Set Resolve Up the Right Way with the Color Management Cheat Sheet

Today, I’d like to share a resource that will help you quickly—and correctly—set up the color management for every project that you tackle. You’ll be able to grade with confidence knowing that you’ve got all of your details, dropdowns, and menus set up exactly right. I call it the Color Management Cheat Sheet.

You can grab a copy of the Color Management Cheat Sheet from my website (email address required) where you can download the PDF as a handy reference guide.

In this article

First, we’ll go through the settings that will not change per project. These pieces will be constant across everything you grade. After that, we’re going to look at the one setting that will change based on the particular project being graded.

Plug in your project settings

Starting off, open your project in Resolve and go to your Project Settings. Next, go to Color Management and set the Color science to DaVinci YRG Color Managed.

Uncheck the Automatic color management box and set the Color processing mode to Custom. Then, switch the Timeline color space to Da Vinci Wide Gamut Intermediate.

I set my Timeline working luminance to Custom 10000 because I don’t want to limit the dynamic range of the image when I’m grading it. You only want to limit the dynamic range of an image when you have to, which is when it’s on its way out to your display. Up until that point, you want access to all of the scene’s linear image that was captured in-camera.

Next, set the Output color space to Rec.709 Gamma 2.4. I chose this setting because it is the standard that my reference monitor is calibrated to. If you happen to be grading on a laptop screen or a computer monitor, you might want to choose Rec.709 Gamma 2.2 instead.

I set the Input DRT to None for the same reason that I set the Timeline working luminance to Custom 10000. My premise here is don’t do anything. Don’t tone map, don’t compress, and don’t change anything about the dynamic range of the image. Save all of that for the journey from the working space to the display space.

Next, switch the Output DRT. Luminance Mapping is my personal preference. Feel free to experiment with any of the bottom four options in the drop-down menu. Those are going to get you the best results. I generally discourage the use of Simple, but you are free to try that as well.

Input color space

The last thing we need to change is our Input Color Space. I’ve saved this for last because this is the only setting that is going to change depending on the project that is being graded. All of the other settings are going to stay the same in every other project you tackle.

The Input Color Space is always going to change depending on the color space of the material in the timeline. In the timeline below, there are five shots that were shot in ARRI LogC3 and we also have four other shots that are in different formats.

I’m going to select ARRI LogC3 as my Input color space because that’s the space that the majority of our images are in. Just because we’re selecting one space doesn’t mean that all of our images need to be in that space. But we want to select the space that describes the majority of the images so that we don’t have to go in and tag the other clips individually any more than is necessary.

With that in place, we now have all of our project settings established. Once I hit Save in this example, we’re going to see the image I’m currently on become normalized. We’re going to get a healthy level of contrast and saturation.

Now, shots one through five are good to go. We’re ready to start grading them. Let’s move on to the next shot. Number six is an example of one where I need to change the color space.

The color space depends on what camera was used. In this case, it was not an Alexa. This was shot on a Sony camera in the S-Log3 S-Gamut3 Sony Cine color space. Do for this, I’d right-click on the thumbnail of this clip and go to Input Color Space. Instead of Project – ARRI LogC3, scroll down and select S-Gamut3.Cine/S-Log3.

This selection made a pretty minor difference, but we want to get those details correct because we never know what difference they will make. We want to be in the strongest possible position at the outset of our color grade.

Let’s move on to shot number seven. This one’s in ARRI LogC4, so I’d right-click the clip and go to Input Color Space, then select ARRI LogC4.

When doing this, we’re going to see a bigger difference.

Now, that single clip is in a different color space than the majority of our images.

Working with multiple cameras and sources

Let’s move on to working with multiple cameras and sources. This is honestly the biggest challenge in color management, in my opinion. It’s very important to get the color space of the camera right. We need that information if we want to color manage effectively.

But what if we just don’t know what the color space is and can’t find out? Say our production counterparts can’t tell us and we’re left with whatever we can figure out inside of Resolve. I’ve prepared a decision tree that will walk us through some possibilities.

Let’s use shot number eight as our first example.

Is the image in some kind of log color space? No, it is not. It’s not low-saturation. It’s not low-contrast. If anything, our problem is the opposite. There’s too much color and contrast.

Let’s go back to our decision tree. We’re going to say, no, the image is not in a log color space. So our next step is to flip between these five options and find the best fit. It’s not the most scientific, but it’s the best we can do.

Essentially, we’re concluding that since the image is not a log color space, it is probably in some kind of display space. The most common display spaces are the five that are listed in the Color Management Cheat Sheet.

You may not see a huge difference between these options, but it’s a good idea to audition all of them. I’m going to say Rec.709 Gamma 2.2 is the best fit for this one. The process is to find the best fit for your image and call that your baseline. Let’s look at another scenario.

This image has low contrast and low saturation, so we can safely say we’re working in some kind of log space. The first thing we want to do is see if there is metadata in this file that can tell us the color space that we’re working in. To do this, go over to the Edit page, click the Metadata tab, and select All Groups from the upper right-hand corner dropdown menu.

We can scroll through this menu to see if any of these fields contain information about color space. This information can pop up in different places, but you will often see it appear in the Gamma and Color Space notes. It can also be further up in the earlier pieces of metadata.

If you find something here, that’s great. You can set your input to match what you found in the metadata. If you can’t find anything, which is the case in our example, here’s what you can do. Let’s go back to our decision tree.

If you can’t find any metadata, go back to the timeline, right-click on your clip, and set your Input Color Space to Same as Timeline. This means that you’re treating the image as if it is in DaVinci White Gamma Intermediate, which is a big high-volume log color space. It’s not the craziest choice for a log format.

Notice that this shot is almost certainly going to need some love because it is not fully, properly color-managed. But it’s at a reasonable starting position. We simply can’t find the information that we would ideally have, so we need to do our best to get the image to an even starting point. Any additional grading to get proper exposure, contrast, and saturation will have to happen as we’re working our way through the first pass.

Things to remember

That’s the nuts and bolts of the Color Management Cheat Sheet. Let’s walk through some things to remember. First, set your color management up at the beginning of your project. Don’t start grading and then change your color management later. Remember, changing your color management is also going to change your grading context. Make sure to set up your color management right at the beginning to give yourself a better foundation.

Also, Resolve will sometimes ignore your Project Settings. It will automatically set your Input Color Space to something other than what you chose in your Project Settings.

If you get an image that looks weird even though you know that you’ve set up the right Input Color Space, go in and make sure that Resolve isn’t trying to “help” you. Resolve sometimes tags what it thinks is the right Input Color Space even though that’s not what you asked for. That can happen and it’s something that’ll drive you nuts if you don’t know how to solve the problem.

This last item used to drive me crazy. Camera raw formats such as R3D, BRAW and ARRIRAW don’t need to have their Input Color Space set or changed, as Resolve handles this automatically. This is why you won’t see an option to change Input Color Space for such clips.

For example, if I had a piece of R3D media in this timeline and I were to look for its Input Color Space, I wouldn’t see it at all. Be aware that in any raw format, you don’t need to change its color space in terms of input. You don’t even have the option to do it in Resolve.

Wrapping up

This might all sound fairly obvious and straightforward, but when you’re at the beginning of your process, there are a lot of little details that you want to get right.

Hopefully, you can keep the Color Management Cheat Sheet handy and consult if you can’t remember what a particular setting should be. If you ever find yourself wondering, “Is that what Colin said to do?” consult the cheat sheet and confirm that everything is set up for the strongest possible grade right from the start of your process.

Cullen Kelly

Cullen Kelly is a Los Angeles-based senior colorist with credits spanning film, television, and commercials, for clients and outlets including Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Microsoft, McDonald’s, and Sephora. With a background in image science as well as the arts, he’s passionate about the intersection of the creative and technical, and its role in great visual storytelling. In addition to his grading work, Cullen is an educator and proven thought leader, with platforms including his podcast The Color Code as well as his YouTube channel.

ARRI REVEAL Color Science Explained

How to Manage RAW Footage Using Nodes in DaVinci Resolve

Insider Tips: Getting Better Results with Resolve’s Qualifier