Understanding how Color Boost works in DaVinci Resolve

Deconstructing Color Boost in DaVinci Resolve – Part 1

March 29, 2019

It's not always clear how Resolve's 'Color Boost' tool works differently than its 'Saturation' tool. This video breaks down the differences.


Updated 15 May 2019: Added links and commentary about Part 2 and turning this Insight into a Series

Can you replicate Color Boost’s behavior in other tools?

Science or perception? When learning to color grade, many post-production pros want to know the science behind their actions. For them, it’s not enough to know what a color grading operation does – they want to know how does the software do it?

I completely appreciate this approach. If you can understand the how then there’s a good chance you’ll understand when to use that tool? The Saturation tool is a good example:

  • What does it do? It increases the colorfulness of individual RGB pixels.
  • How does it do it? In a linear fashion. Whatever colors are present get scaled upwards (or downwards) as you adjust the ‘knob’.
  • When do you use it? When you want a shot to be more colorful.

Some color correction tools defy clear answers or use-cases.

If a tool is more subtle than its counterparts then it can defy clear explanations. An excellent example is Resolve’s Color Boost tool. The reference manual describes, what does it do?:

Color Boost: Lets you naturalistically raise the saturation of regions of low saturation, sometimes referred to as a vibrance operation. Can also be used to lower the saturation of regions of low saturation.

But if you need to know how does Color Boost work? Then the head-scratcher here is the word ‘naturalistically’. What the heck does that mean?

How does Color Boost work differently than Saturation? What makes it more ‘natural’?

Inspired by an online discussion, I decided to see if I could figure this out? I wasn’t interested in figuring out the math. I was interested in figuring out: Does Resolve’s Color Boost do something different than you can achieve with Saturation or Sat vs. Sat curves?

For the technically inclined, I’m not sure I’ve come up with any answers for them. But if you’ve been confused about when to reach for this tool – and if it does something unique – then this Insight should help you.

Color Boost does work differently than the other saturation controls

Unlike Saturation, which is easily replicated with the Sat. Vs Sat. curve, Color Boost uniquely affects pixels differently, depending on how saturated/desaturated each pixel is.

But like Saturation, Color Boost does affect every single pixel in the image – and often, but not always, as dramatically. And therein lies the craft of color grading.

FYI – I spent a few hours trying to replicate Color Boost by combing Saturation with HLS keys, Sat vs. Sat curves, and a few other rabbit holes. Whatever the math behind the Color Boost controls – it’s not easy to replicate elsewhere in Resolve. While it’s not always the best tool for a particular shot, I do find it works very well when you use it as described in the manual: To saturate/desaturate regions of low saturation.

Note: Do pay attention in the section where I show how large amounts of Saturation applied to saturated pixels start to shift the hue of those pixels. Color Boost doesn’t suffer this defect, and it could be another use-case – when pushing colorful pixels beyond the clipping point (if you choose to do so).

I hope you enjoy this Insight.

Coming Up in Part 2

After reading the comments below and watching/reading lots of other advice on the internet about Color Boost vs. Saturation – I decided I wasn’t happy enough with the results of this Insight. I decided to build my own set of custom patches to help us really define how Color Boost and Saturation differ from each other. After watching the video below (to understand the predicate to the next video in the Series), click through to Part 2 using the link in the sidebar (to the right) or the Series link (at the top) of this Insight.

Comments and questions?

Below the video leave your comments, questions, or observations. If you want to change how your name appears in comments, then visit this page to update your ‘social profile’.


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Homepage Forums Deconstructing Color Boost in DaVinci Resolve – Part 1

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  • Vitus S

    I like to use it in situations I bring some heavy overall color to an image and on the same node I use color boost to bring back up the original skintones without have to mask them. And then just do a little balancing between the color boost and color wheels.

  • Pat Inhofer

    Thanks for sharing your workflow! For those reading this, Color Boost is the first operation of the Primary Tools within a node. So when you apply heavy Saturation and in the same node adjust Color Boost? You’re applying it before Saturation, which is a very clean way of working.

  • Martí Somoza

    Avery Peck did an interesting video on color boost vs saturation. Saturation works by multiplying color and color boost works by adding color. So if you have an image with the most saturated part at 50 sat. and the least saturated part at 10 sat. and you bring saturation up to 100, you are multiplying it by 2 and ending up with 100 saturation in the most saturated part and 20 in the least saturated part. If you take the same image and add +50 color boost you end up with the most saturated parts at 100 sat. and the least saturated parts at 60 sat.

    Playing around with saturation and color boost within the same node can help to increase or reduce saturation on the different saturation levels, similar to what you can achieve with the sat vs sat curve, just as you were doing in the last part of this video.

  • Pat Inhofer

    Maybe he’s right. But there’s additional weirdness in the Saturation controls that his simple math doesn’t account for. I’ll do another round of testing and see if I can replicate his results. If I need to I’ll follow up with a Part 2. FYI – I haven’t found his video that covers this.

  • Edi Walger

    From the same online discussion, I wrote a note that is shared here: https://www.ediwalger.com.ar/en/blog/saturated

  • Willian Aleman

    Thanks for the insight.

    At the current time of this writing, the video doesn’t work, at least on my office computer, MacBook Pro/Mid 2015/16GB RAM/High Sierra 10.13. However, it works from the iPhone.

    Below is Avery Peck’s video about the use of Saturation, Color Boost, and the Custom Curve.
    His theory about Saturation vs Color Boost is that saturation is a multiplier while Color Boost is an added function. Similar to Color Boost, the Saturations Curve can be used to select and manipulate low color values.

    Kevin Shawn from Icolorist also has a video explaining the order of operations of the different saturation controls available in Resolve, and their different results.

    I’m surprised about how many possibilities of saturation results the Custom Curve offers.
    His video also covers Color Boost: https://vimeo.com/274745201

    Please feel free to remove the first paragraph of my post when the video playback gets solved.

  • Pat Inhofer

    Willian – For the record, I am NOT a fan of the first video you posted. There’s a ton of misinformation in there. (I’ve tried to edit the link out of your post, but Disqus is keeping it, for a reason I can’t solve).

    Kevin Shaw is terrific. And there are several fantastic techniques he demos in that video. But they don’t get the central question of Sat vs Color Boost.

    I’ve recorded a Part 2 to this Insight that digs deeper. It’s interesting. It’s a busy week of prep for NAB 2019, so it’ll take a few days before it’s edited and posted.

  • Pat Inhofer

    I love the math. But as a colorist, I have trouble turning math into a visual of how the image responds to my controls. So I’ve recorded a part 2 that digs deeper into this. And, I think, provides a more visual answer of the difference between Color Boost and Saturation controls.

  • Willian Aleman

    Patrick – Thanks for letting us know about your thoughts on Avery Peck’s video misinformation.
    I can not wait for your next insight to get deeper into this interesting subject.
    Definitely, it’s going to be helpful to find out here about the truth of Color Boost vs the other saturation controllers available in Resolve.

    I’m sorry to hear about the impossibility to get riff off of the video.
    Also, I was trying to edit a misspelling on my first post, but the site says I can not do it because the Administrator has already edited it.

    Mixing Light’s video is not working yet in my computer.

    Good luck at NAB this year. I wish I’ll meet you guys there. Your agenda sounds super interesting. Perhaps next year.

  • Edi Walger

    yes but you know, people with good sight “feels” that Col Boost work
    like Vibrance and this is totally wrong. and the user manual collaborate
    with this missconception and “false feeling”. Col Boost “push”, and Saturation “scale”. But
    Vibrance “lift” chromacities.

  • Pat Inhofer

    To be clear, I’m not offering the mathematical ‘truth’ of Color Boost. Just how to use it, why, and what to look out for on any Saturation operation in Resolve.

    Can you log into the website using Incognito or Private mode and see if that video plays?

  • Pat Inhofer

    To be fair to the User Manual, it specifically says “sometimes referred to as a vibrance operation.” The key word is ‘sometimes’. It doesn’t definitively call it a vibrance operation but provides some context to how Photoshop-type people feel like it works. I’ve heard many Photoshop users agree with that definition of how the control ‘seems’ to work.

    But I will agree the manual is misleading in that Color Boost does *much* more than just lift regions of low saturation.

  • Willian Aleman

    The video is playing back on my computer system normally now.
    Interesting, it’s featuring English captions by default.
    I didn’t do any extra effort. It just plays normal.

  • Willian Aleman

    The playback issue has been solved without extra effort at my end.

  • Marc Wielage

    Finally had a chance to take a look at this, and I think Patrick should be saluted for delving into an area of Resolve that I think very few people really understand. He’s right: Saturation and Color Boost and Sat vs. Sat are all very different, and there are places where one works better than another. (And in some cases, qualifying a soft key on low-chroma areas or high-chroma areas to control them is another method that works well.) This is not a super-glamorous part of color-correction, but it’s the “surgical scalpel” approach that helps distinguish really good work from merely “OK” color.

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