Why you need a color control surface

Why You Need a Color Control Panel


Y ou can achieve excellent results using just the software controls, but the fastest and most accurate way to color grade is with a color control surface. It’s the heart of any professional color grading suite, and here is why.


Every aspect of the image can be adjusted with a control surface, including exposure, hue, saturation and secondaries. It has wheels, knobs, dials and buttons for everything and you can accurately fine tune any parameter.

One of the most important benefits is that you can use both hands to adjust several controls simultaneously, instead of making individual adjustments on single controls, one at a time, with a mouse.

This allows for creative play and exploration of hue combinations that will be extremely hard to achieve with the mouse alone. It encourages you to come up with different looks faster, and it’s a much more reliable way to get to a good result.

Keeping your eyes on the image instead of clicking around on the various controls inside the software UI is also a much better way to grade.



The slightest exposure or hue change will have a great impact on the image and you can gain much more precise results using wheels, knobs and buttons with resistance. It’s nearly impossible to do fine-grained adjustments with the mouse.


When working with a control surface over time, you will develop what is called “muscle memory”. Your hands will start to intuitively reach for the dedicated knobs, dials, buttons and wheels while your eyes stay on the image. It saves a lot of time and makes color grading a breeze.

In addition, the panel layouts are editable and you can customize any physical control to your own preferences. You have every tool at your fingertips, and that’s a big time saver!


Don’t underestimate the value of an impressed client. A panel is a great looking piece of hardware, and owning one shows that you are serious about your craft. Who isn’t impressed by the look of the Tangent’s Element Panels made from precision laser-cut solid aluminum with handcrafted black metal rings from Angry Face?


There are several alternatives on the market, and the first you will probably look at is Blackmagic Design’s own panels. The big advanced panel ($30,000) will be out of reach for most colorists, and the same goes for FilmLight’s Blackboard panel.

Blackmagic Design does offer low cost alternatives such as the Mini ($3000) and Micro panel ($1000), which are more affordable. These are both well-built and have the most necessary controls included, but you need to be aware that there are some limitations. The most important one is that they only work with DaVinci Resolve.


If you work with a variety of applications, there are good reasons to look at Tangent’s Element panels. It’s a far more versatile and future proof control surface from the reputable company Tangent, which consists of four units: Element Tk (Triple trackerball unit), Element Bt (Button panel), Element Kb (Knobs panel) and Element Mf (Multi-function panel incl. jog wheel). It is compatible with a wide range of professional applications and plugins including all the major ones used in post-production and on-set. Recently Tangent even added support for Lightroom, Audition and are now working on support for Unreal Engine.

Another good reason to consider the Element panels is that the ergonomics are excellent and your keyboard can be positioned nicely in front of the panels. That isn’t necessarily the case with the Mini panel, because it is much deeper.


Also, the build quality is excellent with high-quality optical encoders, dials and buttons, which give the perfect amount of resistance. Thanks to the smart modular design of the panels, you don’t necessarily have to buy all four units. The Tk is a good choice if you want the color wheels only, and if you want a smaller board to only control some specific features such as the printer lights and keyers, the Bt and Kb might be a combination that works for you.


The full set with all the four units currently sells for $3300 and some colorists even prefer to put together multiple parts of each unit and expand their set of Elements beyond just the standard four.


For those who are looking for a budget alternative, Tangent also offers the smaller Wave2 that is available for only $950. The plastic chassis might turn you off, but it’s actually quite sturdy, includes all the necessary controls, and features 3 displays and a jog wheel.

The big benefit with this board is that it’s highly portable and can easily be carried around to different facilities and brought on location for on-set coloring. It’s by far the best all-in-one panel on the market.

Tangent also offer a very popular entry level panel called Ripple for $350 with 3 trackerballs, dials and 2x customizable buttons.

One last option is the Avid Artist Color Panel ($1195), but it’s discontinued. You can still find used ones on eBay, but for now the best advice is to stay away. It requires an Ethernet port to work, which your laptop of choice might not offer. Also, many of our members have reported connectivity issues with DaVinci Resolve and the panel SDK is not updated for Apple M1 compatibility.

Stig Olsen

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Excellent article Stig!

I've been using a BM Mini Panel at the studio and a Tangent Wave 2 at home for quite a while now, but I'm considering upgrading the Wave to an Element. Those Angry Face's rings & trackerballs surely look sexy! 😍

Edited by Tobia Montanari Lughi
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Very nice write-up and, and I also love the sweet monitor on that top pic. Is mapping different functions to the buttons and knobs a straight forward process on the Elements? Considering a buy because I'm jumping a lot more between apps now than earlier. 

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