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FCP X: Color Presets

Though FCP X’s color correction abilities are strong, there are many ways to get the job done. And though it’s easy to tweak the color on a single clip, how do you ensure that you get the same results across a range of clips, such as an entire scene? In this article, we’ll take a look at the different ways you can affect the look of your clips, and repeat those results across your projects.

Option 1: Use an Effect, change the options, then copy/paste it

The Effects browser’s Looks options.

The Effects browser’s Looks options is a decidedly low-tech option, but it could work well in some situations. In the Effects Browser, you’ll find a selection of Looks effects that change the appearance of your video. Some are quite strong, while others are subtle. Most of these effects simply affect the color and brightness of your clips, but they’re typically not just a straight color effect — take a look at Night Vision, for example.

Each of the looks has settings you could adjust; at least an Amount slider, but quite possibly more — and it’s worth tweaking the settings to make the effect suit your footage. You can add more than one if you wish, and some are quite flexible. Add Cast, and you can tint your footage however you wish.

Here are the controls for Faded Sun.

Here are the controls for Faded Sun.

And how to reuse it? The simplest way is to Copy the clip, then select the destination clip and choose Edit > Paste Effects. There’s no selective Paste Effects, though: you’ll take every crop, transform and color correction too.

Option 2: Use an Effect, apply as an adjustment layer 

Adjustment Layers have been discussed here before, and they’re very powerful. (If you don’t have one already, you can make your own, or download one.) Any effects, color corrections or transformations applied to an adjustment layer will apply to every clip beneath it, meaning that you don’t need to use Compound Clips nearly as much.

An Adjustment Layer doing its job.

An Adjustment Layer doing its job.

So, if you want to use a Look more than once, add an adjustment layer to your project from the Titles browser, then apply the Look to that adjustment layer. Every clip beneath it will have the same effect — great for consistency within a scene.

Option 3: Create a color look with the color board, then save a preset

If you’d rather work with the Color Board, go ahead. In the Inspector, press on the small arrow to the right of Correction 1, then tweak Exposure, Saturation and Color and come up with something unique.

Here, I’ve added color contrast by pushing highlights and shadows in opposite directions.

Here, I’ve added color contrast by pushing highlights and shadows in opposite directions.

In the bottom right corner of the color board, there’s a small “gear” menu. From that menu, you can save your current settings as a preset, reapply settings you saved previously, or pick from a wide range of preset looks. If you’re shooting on a camera with a flat or a Log profile, this can be a great way to get started on the grading — increase the contrast and boost that shadow saturation.

Shadow saturation: up, way up.

Shadow saturation: up, way up.

It’s quite possible to apply multiple corrections to a single clip — one to make it “normal” and one for effect — but there’s a better way.

Option 4: Create a color look with the color board, then apply as an audition on an adjustment layer

It’s still a good idea to use the Color Board to make your clips match one another, but it’s going to be a lot of work to apply a more stylized look to every clip in your sequence. Instead, add a new adjustment layer to the whole scene, or the whole project. Right-click the adjustment layer and choose Duplicate as Audition. Now, head to that adjustment layer’s color board and load your preset of choice. This could be a contrast booster you saved earlier, a vintage photo look; anything.

Two different looks for an entire scene.

Two different looks for an entire scene.

You can now switch between looks for your entire project as easily as you switch from one audition to the next. The first state is the unfiltered project, the second is your new look, and you can make many more if you’re not sure yet. And yes, you can use them with Effects too.


The possibilities for color correction, and predictable reuse, are wide open. Whether you prefer Effects or the Color Board, you can find a way to make your choices stick, and make last-minute project-wide changes a breeze. Enjoy!

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.


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