In Depth: Color Correction vs Color Grading

in depth color correction vs color grading

I’ve heard the terms Color Correction and Color Grading used interchangeably but they are not the same things. I’ll explain the difference, show you some tools to fix and tweak color, point you to a few tutorials, give you some side-by-side examples and breakdowns. Finally, I’ll link you to some free tools you can use for color correction or grading.

Image credit: Nijwam Swargiary @pixel_talkies

In this Article


What is the difference between color correction and color grading? It seems like the words are used interchangeably in loose chat about projects. 

While there is cross-over with software and plugins which are used for both purposes, there is a fundamental difference in the processes. The terms are NOT interchangeable.

  • Color correction is used to make the colors more accurate by fixing white balance, black levels, saturation, contrast, etc. It is also used to match shots and elements in compositing. Color correction can even go into stabilizing flicker problems in your footage. Always color correct your footage before color grading your footage.
  • Color grading is used to give style and an artistic look to footage and set the mood or tone. Sci-fi films tend to have crushed blacks and bluer tones. Romance movies may have warmer tones and a softer color palette. Action films often have saturated and contrasting colors.

30 Second Film School explains this question quite nicely.

Color Correction and Color Grading Software and Tools

I will barely touch on all of the tools available, but here are some of the well-known video color tools, and a few lesser-known plug-ins.

Standalone Tools

Adobe Creative Cloud


Adobe Creative Cloud (After Effects, Premiere Pro) has tools built in for Color, but Adobe SpeedGrade – part of Adobe Creative Cloud. Deliver balanced color and distinctive, visually vibrant looks for any type of video production. Grade faster with more connected tools and over a dozen powerful new features and a redesigned interface that’s both intuitive and familiar for Adobe Premiere Pro users.



Apple Final Cut Pro, Motion and other NLEs have built-in tools but here are some that are meant specifically for color. Apple Color – Standalone. Get it from the App Store.


davinci resolve


Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

Standalone. DaVinci color correctors have been the standard in post-production since 1984. There are thousands of colorists worldwide who understand the performance, quality and workflow of DaVinci. DaVinci is the name behind more feature films, television commercials, documentaries, television production, and music videos than any other grading system.


Plug-ins and Presets

  • LookLabs SpeedLooks – Plug-in for Adobe SpeedGrade. Finally, a digital video ‘looks’ package that works in real time, the first time you use it. SpeedLooks was developed by artists, for artists. Inspired by the best films of today and yesterday, SpeedLooks will bring the personality, character, and beauty of 35mm film to any digital video project. SpeedLooks by LookLabs™. Revolutionizing the way you create beautiful footage. One look at a time.
  • Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse – Standalone and plug-in for After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Motion, and Premiere Pro. Now you can have a telecine-style color correction that fits your workflow rather than imposing a new one. Color Finesse 3 gives you the high-end color correction and enhancement tools you need both as a plug-in for your favorite application.
  • Red Giant Colorista II – Plug-in for After Effects, Premiere and Final Cut Pro. Colorista II brings gorgeous color grading to your favorite editors, and moves between them with consistent, natural-looking results. Its three stages of correction — Primary, Secondary, Master — use a color engine that’s similar to big-budget systems. Only available in the Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite.
  • Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks – Plug-in for After Effects, Photoshop, Premiere, Final Cut Pro and FCP X, Motion, Avid, and Sony Vegas. This is a tool for color grading, and starts out very simple, with 100’s of beautifully designed presets/treatments that range from practical lighting to popular Hollywood cinema or create your own.  Only available in the Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite.
  • Boris Continuum Unit: Color and Tone – Plug-in for After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and Motion. The Boris Continuum Color and Tone Unit provides professional grade color grading tools as well as videoscope monitoring to ensure that your colors are safe. BCC 3 Way Color Grade lets you independently adjust the bright, mid, and dark region of a clip via built-in color spheres which are not only easy to use but offer real-time results. Included with Boris Continuum.
  • Yanobox Moods – Plug-in for FCPX, Motion, Premiere Pro and After Effects. Moods is a unique color grading plug-in with a full-screen interface.
  • Nattress Levels and Curves – Plug-in for FCP, Motion and After Effects. The power of curve-based color adjustments applied in film-log space.
  • Hawaiki Autograde – AutoGrade 3.0 lets you sample skin tones for even better results, and includes a new tool for quicker, “no configuration required” color correction. AutoGrade is available now for Premiere Pro, After Effects, Motion, Final Cut Pro X and Final Cut Pro 7.

Tutorials on Color Grading and Color Correction

Film Riot gives the basics on color grading to get a filmic, stylish look.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

Davinci Resolve Fundamentals


DaVinci Resolve Fundamentals (10 Videos)

A series by Bran Hvítabjörninn and AE Tuts+ on the DaVinci Resolve.

Day for Night


DaVinci Resolve – Using Versions Tutorial

Explore how to create multiple versions of a color grade over a sequence or on individual clips.

RGB Mixer tutorial


DaVinci Resolve – RGB Mixer Tutorial

Take a look at some uses for the RBG Mixer. How to get a monochrome image with impact, and then use that to create a high-contrast, high-saturation look.


Adobe Products

Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro



Adobe Premiere Pro CC: Lumetri Deep Color Engine

Quickly apply rich, beautiful, preset color grades in Adobe Premiere Pro CC thanks to the Lumetri Deep Color Engine. With the Looks Browser, preview and add looks from Adobe SpeedGrade CC as easily as adding a dissolve. Also import LUTs from other systems.

Color Grading Premiere 5.5


Color grading and finishing in Premiere Pro CS5.5

You’ll learn how to create masks for color correction inside of Premiere Pro, and to tweak parts of the image without affecting others. You’ll learn how to use Jarle’s Grading Tools (a collection of useful presets) to speed up your own color grading workflow.

Compositing and Color Correction


Compositing and Color Correction in After Effects and Premiere Pro

Eran Stern returns to show you how he created the promo for his new DVD: The Best of Premiere Pro. He’ll cover keying, compositing, color correction and visual effects in After Effects and Premiere Pro.

Color Correcting Typewriter


Color Correcting Typewriters by Stu Maschwitz

Stu explains how to add color correction masks in 3D space on his Prolost blog.


Apple Final Cut Pro and Other



LUTs and FCPX by Oliver Peters

Check out this tutorial and let Oliver Peters give you the rundown on how LUTs in Final Cut Pro X can help you out with your next project!


Adobe SpeedGrade and LookLabs SpeedLooks

speedgrade cheatsheet


Adobe SpeedGrade Cheat Sheet

Workflow – By Jeff August at LookLabs. In our first tutorial, Jeff will provide you with a valuable cheat sheet for working with SpeedGrade. He explains how to build efficient file structure and works through basic project management. You’ll learn the process to load footage from different sources through to a completed timeline set-up in the new SpeedGrade interface. Lots to learn, but Jeff makes it easy!

Speedgrade speedlooks timeline setup


SpeedGrade/SpeedLooks Timeline Setup

By Jeff August at LookLabs. In our next tutorial, Jeff gives you simple instructions to set up your timeline for color correction in SpeedGrade. He shows you how to create layers, step through your timeline scene by scene and most importantly, ready your timeline to apply SpeedLooks.




Applying and Working With LookLabs SpeedLooks by Jeff August at LookLabs

In Tutorial #3, Jeff shows you how to apply and work with SpeedLooks. He demonstrates all the steps to get you started on color grading your next project with SpeedLooks.



Plug-ins for a variety of NLEs

yanobox moods


Yanobox Moods

Color Grading Tutorial for Final Cut Pro, Motion & After Effects with Yanobox Moods

color correction


Color Correcting Food with Magic Bullet Colorista II

Stu Maschwitz helps a friend match and color correct food footage

Color Correcting Magic Bullet in FCP


Red Giant QuickTip #29: Magic Bullet Colorista and Window Layouts in FCP

Apple Certified Master Trainer Simon Walker, will show you the benefits of using the window layout shortcuts when adjusting filter settings, to help you become a faster Final Cut Pro editor.

Color image


Using the Auto Shoulder Tool in Magic Bullet Looks

Apple Certified Master Trainer, Simon Walker, shares a tip for keeping your bright highlights legal in Final Cut when using Magic Bullet Looks. This is also a very useful tip for those working with Looks in any editing or compositing application, like Adobe After Effects or Premiere.

Customizing Presets


Tiffen Dfx Customizing Presets

Customizing Filters and Creating Presets



Nattress Levels and Curves Overview

Take control of your footage with the power of curves applied in film-log space. The power of curve-based color adjustments applied in film-log space. Compatible with Final Cut Pro 6, 7 and X, Motion 3, 4 and 5, After Effects CS3, CS4, CS5 and CS5.5.

Creating a Summer Blockbuster Film Look with Stu Maschwitz

Sin City’s Visual Effects Supervisor – and our new Creative Director – Stu Maschwitz, shows you how to get the Summer Blockbuster look seen in Transformers 2, Terminator: Salvation, and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.

Before and After Examples and Breakdowns

Color Grading Breakdowns from Charles-Etienne Pascal

This series is from Charles-Etienne Pascal is from Charles-Etienne Pascalread about the breakdown on the I See Hue blog.

Below is Shot 2, with an explanation of the breakdown on the I See Hue blog.

Below is Shot 3, with an explanation of the breakdown on the I See Hue blog;

There are many more examples from I See Hue, and I suggest checking out their Color Grading section on their blog for more of the good stuff!

GRADING BREAK DOWN from Riingo Banerjee

Inspirations: A Conversation with Filmmaker Riingo Banerjee – Digital filmmaker Riingo Banerjee has been doing films with his company, Ring A Bell Films. Riingo talks about color grading his love of Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks and Mojo.

Freebies for Color Grading and Color Correction

free color grading presets


In Depth: 9 Great Freebies for Color Grading After Effects & Premiere Pro

The Beat has linked to some nice presets for Premiere Pro & After Effects to give your video work unique color looks. The first couple is from their list. I’ve expanded on the free presets, plus added some great free color grading plug-ins for AE PPRO and more!

free color grading presets


Freebie: DV Rebel Tools for After Effects

Stu Maschwitz has a free download up on his blog; DV Revel Tools for Adobe After Effects. Check it out, you just may like it!

free color grading presets


Freebie: Jarle’s Premiere Pro Presets Version 2.0

Jarle Leirpoll says “The 1.0 version of my presets has been downloaded more than 22.000 times and is used daily by documentary film editors, wedding video makers, students, and even by big broadcast companies. Now, you can download version 2.0, with even cooler presets.”

Share This Post

Subscribe to Toolfarm!

Get the latest updates on products, sales, tutorials, and freebies, delivered bi-weekly to your inbox!

Posted by Michele Yamazaki