Identifying Colours – Review 7

When I look at the computer screen, I normally just consider the content. Does it really matter whether something is light grey or dark grey?

To professional creators (e.g. artists, filmmakers, designers, and programmers), the precise colour displayed can be a very important consideration. Even a non-technical user might want to make sure their pictures and captions are the same shade.


Hexdecimal Logo

Hexdecimal (spelled differently from ‘Hexadecimal‘) is a nice little ‘eyedropper’ tool to determine what colours are shown on your screen.

When opened, it shows a customizable window with a palette, two trios of color sliders, a list of text boxes, and a status bar.

Default appearance of Hexdecimal.

Default appearance of Hexdecimal. In contrast to most programs, the Save, Open, New file, and Keep on Top buttons are located below the rest of the interface.

The text boxes on the right side display the current colour in six different formats:

  • CSS-friendly
  • Hexadecimal (uppercase)
  • Hexadecimal (lowercase)
  • Red, Green, and Blue levels in decimal
  • CMYK (useful for printing)
  • Common name

Click on one of them to copy the displayed text.

If you have recently copied something that Hexdecimal understands as a colour, then the ‘Paste’ button will be enabled. Click the button to display information about that colour.

What if you want to know more about an actual colour that you see on the screen? Left-click once on the large coloured rectangle in the middle of the window, then move the mouse so it’s pointing at the desired item. Holding down the left-mouse button will let you scan multiple on-screen colours. The program will only pick up a new colour when the mouse is motionless.

By default, the Hexdecimal window will remain on top of all other windows. Click the pin icon to toggle this setting.

If the program doesn’t quite work as you need, there is a helpful ‘readme.txt’ file bundled along. It includes full explanations for each of the multiple settings Hexdecimal understands.

Readme (right), file listing (left), and Hexdecimal (top).

Readme (right), file listing (left), and Hexdecimal (top).

All in all, Hexdecimal is a very nice tool. There are many competitors which offer eyedropper functionality, but I feel that Hexdecimal can easily hold its own.

Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows XP,Vista,7,8
Licensing Generic Shareware License

Magnifying the Screen – Review 3

Ever want to magnify just part of your computer screen? There are a number of tools out there that can help with this task, not least of which are those included with the operating system.


Zoom is the program of choice for Mac OS X users. It can be enabled or disabled by pressing Alt-Command-8.

A screenshot highlighting the middle segment of the 'Seeing'-related Universal Access options.

Location of Zoom preferences in the Universal Access part of System Preferences.

When enabled, just press (and optionally hold) Alt-Command-= to zoom in, or Alt-Command– to zoom out.

Zoom comes standard on all Mac systems.


KMag is a program included by default with the KDE Software Compilation, which in turn is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD, and others.

Demonstration of KMag's screenshot, 'zoom out' and recursive zoom features.

Demonstration of KMag’s screenshot, ‘zoom out’ and recursive zoom features. The blurred effect was added to the screenshot in a separate program.

KMag, like many of these programs, has a static window which shows a specific section of the screen. Unlike the other environments, though, KDE includes an additional ‘desktop effect’ which is much easier to control.

The program also lets you rotate the magnification, add post-processing filters, or even zoom out.


GNOME-Mag is the default magnifier of the GNOME desktop environment.

Windows Magnifier

Magnifier is the default magnification tool of the Windows desktop.

Magnifier lens showing some of the Ease of Access Center, as described in the caption.

Demonstration of Magnifier’s separate lens, inverted colours, and 150% magnification.

It can be started from the Ease of Access Center, which can be found in the Control Panel. Pressing Windows-U will launch this Center directly.

The main magnifier window - effectively a floating toolbar. Behind the window is Windows 7's Ease of Access Center.

Screenshot of the magnifier in its default state – 100% magnification.

Features include a separate dockable lens, inverted colours, and autostart on login – all optional. However, there are no keyboard shortcuts for zooming.

OS Default Magnifier Program
Windows XP,Vista,7,8 Magnifier
Mac OS X 10.5, 10.6, 10.7, 10.8 Zoom
GNOME Desktops GNOME-Mag
KDE Desktops KMag & Magnification Effect
Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Whatever you’re currently running.
Licensing Same license as the rest of the shell – Microsoft License, Apple License, or GPL