Color naming

How to Find Any Color Anywhere on Your Screen with the PowerToys Color Picker

You’ve found the missing hue that will enhance your digital art, the exact hue to use as a background color on your personal site, or a great pastel green for your RGB-lit keyboard. It’s right there, on your screen, in a picture you came across. But what now?

To use this color you will need its color code, and the best way to find it is to use a “color picker”. Fortunately, the free Windows PowerToys comes with such a tool. So, let’s see how you can use it to retrieve the color codes of anything displayed on your screen.


What is PowerToys?

PowerToys was a compilation of programs originally released for Windows 95. It was a first in that, as today’s gamers would say, PowerToys was the equivalent of the very first downloadable content (DLC for short) released for an operating system!

Since then, different versions of PowerToys have been released for almost all Windows versions. However, eventually the project fell into obscurity until Microsoft decided to revive it for Windows 10 and release the PowerToys source code on Github.

You can find out more about what you can do with this fantastic tool in our comprehensive guide on how to do more with Windows 10 and 11 using PowerToys.

You may have read our article on how you can always keep apps on top and search the web with PowerToys, but those are just two of its many tools. Another useful mini-app in the current iteration of PowerToys is its color picker, which we’ll be using in this article. So open the Microsoft Storesearch for “powertoys” and install it.

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When PowerToys is up and running, it’s time to dive into its settings to enable and configure the included color picker.

Definition of the basic configuration

PowerToys is designed to run in the background and sit idle until you need one of its tools. It’s only available for Windows, but there’s no reason to feel left out if you’re on a Mac: we’ve covered the best color picker apps for Mac in the past.

After installing and running PowerToys, it’s best to visit its settings and customize it to make sure it works (and does) what you want to.

  1. If the PowerToys icon is not visible in the Windows status bar, expand it using the up arrow. Right-click on the PowerToys icon and choose Settings from the menu.
  2. Choose the color picker in the list on the left to access its page. If off, tap the switch to the right of Enable color picker in activated state.
  3. Under the On/Off option, you will see the preset shortcut for the color picker. Does it conflict with another shortcut you already use? Edit it by clicking the little pencil icon to its right. Press the key combination you want to assign to the color picker and click Save.
  4. While you’re here, also look in the color picker Activation behavior. As expected from such a solution, you can make it select the color under the cursor. But you can also have it show an editor after choosing a color, which allows for additional enhancements.


Theoretically, that’s all you need to use the color picker. You can close the Settings window and tap the hotkey you set to “pick” any color from anything on your screen. Then use it with our guide on how to create custom color palettes in Adobe Photoshop, or when making RGB LED lights display DIY colors like we’ve seen here.

If you’re one of the purists and graphic designers who would like even more control, wait! There is more!

Working with color formats

RGB and CMYK are perhaps two of the most popular color formats, but they are far from the only ones.

RGB is primarily used for digital content, such as JPEG images or game graphics. Under RGB, each color is made up of the individual values ​​of the three distinct primary colors, red, green, and blue; hence the name.

CMYK is more prevalent in print, but instead of the simpler red-green-blue model, its “color recipe” ingredients are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

When working strictly in the digital domain, HEX codes are more popular. They work the same way as RGB but use a different scale and syntax for color values.

RGB assigns a value from 0 to 255 to each of the three primary colors, red, green, and blue.

In contrast, HEX codes use 00 as the minimum value and FF as the maximum value. The scale goes from 0 to 9, followed by A to F in alphabetical order. So a HEX code of 00FF00 is equivalent to an RGB code of 0, 255, 0, and both translate to “full green, zero red, and blue”.

PowerToys’ color picker supports more than a dozen of these color formats, but not all of them are enabled by default. And while you can turn them all on, why complicate the Color Picker editor window with redundant information you’ll never use?

Thus, it is best to activate only those that best suit your particular needs. Scroll down the Color Picker settings window and you will see an option for the Default color format.

Set it to the type of color coding you use the most. If you spend most of your time in applications like Photoshop and Illustrator, this would probably be RGB, CMYKor HSV. If you work with Inkscape, GIMP, or write CSS to “style” web content, HEX, LGVor RGB Maybe better.

In the same place, you will also find an option to Show color name. Turn it on to have the color picker window also show a friendlier (but less accurate) name for the selected color (like “light green” or “dark yellow”).

Since the PowerToys editor window has extra space, you can display multiple color codes there. You can activate the ones you want to activate under Editor > Color Formats. Remember not to overdo it if you want to keep the editor window “clean” and easily readable.


Choose a color, any color

With the color picker enabled and active, press the assigned hotkey and you will see a small window appear next to the slider. As you move the cursor across the screen, the window updates with a preview of the color it is pointing to and its color value (in the “default color format” selected in the Color Picker settings).

If you click somewhere while the color picker is active, its editor will appear.

  • At the top left you will see the color of the screen point where you clicked. Below, there will be two “complementary” colors.
  • At the top of this window you will see a gradient, useful when the shade you clicked on is not precisely the one you wanted.
  • Below the top gradient you will see a list of the selected color code in all enabled color formats. Each of them has a button on its right, with which you can copy this value to the clipboard, and then paste it somewhere else – like in a graphics editing application.
  • The color picker button at the top left allows you to return to color picker mode, to select another point on your screen.
  • The cog icon in the top right takes you back to the Color Picker Settings page.


So even when juggling multiple color formats, PowerToys’ color picker makes it easy to find the best color. Tap on its shortcut, click on a color you like, and copy the appropriate “code” to the clipboard.

You are now the color master

With PowerToys Color Picker in your arsenal, it’s easy to “recognize” any color from any type of source and then use it in your projects.

Such a tool is indispensable for professionals confronted with several color values ​​every day. However, the “all-inclusive” nature of PowerToys as an “extension to the core Windows feature set” makes it useful for everyone.

This is especially true these days, with “personal customization” everywhere, from an app theme’s “color accents” to RGB lights on a CPU fan.

Plus, as part of PowerToys, it comes with almost zero “footprint” and can be on hand whenever you need it.


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