A teaser image showing the new MacBook Pro model released in 2018 with True Tone display technology

All MacBook Pro models introduced in 2018 take advantage of Apple’s True Tone technology to make the images on both the built-in Retina display and Touch Bar appear more natural. By matching the display’s color temperature to the surrounding light, True Tone helps reduce eyestrain. Here’s how to use his handy feature on your latest MacBook Pro.

True to its word

An advanced ambient light sensor in 2018’s MacBook Pros continually assesses brightness and color temperature (older models have a sensor that can only assess brightness).

Using sensor data, software then dynamically adjusts the display’s white balance so that it matches the light around you. What you’re ended up with is an accurate viewing experience that not only reduces eyestrain but also makes the images appear more natural.

It’s all about perception, really.

The illustration depicting the effects of the True Tone feature on an iPad Pro display's color temperature under different lighting conditions

True Tone made its debut on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro model in 2016

What the color-matching basically does is fool the user’s brain into believing that their subjective perception of display colors is the same regardless of their actual surroundings. Rather than change apps or their graphic assets, True Tone simply alters the display’s white balance and color temperature to match the current lighting scenario.

TUTORIAL: Using Night Shift on Mac to reduce exposure to sleep-depriving blue light

This “paper-like” viewing experience (in Apple talk) can be likened to how a sheet of white paper appears to look warmer and yellower or cooler and bluer under different lighting conditions.

Although True Tone is currently limited to 2018’s MacBook Pro models, it will be making its way into other Macs as they are refreshed. True Tone debuted in the original 9.7-inch iPad Pro back in 2016 before it was subsequently added to the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X series, 2017’s iPad Pros (10.5 and 12.9-inch models) and 2018’s MacBook Pros.

True Tone in clamshell mode

On the latest MacBook Pros, True Tone relies on a multi-channel ambient light sensor found next to the FaceTime HD camera at the top of the display. If an external display is connected to the notebook, the lid must remain open for True Tone to work.

In other words, True Tone won’t work when using your notebook in clamshell mode.

Apple’s support document acknowledges that True Tone can also adjust the color temperature on LG’s UltraFine 4K and UltraFine 5K displays, as well as on Apple’s own Thunderbolt Display when connected to the notebook via an Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter.

How to use True Tone on your Mac

You can turn True Tone on or off in the Displays preference pane.

1) Open System Preferences via the Apple menu, Siri, the Dock or your Applications folder.

2) Click the icon labeled Displays.

3) Now click the Display tab.

4) Tick the box next to True Tone to turn the feature on.

A macOS screenshot showing the Display preference pane with a True Tone toggle

Similarly, turn True Tone off by unticking the box.

The following display accessibility settings might turn off True Tone:

  • Invert Colors
  • Increase Contrast
  • Grayscale

If you don’t see the True Tone toggle in your Display preferences, that’s because your Mac has a less-capable ambient light sensor that can only measure brightness, not color temperature.

By continually adapting display brightness and temperature to make the colors appear consistent in different ambient lighting conditions, True Tone helps reduce eyestrain.

If you use your computer late at night, it may also be a good idea to turn the Night Shift feature on which will help reduce the amount of light-disrupting blue light emission.

You can use True Tone along with Night Shift.

True Tone and pro work

It should be noted that True Tone does not necessarily clash with work done by creative professionals who depend on precise color reproduction. If you’re editing video, touching up photographs or working on an illustration, Apple’s ColorSync color management system already takes care of accurate color reproduction across screens and operating systems.

A press image showing the refreshed MacBook Pro models for 2018 featuring a True Tone-enabled Retina display

Even in those situations, enabling True Tone will tweak the display’s color temperature accordingly so that your project is perceived in the same way no matter the lighting conditions.

And that’s how you use True Tone on your Mac like a pro!

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