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Future Apple Pencil Could Have Sensor to Sample Colors From the Real World


macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001

Apple is exploring new Apple Pencil technology that could allow the device to sample colors from the real world to use in digital art, drawings, edits, and more, according to an Apple patent application published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office this week.

Titled "Computer System With Color Sampling Stylus," the patent describes a computer stylus that "may have a color sensor."

The color sensor would be equipped with several photodetectors able to measure light for different color channels, which would let it detect and sample a color from a real world object, like a flower.

The stylus could also be equipped with a light to make it easier for the photodetectors to accurately determine a color, and the rest of the patent describes an Apple Pencil-like design with an elongated body, a tip, and an opposing end, with the tip able to work with a touch-sensitive display.

Apple says the color sensor functionality could be located at the end of the stylus, at the tip, or coupled to the tip through a light guide.

With this kind of technology, Apple Pencil users would be able to do something like hold the Apple Pencil against an object in the real world, with the Apple Pencil reading the color. It could be used for photorealistic paintings or just sampling of unique colors from grass, plants, existing art, and so much more.

According to the patent, the stylus would detect the color and then put it in a color palette in a drawing program, where the color could be assigned to a brush. Apple also suggests that color sensor could perhaps be used for other purposes such as calibrating displays, calibrating printers, making health-related measurements, and identifying paint colors for home projects, which would make the Apple Pencil even more versatile.

Optical color sensors like this already exist and have been used in various ways. In fact, we've tested a simple, rudimentary optical color sensor in the Sphero Specdrums, a product meant to turn color into sound. This product includes a little finger ring that can be tapped against real world objects to make sounds based on the color it senses, but Apple's implementation would presumably be much more precise.

Apple patents all kinds of different technologies, some of which seem plausible to implement and others that are quite fantastical. There's never any guarantee that Apple's patents will be used for real products, and in fact, most patents are for technologies that never get released.

For that reason, there's no word on whether Apple actually plans to add a color sensor to the Apple Pencil, or if this is simply an idea that's never going to make it out of the possibilities phase.

Article Link: Future Apple Pencil Could Have Sensor to Sample Colors From the Real World
  • Wow
Reactions: lolrepeatlol


macrumors 68040
Sep 19, 2012
The Adobe team had an Ink pencil demo with color sampling like this at one of the MAX conferences a few years ago. Wonder if that was completely abandoned...
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Gasu E.

macrumors 601
Mar 20, 2004
Not far from Boston, MA.
I'm going to say upfront I'm not in graphic arts and know nothing about "color accuracy" in that domain. Having said that, given that the perceived color of an object varies depending on the spectrum of the light reflecting off that object, would the Apple pencil have to supply some kind of reference light?

Analog Kid

macrumors 603
Mar 4, 2003
Now that is a freaking cool idea.

I've got a little color meter that I can use to sample colors, but it's a bit awkward to use and then make use of the color data from. Using this like the freaking eyedropper tool would be brilliant.
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macrumors regular
Jun 21, 2009
The idea is cool, but I don't see any practical application that justifies the increased complexity and cost.

It feels like something I would try a couple of times out of curiosity and then not even remember this feature exists after a month.

Doctor Q

Staff member
Sep 19, 2002
Los Angeles
This feature could be especially helpful for color blind users like me. Since I can't identify most colors visually, I do a lot sampling/copying/pasting of colors, or looking them up and specifying them by their RGB values. Being able to grab a color and digitize it physically would be super useful.
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