Color Replacement Tool: Be Creative In Half The Time


Photoshop has a lot of tools. Tools that you may never consider using and tools that you can’t live without. The color replacement tool is a part of the latter. With this tool you can change Sue’s back pack from green to red, Joe’s hair from red to blue and the sky from blue to yellow – and every combination in between. This tool is great for artists who want to skew the image a bit with their creative twist, or for photographers who need to touch up a photo.

For the artists on Photoshop, check out this course: Photoshop for Artists. For you Photographers, try the Photoshop for Photographers course.

Color Replacement Tool

So we know why we may need this, but how do we find it? Easy. The color replacement tool can be found on your Photoshop toolbar which is defaulted to display on the left side of your screen. Within this tool bar there are a bunch of tiny icons, and within most of those icons there are more icons. (Right click on one and see!)Tools upon tools upon tools. The one we’re working with today looks like a paint brush – because it kind of is. You can access it by right-clicking on the paint brush icon on your toolbar and selecting color replacement tool.


You can also activate it by pushing the Photoshop shortcut for the brush tool which is B, and then rotate through the brush options by using SHIFT+B. Okay, now you know where it is, let’s get to how to use it.


In Photoshop you have the option to select a foreground color and a background color. At the bottom of your toolbar you will see two squares overlapping each other. Chances are they are two different colors, probably black and white. If you double click on one of them you can change the color to anything you like. The reason this is important is because the color replacement tool utilizes the foreground and background colors to determine what color you want to eliminate and what color you want to replace it with. We will get into the details, but just understand what these two colored squares are and where they are located. For more Photoshop basics, take the course Photoshop 101.


Example 1: Tongue Color

Below, we have a dird (dog + bird). We’re going to change the color of this dird’s tongue from pink to blue to match it wing.

Step 1:

Open the picture you want to edit in Photoshop. Go to File>Open and select the appropriate image.


Step 2:

Remember how we talked about the foreground and background? Well now is the time to change the colors. Since we want the tongue to become the same color as the wing we are going to:

1. Use the eyedropper tool to pick up the exact blue color of the wing so we can use that color on the tongue. (Picture an eyedropper in science class sucking up a colored liquid so you can squirt it out somewhere else.)

2. To activate this tool use the shortcut I (i). The eyedropper tool merely turns the foreground color to whatever color we click on. This is important because the foreground color is the paint for our color replacement tool.

3. With the eyedropper tool activated – click on a blue portion of the wing. Now look at those two squares on the toolbar – see how the front one is blue now? That means you did it right.


Step 3:

Now that your foreground is set to the color you want to use in replacement we can activate the color replacement tool by using one of the methods discussed previously. You should see your cursor transform to a big circle with a target in the center. If you see this, you’re doing good.

Next we want to change the size of the brush. Look at the top left corner of you Photoshop screen and you should see a circle with a number under it. (Only if the brush tool/color replacement tool is activated). Click on it. If your circle is really small but the area you want to color is big – drag the slider to the right which increases the brush number, and the brush size. Likewise, the opposite is true. You can also use the shortcut for increasing/decreasing the brush size; use the brackets [ ] on your keyboard. The ] will increase the size and the [ will decrease the size. Photoshop is full of handy tricks like these. Learn more in the course Photoshop Essentials.

Now the way the color replacement tool works is whatever colored pixel the target (center of the circle) is over is the colored pixel that will be replaced. If any of the pixels within the circle itself are the same color as the pixel at the target center – they will also be replaced with the foreground color we choose in Step 2. This may sound confusing, but let’s check it out.

We have a dird with his tongue out. His tongue is pink, but we want it blue.



We already set our color to the blue of the wing in step 2 and our color replacement tool is already activated. We’re going to “paint” the tongue and see what happens. (If you need to zoom in – like I do here – you can do so by hitting CTRL and the plus sign. Zoom out is CTRL plus the minus sign.)


Look at that! A partially blue tongue. As you paint you will notice that the circle can encompass any other color and it won’t change anything except for the color under the target. This feature makes it easy to “stay in the lines”.

Alright, I’m going to finish painting and let’s see the results.


It’s that easy. Save your image and you’re good to go!

Example 2 – Background Color Change

Let’s take it a step further and change the background (sky) in the picture below to pink. There are several ways we can do this but we’re going to use the color replacement tool this go around as there are many blades of grass and coloring it in with any other tool would be cumbersome. Read how to get rid of a white background in a photo in this article.

Step 1

Go ahead and open the picture you want to edit.


Step 2

Select the foreground color you want the background (sky) of the picture to be. You can do this by arbitrarily choosing a color, or using the eye dropper method above. We’re going to just pick a pink from the color swatch selector.


Step 3

Now activate the color replacement tool. Begin painting! It’s so much easier using this tool than it would be trying to use a layer mask or the typical paint brush. You just click where ever you want the pink to go. Here’s the sky in process:


And the sky completed:


Alright, pro. Now you know how to edit a picture to make it really unique and fun. It’s not that hard to do but the color replacement tool cuts the work down by 95%! There are a lot of other cool tools in Photoshop to learn about so take this course: Crash Course on Photoshop Tools.