments to the photo of your monitor match the original and make those adjustments to  the second copy... repeat making adjustments to your second copy of your original until it displays on your monitor as close as you can get it to your original subject.  Since you are determining a guess of what adjustment is required from a result (display of an image) and applying it to the source image itself... some artistry is required to avoid overshooting adjustments or under applying them... but the exercise will become more intuitive as one gains experience.

    Always remember, your camera in manual mode is a light measuring device.  It can only record identical images when it is measuring the same light.

    Note that the above will not generally work for parts of your subject which are brighter than your monitor.  One thing you can do is lower the lighting of your subject.  Don't try to replicate highlights (which might be out of range of your camera, image file, and monitor) with your monitor as these are also likely out of range of your white paint anyway.  If you have a bright monitor, you shouldn't worry about any of this.  It will be bright enough for you because your paint, even in the best lighting, can only appear so bright.

    The above is really only for perfectionists who want to replicate the source as closely as possible on a monitor. It's probably better to use a real subject, BUT if you want to capture for example a still life with some perishable foods, fruit, or ice, and you know you do not have the time to paint it before it decays, or melts, using a monitor and the camera as a light measuring device is a good way to overcome the problem.

    The camera can also be applied the same way for working from a print out.  There are out of color gamut issues then, so subject choice might be limited to less saturated colors. But in principle, taking measurements with a reliable light measuring device can be helpful.

  • @CBG
    I other words a well exposed and color balanced photograph on a well calibrated monitor.
  • CBGCBG -
    edited January 2021

    I would be tempted to agree with you had I not seen the discrepancies myself. 

    My wide gamut, hardware calibrated, 2.5k monitor although it represents the image data properly, the actual light profile coming from the monitor when displaying a data file representing a subject does not match the reality of the light coming from that subject.  That's not surprising as it was never meant to ... but it's not adequate if I want it to.

    Primarily this is likely due to a great many unknowns in the camera's internal mapping.  Whatever pixel luminance measurements are made in whatever format (RAW RW2... etc.) in however many bits, is internally transformed to 8 bit using who knows what kind of "pedestal", contrast, saturation etc. functions.  Cameras' JPGs processing are programmed to subjectively look good, not necessarily reproduce reality with accuracy.  Of course a monitor's brightness is arbitrary and could be anything relative to the brightness of an actual subject.  To be clear I do not suggest any hardware adjustments be made to the monitor.

    Even the software pipeline - from image data in a file to display on a monitor - of RAW or 16bit images can be problematic, often under saturated and/or of low contrast. 

    Monitors and cameras are not so much designed to reproduce light faithfully, as to produce images which look appealing to the eye.

    With so many variables outside of one's direct knowledge or control one cannot know how accurate what is being displayed is.

    Twisting the role of the camera to a light measuring device does however allow one to reign in the whole system, to one's purpose, and if that is accuracy and replication of actual light, the above is applicable.

  • @CBG 
    I have to repeat myself... I other words a well exposed and color balanced photograph on a well calibrated monitor.

    As the artist it's our job to make decisions. Is an image is not balanced properly it's our job to make the proper corrections.
    1. Get a better monitor 4k or 5k. An IMac 27" 5k Comes to mind. When I paint using a screen I use the iMac. Which I bought used for $200.
    2. Use industry standard software. Affinity Photo or Photoshop. Learn to use it like a pro. Work in large dpi files not bit rate. 8 bit vs 16 bit. The software is made to manipulate best in 8 bit 
    3. Calibration tools like Datacolor Spyder Pro. This is more useful when tuning a screen to a printer or print standard
    4. What is 'correct color'. It is always subjective. You are the artist it's yours to choose. When we paint from life are we making things correct? No we're chasing light.

    Painting from a monitor is fine. One hint. The monitor should be at your side not on the same plane as the canvas. On the side of your weak hand. This makes a very big difference.

    I don't use monitors anymore because I found that always zooming in for detail spoiled my work. I can't zoom in painting outdoors.

  • CBGCBG -
    edited January 2021


    No need to repeat yourself.  My words do not represent nor are intended to mean the "other words" you substituted.  My words represent my opinion which happens to be different from yours.

    I respect your having a different opinion on the matter, but respectfully, your words express that opinion, and are not "other words" for what my opinion is.

    We simply disagree, but I am OK with that.

  • For anyone else interested in the technique I have outlined above, I will be providing a demonstration of it one day in a new thread... with a still life subject likely using some fruit!!

  • edited January 2021
    Thanks for going to the trouble of writing all that, @CBG. I'm just starting out painting from a monitor so your insights were very interesting to me.  :)
  • Folks

    Interesting discussion, .....buuuut...... I would have thought that by this stage you folks would have an eye (maybe two) that was finely attuned to discriminating colour, value and temperature. Further, I would expect a screen, print or real life image could be rendered perfectly on a canvas. You know what a good screen looks like, you know how to pump out a good print, and you know how to arrange lighting for real life scenes.

    My aim is to use tech aids intensively and rejoice when I can throw them out. Pummel the brain ‘til the eye, brain and hand work like a team.

  • edited January 2021
    I can relate to that, @Dencal. But I think it's worth remembering that some of us have only been painting for a few years and most folks here can't do it full-time. Unless we're some sort of prodigy, it takes years to master even if you're doing it fulltime. I started off doing still lifes from life using the DMP method. I learned a lot. But what I really wanted to do was big, realistic landscapes. Large studio pieces. So, I was forced to use photographic references along with my on-site sketches and colour notes. I think I've developed a certain amount of skill using printed photos, but, as per the discussion above, they are just not as good as a reference on a quality monitor in terms of colour. I was always juggling the prints with my colour notes when painting. The monitor is so much better than what I can print. But there are some tricky skills to be learned when painting from a monitor. Getting the screen brightness right for one so you can balance whites. Making sure your screen and your canvas are in the same light for another. For me this has meant sticking my tablet to the canvas and always looking at the screen from the exact same position. It's a whole different ballgame than painting from a printed photo. I feel like I'm just starting out all over again.  I'm doing a little seascape now and I have to tell you, Denis, it's not easy. But the colour I'm getting is better. I would be very pleased to see a painting you have done from a monitor and read about your experience using it so that I can speed my own learning.  :)
  • Good to hear it’s working @tassieguy. I’m half way through a small test painting using this method myself for the first time and am using the same technique - gett the whites balanced, then be disciplined in viewing from the same spot. Easy for me as I usually paint seated. Some great tips above. Thanks everyone. 
  • Looking forward to seeing the results from both of you!
  • Good for you, @Roxy. Let's compare notes when we're done.  :)
  • Cheers, @Richard_P. I'm only painting a few hours each day so mine will be a few more days yet.  :)
  • Cheers, @Richard_P. I’m only painting a few hours each day month so mine will be a few more days? weeks? yet. 🙂
  • "A heads up" for what it is worth, I just got word that it's a good thing to cover your keyboard with a sheet of clear plastic for protection. Saran wrap is good but avoid the oil residue from getting on the keys, it leaves a sticky residue difficult to remove. I never had an incident in my 4 years of using my laptop, maybe 1 close call that was enough to remind me of hazards. The more obvious is don't eat or drink etc. near your computer. I now indeed do cover my keyboard.

     Bottom line is you don't want to accidently drop your brush full of paint onto your keyboard, you just simply don't know what could possibly happen in the course of a single painting session.
  • My working sessions from a computer screen works well for me for landscape paintings as long as these are my own photos from where I stood in person to take them myself. However I have to make a point of balancing this activity with quite a lot of actual still life work in my studio. If plein air was not a challenge where I live, then I would be engaged in much of that as well, for the real life experience. I will be painting more still lifes in my studio this year, by the end I hope to see more still lifes than landscapes in my portfolio.
  • edited January 2021
    As per my posts above, I decided to do an experiment to see if I could paint a smallish seascape from my tablet screen. I chose to do one 12' X 16" which is about three times the size of my tablet screen. This meant that I had to zoom in because I wanted the photo to be the same size as my canvas. My focus here was trying to see if it was possible to mix colours from a screen. Therefore, my drawing with the brush for this painting was not careful. Nor was I much concerned about composition, brushwork or texture. You will see that the bottom half is unfinished - for example, the dark rock at lower left I've just left black. Other parts, such as the sunlit rocks, I've just blocked in. The little bumps at the top in the sky are bits of BlueTrack I used to stick the canvas to a board. It was an experiment so I wasn't going to bother mounting it properly.  Also, for this picture, I should have used a smoother canvas and chosen a subject that didn't have a lot of blue in it because cameras always over-do the blue when I photograph paintings. I've tried to compensate for that with a bit of post exposure prophylaxis. I'm not going to bother fixing anything or finishing the painting - it's not something I'd show or sell. However, I think that in terms of colour matching from a screen I didn't do too badly. 

    But I have to say, it's not easy. 

    Every time you move your viewing position up or down the screen colour changes slightly. So you have to view it from exactly the same position all the time. Also, my tablet is small compared to my canvas and so I had to zoom in and then every time I accidently touched the screen, however lightly, the image jumped all over the place and I'd have to try to find my place again. And the screen keeps timing out. But my biggest problem was finding a way to attach the tablet to my canvas so it's next to the section I'm painting. I need to do that in order to judge whether the colour I've laid in matches that on the screen. I had to resort to buying some clamps and using them to attach a stretcher bar to the board holding the canvas. I rested the tablet on this bar and moved the bar, with some difficulty, up and down as needed. But I was always worried about knocking the tablet and it falling to the floor and getting damaged. So I resorted to putting BlueTack behind the tablet to hold it in place and flat to the canvas. Not an ideal solution.

    So, the results of the experiment were:

    1.  Yes, you can colour match from a screen, but it's difficult.

    2. It would be easier to use a screen just for small paintings which are the same size as your screen. That way, you wouldn't have to zoom in and move your screen to another part of the canvas.

    3. I paint big pictures and so I would need a better method of holding the screen flat against my painting and which allows me to move it around easily - I'm not happy with what I came up with - very cumbersome.  I need some sort of moveable arm with a bracket to hold the tablet. Painters more talented and dexterous then me may be able to just paint with the screen somewhere near them, but I cannot. 

    4. Getting paint on your tablet is inevitable. Getting it off is a pain.

    Despite the problems I am going to persist experimenting because I would like to be able to use a screen rather than printed photos for my big landscapes and seascapes.


  • Rob, I get the impression you do a lot more mixing on the fly? I mix a few colour groups and then just work from them so the processes of mixing and then painting are much more separate for me.

    A good quality large screen will work better for you I think, though you might need a PC or Mac to connect to it. Still you can find good but cheap monitors that are still much bigger than a tablet (whilst not being as big as you can get).

    Another option is an old TV and connecting a tablet/computer to that.. they come very big!  
  • Thanks, @Richard_P.

    I mix large amounts of colour for large areas like the sky before I start painting but for detailed areas you're right, I do a lot of it on the fly. And, yes, I think a large screen would be best for me. I'm going to have a look around to see what's available.


    Rob  :)
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