It’s happened to the best of us: We’re in a restaurant with stunning upholstery, or a coffee shop with vibrant paint. “That’s the color!” we think. And then we leave and forget about it, never to rekindle the magic of that particular shade again.
SwatchMate ($85), which just launched on Kickstarter, wants to break that cycle. It’s a small cube that fits in your hand and whenever you see an inspiring color–be it fabric, paint, or even organic materials like a flower or a leaf–you simply press the cube against the object to thieve its hue. The color is stored locally or beamed to a Bluetooth-connected smartphone to be duplicated in Photoshop or Illustrator later. (The saved file is a RGB, CMYK, or L*a*b* value to be used however you like.)
So why not use your smartphone’s camera for the same task, you might ask?
“Because regular cameras–including your smartphone’s–change how they take images based on ambient light,” responds SwatchMate’s co-creator Djordje Dikic. “They aren’t very good at measuring surface color values. It’s kinda like timing a 100m sprint with an hourglass.”
Instead of picking up a less-than-perfect reflection of color, SwatchMate shields your object in its own shadow, where an internal LED can fire a controlled, measurable burst of light in its direction. This light reflects into a sphere, which SwatchMate’s developers claim directs the color to an onboard sensor with more accuracy. Whether or not you understand the exact science at play, it’s easy to imagine SwatchMate besting an iPhone camera. Just consider how unreliable the exposure and white balance of the simplest photos can be–especially when you’re photographing something at close proximity.
But our favorite component of SwatchMate may be its dead-simple interaction. The case has an integrated button, so whenever you want to capture a color, all you do is place it on your subject and push. “Even our early prototypes included a push down button because it allowed the device to be used even when not paired to your smartphone,” Dikic explains. “Now that I think about it, we really fussed over a simple button for quite a while!”