The right way to Change Colors in Photoshop

Today we’re going to look at three ways to change colors in Adobe Photoshop. These tools are used to change the color of a subject in a photograph or recolor a portion of an image.

Although Photoshop provides countless tools for fixing color or subtly toning an image, the techniques in this post are designed for the more specific plus dramatic artistic effect of totally changing the color of an item. These three methods are usually fairly distinct and which technique is best is going to be totally dependent on the image you are working with.

Below, I actually do my best to offer suggestions of which types of images every technique will work with. Nevertheless , I recommend experimenting with them yourself to get a feel for what realy works best for you.


We’re going to jump right into the steps below making use of layers, adjustment layers, and masking, so if those terms aren’t familiar to you, I suggest checking out the article that Bradzino wrote on Photoshop Layers and Hiding before we begin.

Table of Items

Modifying Colors Using a Hue/Saturation Adjusting Layer

The first way to change colours is by using the Hue/Saturation sliders. While this method has the potential of being the easiest way to change the color of an object, it comes with a pretty big caveat: it does not work well in every image. Yet we’re going to start with it because when it works, it’s a very fast and easy way to alter colors.

Hue/Saturation works best when you have an image along with really good color separation between the color you want to change as well as the rest of the image. If your image is fairly monochromatic, or you possess a lot of the same color through the image, changing the color associated with just one of those objects will probably be a bit trickier.

Using the Hue/Saturation slider is fairly straightforward. The Hue Slider is a bar-shaped representation of the color wheel. When you glide the hue slider, you happen to be shifting all of the colors within your image around the color wheel. So , starting at the center the bar, you can shift the slider up to 180 degrees in either path.

The Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer allows you to alter and adjust the colors in your image

If you simply slide the hue slider, you happen to be making global adjustments- meaning you are changing every colour in your image. This tool turns into much more useful and more useful when you use the dropdown menu, or the two rainbow sliders at the bottom of the Hue/Saturation screen, to limit the range from the adjustments you are making. You will see that change below:

Original Image – Fuji X-T3, XF 80mm f/2. 8 Macro @ 80mm, ISO 800, 1/900, f/8. 0
Re-Colored Image

This technique can also be combined with masking, which makes it much more powerful. (Though when an image needs more than a basic cover up, I usually prefer to use the various other two techniques that I’ll cover in a moment. )

Aside from the simple quickness of this technique, another major benefit is that it is already non-destructive by default. Since you are working with an adjustment level, you can go back and change the color as many times as you want.

However , a disadvantage is that it can shift several colors or areas of the image that you didn’t intend. In the example above, you will see that even though the flower is what changed shades the most, the background also shifted a bit. You can minimize this particular by using the two rainbow sliders at the bottom of the Hue/Saturation section to limit the colours that are adjusted, but you may not be able to eliminate it completely.   In this particular case, the colour shift worked, so I just left it. If it got bothered me I could used a layer mask in order to “erase” the color change anywhere I didn’t want it.

Here’s another illustration. The following is the original image:

Original Image taken with the X-T4 + XF50-140mmF2. 8 R LM OIS WR @ 140mm, ISO 200, 1/1900, f/4. 5

In this example, I used fact that the Hue/Saturation Realignment layer affects the entire picture to my advantage. You may notice in the image above that there’s a very subtle representation of the yellow boots in the nearby snow. Reflections plus color casts on encircling objects are something you want to watch out for when changing shades. In this case, the Hue/Saturation realignment made that easy, as you can see below:

Image with boots re-colored to red using a Hue/Saturation adjustment

However , I did need to quickly mask within the hand and the shirt, which also had some yellowish in them, to get rid of the undesirable red color change in those areas. It was still a very quick and easy edit overall, though.

Modifying Colors Using Blending Modes

Mixing modes are an extremely powerful function of layers in Photoshop. Today we’re going to consider the two blending modes that can help us re-color an object in an image, but for a look at the actual other blend modes can perform, check out this article on Blend Modes by Madhu.

To change colors using blending modes, start by developing a blank layer above your original image. Change the blending mode of the blank layer to either hue or even saturation. These two modes are similar, but they do produce different effects. “Hue” keeps the particular saturation and luminosity of the original (underlying) layer while changing the hue to match your new color. “Color” modifications both the color and the vividness while retaining the original layer’s luminosity. The difference may seem delicate, but it often has a considerable effect on the image. Fortunately, it really is easy and non-destructive to toggle between the two blend settings to see what works in your image.

Select the Hue or Saturation blending setting before painting on your empty layer

The next step is to paint (on the new blank layer) on the portion of the image you want to modify with the brush tool and your chosen color.   When the image you are recoloring has clear, distinct outlines, and then you’re using a pen tablet to complete your painting, then artwork might be very straightforward. Several of the time we aren’t quite that lucky! You can easily combine this technique with a layer mask, using any of Photoshop’s masking options to create a layer cover up on the new (hue or even color) layer before artwork.

Original Image Captured with X-H1 and XF80mmF2. 8 R LM OIS WR Macro lens @ 80mm Focal Duration, ISO 3200, Shutter Acceleration: 1/75, Aperture: f/9. 0
Picture after re-coloring the butterfly spots using a hue mixing mode

When you find yourself needing to add a level mask to your hue/color layer, there are a few tips that often come in handy. The first is that after you’ve finished making your cover up, you can apply a gaussian blur filter directly on the particular mask. This can soften in the mask just enough to make the color change appear more organic.

Also, the colour range tool (located underneath the “Select” menu at the top) sometimes works well for selecting the location you want to recolor in the first place. The colour range tool will choose that same color in other areas of the image as well (not unlike the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer), but if the other areas do not overlap/touch the area you need to re-color, you can simply paint over those people portions of the image.

Original Image. We used the Color Range Tool to select the red areas of the image.
Once the red areas were selected it was fast and easy to paint over the sail on the blank layer with the mixing mode set to color.

Modifying Color Using the Color Alternative Brush

When you need to change the color of a more complex area in a photo, something with smaller spaces, or less defined edges, the Color Replacement Brush will be your best option. The Color Replacement Clean is a very powerful tool hidden under the regular Paint Clean Tool in Photoshop.

The Color Replacement Tool brings up a cursor that will at first glance could be confused using the typical brush. For years I actually ignored this tool, assuming it was essentially the same as the above technique of using the brush with a colour or hue blending mode. But this tool is much more powerful that it first shows up and it contains some very helpful controls that you will find makes modifying color far easier in many cases.

Original Image GFX100S + GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR @ 36. 2mm, ISO 500, 15/1, f/16. 0

The general concept of using the Colour Replacement Brush is fairly easy. As you paint over the item you want to recolor, Photoshop will alter only the colors that match whatever color is under the cross-hair in the center of the brush. It will replace them with your chosen downroad color.

The particular painting technique is similar to making use of any Photoshop brush device, although you want to make sure that the particular cross-hair is always over the part of the image you want to recolor. Yet while the concept is simple, it contains many options that alter its behavior in spectacular and useful ways.

Barn re-colored utilizing the Color Replacement Tool



The mode selection here works the same as changing the blending mode of the coating, like we looked at previously. You have the same Hue and Color options as well as Saturation (keep the hue and luminosity from the original colour and replace only the saturation with the new color) and Luminosity (Keep the hue and saturation of the initial color and adopt the particular luminosity from the new color). When you are using this tool to get color replacement, you will probably be looking to use either the color or color option.

Sampling Choices


While these three options aren’t labeled, the icons make sense once you understand what they do (and we will look at them in the order they come in the options bar). The sampling options control how Photoshop selects the color you will be changing. With only one exception, the particular sampling is controlled from the cross-hair in the center of the brush cursor, but the sampling habits changes depending on the option selected.

The first option is “Continuous, ” which continuously samples the color under the cross-hair. As you move the particular brush tool, the cross-hair moves, and Photoshop is usually continuously updating the tested color. (This option is effective in most situations, especially when combined with the “find edges” option). It is important when using this option that you pay especially close attention to the location of the cross-hair while you paint.

The 2nd option is “Sample As soon as. ” It samples the colour under the cross-hair once, when you initially click, and as long as you continue to hold down your computer mouse button and paint it replaces only that one color that it originally sampled.

The third option is the “Background Color” option and it replaces only the colors that match whichever color is the background color swatch. This is the a single option that does not use the cross-hair for color selection, but honestly I have never tried it.



The “Limits” selection handles the behavior of the actual painting/color replacing that you do.

First, “Contiguous” is the arrears option, and it will only substitute colors that both match up the sampled color (usually the color under the cross-hair) and are adjacent to it, or coming in contact with it in some way. It will not change non-adjacent pixels even if they are the sampled color and drop within the brush cursor area.

“Find edges” works like continuous yet pays attention to the edges of an object and only supercedes the colors that Photoshop identifies as being contained inside those edges. While this does not work perfectly, especially in areas along with very complex or blurred edges, it works surprisingly nicely and makes recoloring quick and fairly straightforward, particularly when paired with the continuous sample option.

“Discontinuous” replaces the sampled colour regardless of where it appears within the clean cursor area.



Tolerance controls how closely a color must match the sampled color in order to be replaced. Regarding images with only subtle variations in colors, you will find that a low tolerance is necessary. In case your object is not surrounded simply by similar colors, you will find that growing the tolerance will work nicely and speed up your work flow. There is no magic formula to choosing the right tolerance level; you will need to alter it as you go. If the alternative feels too particular, test increasing the tolerance. When it is not accurate enough, decrease the tolerance. The tolerance has a surprisingly strong impact on the way this tool works, so if the color replacement brush is not really behaving the way you expect it to, the first thing to check is the tolerance level.

Putting It Into Practice

To use the Color Replacement Clean, select your desired brand new color as the foreground colour in the color swatches. Unlike the Adjustment layer technique and the Blending Mode method above, when you use the Color Replacement Brush, you are working directly on the original image layer – meaning that it’s destructive. The way around this is to duplicate the particular layer and paint just on the duplicate. That’s usually good practice so that you can undo-options your work if needed.

Original Image taken with the GFX100S + GF110mmF2 R LM WR @ 110mm, ISO 100, 1/120, f/11. 0

While the options in the color replacement brush might appear overwhelming, I recommend starting with the sampling mode set to “Continuous” and the limit set to possibly “Contiguous” or “Find Edges. ” A tolerance within the 50-60 percent range is an excellent starting point as well. As you start to use the brush and experience its behavior, you will get a feel for when you need to adjust the settings and make use of other options instead.

Barn “repainted” green using the Color Replacement Tool

While using the Color Replacement Tool can be more tedious than either of the above techniques, there are times it is absolutely invaluable. In the picture above, re-coloring the barn where it falls at the rear of the blossoming tree poses quite a challenge. Trying to color a mask in between these blossoms and branches will be nearly impossible, but the color alternative tool makes this job easily. It allowed me to paint right over the entire area but only affected the pixels that matched up the barn color that I had originally sampled.


We have viewed three ways to replace colour in Adobe Photoshop. The particular Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer technique is simple and extremely flexible, although a bit less flexible than the various other methods. The Blending Mode technique is straightforward, but it works best on objects that have well-defined edges or on items that are easy to mask. The 3rd method, using the Color Replacement Brush, is the most powerful choice and is great for more complicated re-coloring that might otherwise require complex masking. But it also tends to be really a tedious manual technique.

There are dozens of ways to do almost everything within Photoshop, and these three methods changing colors in Photoshop are the ones I discover the most useful. Other methods can be found as well, although most of them utilize some variation or mixture of the techniques and tools we looked at today.

There is one other colour change option built into Photoshop that we did not look at nowadays and that is the Replace Color option located under Adjustments in the Image menu. Truthfully, I have found this tool to be very clunky and I have never managed to use it for an effective color change. Even in images that will seemed like they should have been simple color replacements, this tool left me with odd prevents of uncolored areas and messy edges. It just didn’t do a good job. While the lure of what is basically one click color alternative might seem tempting, I have in no way found this tool to live up to its promise and have experienced much better results using the methods described above, even if the procedure is slightly more tedious.

Also, of course , color replacement isn’t always something that photographers are willing to do depending on their style of work. It could be very useful for advertisement digital photography, fine art compositing, and unique photos even if you don’t want to do it to more straightforward work. But I’ve also available that plenty of everyday pictures can benefit from slight colour shifts here and there, such as utilizing the Hue/Saturation tool to separate an overly cyan sky and make it a bit more azure.

If you have an alternative experience or a different favored method of color changing, please share in the comments!

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