If you work as an artist, graphic designer, or photographer, you will likely need to modify the color in your images. Perhaps the bride’s dress didn’t turn out white enough in the photos you took, or maybe your company changed its branding requirements, and the colors you used for your logo no longer work. When unforeseen circumstances like this arise, you can use Adobe Photoshop to correct the issue or to alter portions of your image.

Photoshop replace color features

Although you can use it for many different purposes, Photoshop is primarily a form of editing software. This does not mean users are limited to only working with existing images, however. Many artists, graphic designers, and web developers use Photoshop to create custom graphics, logos, website designs, and even hand-drawn objects. Applying the Photoshop replace color tools is similar regardless of the type of images you alter or create.

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Photoshop offers several methods for changing colors in an image. This means you can experiment with different techniques and choose the approach best suited to your needs. It also gives you more control over the result. Some of Photoshop’s tools require image editing experience, particularly if changes are complex or you need several layers to create the desired effect. However, many of Photoshop’s features are usable with only a basic understanding of the software. For beginners or anyone who needs a refresher, Udemy offers Photoshop tutorials as well as an overview of Photoshop’s resources and features.

Getting started with Photoshop

Before you begin to explore the editing and color features in Photoshop, first determine which software version you are using. You can use any version that includes the color tools discussed here; however, older versions of Photoshop may not include as many features as the latest offering. You can access version information through the help menu. If you find that you have an earlier version of Photoshop and want to upgrade, visit Adobe’s website to view the latest features and pricing information.

Before beginning, you also need to identify several sample images to use. By working with samples first, you can perfect the color-changing techniques without impacting your source files. If you have a set of sample images on hand, you’re all set! Otherwise, download a few copyright-free pictures from Pixabay, unSplash, or Adobe Stock to get started.

Photoshop color terms

It is important to understand the color terminology used in Photoshop and how it impacts your creative efforts.

Here are some of the terms:

Understanding layers and layer masks

Now that you have a better understanding of the terminology used in Photoshop for color management, let’s review the purpose of layers. Layers provide a means by which to build on an existing image. Layer masks allow you to adjust images without affecting the original files. Both layers and layer masks are essential features in the editing process that you can find in the layers panel.

Smart objects are also part of the layers panel. You can use them to modify objects in groups, which saves time and helps to ensure consistency across projects. Refer to the Udemy articles on how to use Photoshop and how to resize layers to further refresh your knowledge. 

Color replacement tool

Photoshop provides multiple ways to alter color within an image. Let’s start with the color replacement tool. Access this tool through the brush icon in the side menu or by pressing B or Shift-B on your keyboard (depending on your operating system). 

Strawberry example

We will use this photograph of strawberries as our example. After you access the color replacement tool, select the brush size dropdown to open the preset window. Here, you can choose from the available brushes and adjust the tip size and hardness of your brush. Drag the slider to the right to increase brush size or to the left to decrease it. Do the same with the hardness slider to adjust the brush tip. A harder brush produces a tighter tip, which makes your selections more accurate. 

You can also use keyboard shortcuts to adjust brush settings. Pressing the left bracket key ( [ ) makes your brush smaller, while the right bracket key ( ] ) makes it larger. Hold down the shift key while selecting the brackets to adjust brush hardness in the same way. If none of the existing brushes work, you can import your own custom brushes.

To change the color of the strawberries in our example, let’s set the foreground to the color we want the strawberries to be. There are two overlapping squares, or swatches, at the bottom of the side menu. The topmost swatch represents the foreground color; the one beneath it represents the background. For this example, we will click or tap the top square. 

A new window appears. We will choose the new color, then tap or click OK. Additional options appear for mode, limits, and tolerance, as well as brush size and hardness. Ensure that mode is set to color and that limits is set to contiguous. You can adjust the tolerance as needed, but for this example, we will place it at 38%. This allows us to paint over the strawberry edges without the color bleeding into the hand.

Next, paint the area of the photograph you want to change. For this example, we changed the color of the berries from red to blue, as indicated in the new image.

Change color in Photoshop

Using adjustment layers 

Adjustment layers provide additional options for modifying images, such as changing color photos to black and white or adding tone. To create a new adjustment layer, select the window menu and then select adjustments. You can now change the image properties, including brightness, vibrancy, exposure levels, and hue/saturation. 

Adjustment layers navigation photoshop

To apply a sepia tint, which makes an image yellowish-brown, open the properties panel and select the sepia preset.

Sepia tint navigation photoshop

Adjustment layers are also helpful when making selective color options. Open the layer menu, select a new adjustment layer, then choose selective color. 

new adjustment layer navigation, photoshop

Select OK if a pop-up box appears. Now, use the dropdown menu to choose a specific color set. You can also use the sliders to customize your color options. Since we are trying to manipulate the green background, select green.

customize color options, layers, navigation, photoshop

Using the original strawberry image, let’s keep the color selection red and drag the different color sliders until we find the shade we want to incorporate. The revised image looks like this:

revised strawberry image

If the colors in your image are too similar, this tool may alter more of the image than you intend. If this happens, use one of Photoshop’s selection tools to first identify the area to be adjusted. You can then use the selective color tool without impacting the rest of the image.

You can also use adjustment layers to alter image hue and saturation. Simply select the new adjustment layer option from within the layer menu, then click on hue/saturation. In the properties panel, drag the hue and saturation sliders to the left or right to increase or decrease the settings. You can do the same for the lightness setting. You can also colorize an image by selecting the checkbox within the properties panel. Just be mindful that any changes you make here will directly impact your image. 

Replace color tool 

The replace color tool is a quick way to replace large sections of color in your image. You can access this tool through the image menu. Select adjustments, then select the replace color option to open the replace color window. Here, you can modify several color characteristics within the image. Let’s review the various options.

Preview area

The preview area displays selections as you make them, without altering the image. You can specify whether you want to preview a section or the entire image. You can also switch from selection view to original image view.

Dropdown menus

The color range window includes several dropdown menus. The select dropdown identifies which colors to incorporate in your selection. Here, you can select all pixels of a specific color set, such as reds or yellows, rather than manually identifying a single color. To sample colors directly from your image, use the sample colors dropdown option.

Eyedropper tools

The eyedropper tools indicate which color you want to replace in the image. Three options are available:

Fuzziness slider

Drag the fuzziness slider to the left or right to indicate the desired level. The preview area adapts as you drag the slider back and forth. The higher the value, the fuzzier the selection will be, as the colors you select leak into the nearby colors. A zero value means the selection has hard edges that prevent the color from bleeding over. A value of 100 produces a very fuzzy image.

If you have similar colors in your image, you’ll notice that having the fuzziness level set to 200 changes those colors as well. Setting the fuzziness level lower helps to define the area you want to select. 

Replacement area

Here, you can select the replacement color you desire. Use the result color box to choose one directly from the color mixer or use the sliders to change the hue, saturation, and lightness to customize your color selection.

To replace color using this method, ensure that the first eyedropper tool is selected and click on the color you want to change in the image. The preview area changes to reflect the color you select. To expand the selection, either use the positive color dropper or drag the fuzziness slider to let the selection bleed into the surrounding colors.

Selection tools

Use selection tools in Photoshop to produce more accurate results. If you don’t indicate a selection before changing colors, and the colors within an image are similar, you may edit more than you intend. Notice the color of the hand and the background in our strawberry image. See how off the rest of the color seems? We did not make a selection before changing colors in this image.

change color photoshop without selection

To define and identify the areas to adjust in advance, use the lasso tools, the quick selection tool, or the magic wand. These tools help to ensure that you do not place color where you do not want it. They also help create edges in your image, preventing colors from bleeding into other colors in your photo.

Using the same strawberry image, let’s use the magnetic lasso before we make a color selection. Select a point to the right of the area in which you want to apply the change. Move the mouse around the area until you make it back to the starting point. Photoshop follows the contours of what you select, as indicated by this sample image: 

magnetic lasso photoshop

When we change the color now, it will only impact the highlighted section.

Changing background color

You may also need to change the background color, not just adjust colors within the image. Remember, the swatches at the bottom of the side menu panel represent the foreground and background colors. We will tap the arrow icon to the upper right, placing the background color upfront.

default color selection icon

The small box to the upper left of the swatches indicates the default color selection. To change color, select the default color selection box. This opens the color picker. When you make your selection, the new color shows in the swatch. You can also use the eyedropper tool to select a color from within the image, but you must select the swatch to change before you make this selection. 

color picker photoshop

Color range tool

The color range tool is useful when working with elaborate designs in which selection tools such as the lasso or magic wand are not practical. Access this tool through the select menu. The color range window opens, and it includes many of the same options as the color replace window.

To select multiple ranges of color, be sure to check the localized color clusters box. Once you complete your selection and close the window, an outline appears around the selected portion(s). You can either change the color for the highlighted part or use the move tool to transfer the selection to a different layer.

The color range tool is versatile, but it does not provide much flexibility in the number of colors you can select. It’s also not the easiest way to select non-contiguous colors simultaneously. 

Practice makes perfect

Photoshop provides several ways to alter image color. If you find it difficult to change colors with the brush replacement tool, try using one of the selection tools or the replace color method instead. As you test the different options, it may be helpful to start with larger objects before moving to more complex parts of an image, such as hair and skin tone. Ultimately, the key to mastering the use of Photoshop color replacement techniques is to keep practicing until you find what works best for you. 

Page Last Updated: July 2021

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