How to create and photograph cosmetic swatches with CGI

Colorful, bright, in different shapes and textures, and popular worldwide – we are talking about make-up and cosmetics, of course! Photographing cosmetic swatches has become a practice among beauty professionals, bloggers, and retailers. Why? To…

How to create and photograph cosmetic swatches with CGIHow to create and photograph cosmetic swatches with CGI
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Colorful, bright, in different shapes and textures, and popular worldwide – we are talking about make-up and cosmetics, of course! Cosmetic swatches photography has become a practice among beauty professionals, bloggers, and retailers. Why? To better showcase the product and give people an idea of what they can buy. But, considering how sought-after this process is, can you stand out from the crowd? In the following article, we will give you some tips on how to do this.

What You Need to Photograph Cosmetic Swatches

It all starts with creativity and your equipment. What you want to use and how you want to achieve your goal will have a significant impact on your final photos. So let us start from the beginning.

Camera and Tripod

Regardless of which camera you want to use – a professional camera or even your smartphone – you need something you can take beautiful pictures with. So before you decide on a camera, you need to make sure it has the required settings so that it can recognize all the vibrant colors, shades, and hues, so you can photograph cosmetic swatches unhindered. Of course, a professional camera would be better for this type of shoot as it delivers higher quality and reduces post-processing time, but that is entirely up to you.

Once you have decided on a camera, you should add a tripod to your equipment list. If you can hold the camera by hand, you have to be prepared for camera shake and possible blurring. To avoid all this, you should invest in a tripod. It does not have to be the most expensive, but one that is compatible with your camera.

Lights, Reflectors, and Lenses
Lights, Reflectors, and Lenses

Lights, Reflectors, and Lenses

An essential part of any photo shoot is the light. The right lighting can do wonders for any item you want to photograph. The best light source is natural light, as your clients will surely love to see how the products look against their skin in natural light. However, if this is not possible, you can switch to artificial light.

To photograph cosmetic swatches, you should use a strong, precise light source, placed directly over the swatch so that the colors are vivid and easy to see. This placement will also help you a lot in post-processing.

You can also experiment with reflectors and see if a second light source can enhance your photo even more. When it comes to lenses, you might want to use a macro one. Thus, you will be able to take accurate shots of the cosmetic swatch and emphasize the texture at the same time.

Working Surface to Photograph Cosmetic Swatches

Another game-changer element you want to be mindful of when photographing cosmetic swatches is the working surface. Regardless of the cosmetic texture you plan on working with, the working surface can become an ally or an obstacle in getting that high-quality image. So, here are a few tips on choosing it.

  • Keep it neutral. The working surface should always be a neutral color, or a complementary color, so the product color can be easily seen. Thus, a white working surface is the safest choice.
  • Avoid paper. While the first surface you might think to use is a piece of paper, it is better to stay away from those when you photograph cosmetic swatches. The paper texture will show up on camera – and it will take a while to get rid of it in post-production – and it will absorb the product. This, in turn, will result in a different product texture and even color – which you surely want to avoid.
  • Choose a textureless material. You might consider using a white silicone mat or a matte painter palette. The silicone mat has no texture, which is perfect for a cosmetic swatch photoshoot. Moreover, it will not interact with the products, so you can take accurate images of it, and neither will a painter’s palette. Additionally, both are easy to clean, so you can easily ‘reset’ your background for the next image.
  • Select a good cleaning product. It is essential to have a good cleaning product for your working space. So, depending on the material you decide upon, select a cleaning product that can help you keep the working area spotless without deteriorating it.

Palette Knives and Brushes

Lastly, you should consider adding to your inventory a pack of palette knives and brushes. While they are painting tools, they will be quite useful in smearing the cosmetics in the working space and even positioning the product according to your preferences.

Choose a pack that comes with different shapes of palette knives so you can later experiment with different swatches. Additionally, painting brushes are great for smearing creamy products like lipsticks, concealers, or foundations. They will also create interesting shapes, providing eye-catching results.

Traditional V.S. CGI Cosmetic Swatches

Traditional V.S. CGI Cosmetic Swatches
Traditional V.S. CGI Cosmetic Swatches

You can go in about two ways to photograph cosmetic swatches: traditionally or digitally. In this section, we will describe both methods, so you can better understand them, and decide which is better for your business model.

How to Traditionally Photograph Cosmetic Swatches

Similar to other types of photo shoots, for a traditional photoshoot you will need a studio, all the technical equipment, and the physical products you plan on photographing. Once everything is in place, you should start experimenting with how you wish to portray your swatches.

They can range from a simple dash to swirls and turns, as well as different quantities of the product. Place the product on your working surface and experiment with it like an artist would do with paints on a canvas. Once you have found the perfect shape for your swatch, capture it on the camera. Repeat the process for all your cosmetic products. Remember that depending on how many cosmetic products you have, this entire process might be faster or longer.

Once you have your cosmetic swatches photographs, it is time to start the post-production process. This requires an editing software which allows you to enhance the pictures you have already taken. Play around with the settings until you are satisfied with the clarity, lighting, and vibrancy of the result.

CGI Cosmetic Swatches Photography

While for traditional photography you will need time and budget, when it comes to CGI cosmetic swatch photography, the entire process is simplified. Everything happens on the computer, so there is no need for complex studio equipment or hours spent on trial-and-error images.

The swatches are a 3D rendering of the originals, so you can be sure they are photorealistic and reflect the identical image you would obtain if you were to use the camera. The differences lay in the details. A CGI rendering is completely customizable, from beginning to end so you can switch between colors and textures in the blink of an eye.

Additionally, since it can be custom-made as you want, you can change its shape quicker and more hassle-free than you do in the traditional medium. For example, you want to switch from a simple dash of product to a swirl – said and done with just a few clicks. There are also several changes you can make to colors and textures, as well.

What it means for your business is that you save time and money while receiving the same results, or even results of higher quality, than you would gain from a traditional photo shoot. The cosmetic industry is tough so CGI cosmetic swatch photography can be what your business needs to get ahead of the competition.

Tips and Tricks to Photography Cosmetic Swatches

Tips and Tricks to Photography Cosmetic Swatches
Tips and Tricks to Photography Cosmetic Swatches

No matter which method you choose, CGI cosmetic swatch photography or traditional photo shoot, some key elements should always be present in the final images. We will detail some of the most important ones below.

  • Consistency. Make sure the images stay consistent with your brand image. If you wish to portray simplicity and refinement, the swatches should also have a simple and elegant design. Moreover, the same ‘theme’ should be present in all the images related to your brand so your customers can easily recognize your products.
  • Keep in mind the destination. How do you plan on using the cosmetic swatch images? Do you want to include them in a brochure or use them on your website? Maybe you want to use them in the upcoming social media advertising campaign. Depending on where you want to showcase them, you can switch the elements present in the background to make for a more eye-catching composition.
  • Products matter. Consider the moment you wish to show your clients these products and images. For example, a moisturizing cream is better received in cold months, whereas a thin concealer works even in summer.
  • Arm models. A great way to allow your clients to grasp how the product will look on the skin is by using arm models in your photoshoot. However, this method is better reserved for eyeshadows, concealers, blush, foundation, or contouring rather than facial creams, shower gels, or cosmetics that are absorbed into the skin. Presenting products on a model helps clients see how they would look before purchasing.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you plan on taking on the task of photographing cosmetic swatches. However, remember that you can always experiment with new methods and select the one that works best for your business.

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The cosmetic industry is one of the largest and most competitive industries, as it is always adding something new each day. So, to keep up and stand out from the competition, you need good, high-quality products and images. While you can always opt for traditional methods to obtain those images, it’s best to remember that CGI rendering is the fastest, more budget-efficient means of getting even better results.


Can I create a cosmetic swatch with CGI?

Definitely! You can create a 3D CGI rendering of your cosmetic swatch with the assistance of a professional team. The final rendering will match precisely with the physical one, enabling you to plan for your next advertising campaign with confidence.

What is the best option, CGI or traditional photography?

Both mediums share the same goal of providing you with beautiful, eye-catching, and captivating images. However, traditional photography demands a considerable amount of time, money, and resources to achieve the final result, while CGI photography can deliver results faster and within a budget-friendly range. 

Can I do CGI photography by myself?

If you’re interested in CGI photography, you can certainly try it out on your own. However, for fast and professional results, it’s recommended that you collaborate with a professional team.

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Martin Pitonak

Martin Pitonak is a creative professional and entrepreneur with nearly 20 years of experience in the creative industry. His passion for helping businesses in all areas of visual marketing sets him apart in a variety…