How to Change Any Color in Photoshop

Have you ever wanted to change the color of an object in Photoshop completely? Or just tweak the hue a bit of a specific color range to make the photo a bit more interesting and balanced.

Photoshop has elevated itself to a verb rather than software alone. ‘Photoshopping the image’ is a common phrase. We know everything is possible in Photoshop, and we also know the limits of post-processing. One of these possible impossibilities is the ability to change colors of almost anything in Photoshop.

Some of the common ways of changing or altering colors in Photoshop are:

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1. Use Adobe Camera Raw From Within Photoshop

Adobe Camera Raw is one of the most powerful tools ever to come out of Adobe for image editing. Now available as a pre-installed plugin in Photoshop, it offers a few ways to change colors. Few of them are:

HSL Tab: This allows us to change specific colors. The three columns under HSL Tab are, as the name suggests: Hue, Saturation, and Lightness. Hue is where you change the color tone completely. For example, you could turn red into pink, and magenta into red by using these sliders. You can look at the color you want to change and then just use the slider.

Before/After HSL

The saturation tab allows you to tweak individual saturation of the various colors. Be it reds or magentas or oranges, all of the colors can be tweaked. It is also helpful while doing selective coloring, wherein you can change the saturation of most colors to zero except the color you want to use. Lightness is used to brighten or darken a particular color in the shot.

A Closer Look: Hues have shifted from greens to yellows, while saturation has gone up.

Split Toning: One of the favorite color grading tools there is, split toning can also magically transform your pictures if used correctly. Split toning, as the name suggests, does the toning for highlights and shadows separately. Instead of a complex process of selection, we can simply do changes to tones with a simple slider. For example, making the skies bluer or yellower is possible by merely turning the highlights slider upwards, the color being blue or yellow as required. Because you don’t need to create selections, split toning in Adobe Camera Raw, opened from Photoshop, is a really simple way to change colors in Photoshop.

Use split toning in ACR to change colors in Photoshop
The Subtle Toning Tweaks Before/After

2. Match Color Feature in Photoshop

One of the most underrated and underused tools to change the color of objects in Photoshop is Match Color. Match Color is a magical tool that matches the color tone of an image to one from another image. Go to Image > Adjustments > Match Color. You could match the color of the current layer to either the color of another open file, a layer of another open file, or a layer of the current file itself. You can then adjust the luminance and color intensity of the color-matched.

Color intensity is, in simpler terms, the saturation of the color-matched. The luminance is simply the exposure of the image. There’s a fade slider that moves from 0 to 100. It fades the effect of the matched color. So, at 100%, there’s no impact on match color while at 0%, it is 100%. A better way to use this with more control will be to duplicate the layer on which you want to match the color, use the usual settings and leave the fade at 0%. Then use the opacity slider to change the color-match settings.

3. Replace Color

Replace a color is a tool that, as the name suggests, let Photoshop replace or change the color into something completely different. Image > Adjustments > Replace Color, just below Match Color, is where you can find this menu. In here, you can select the color sample you want to replace using the eyedropper/picker. You can add more than one color sample by using the eyedropper + (the picker with a plus sign). You can remove any unwanted color sample by using eyedropper – (the picker with a minus sign). If you are selecting more than one color tones, ticking localized color clusters will help in more accurate selection as it won’t get select stray colors. The fuzziness slider expands or contracts the selection by making it more generic or more specific. It basically increases the tolerance of the color samples selected.

Once the color selection is done, you can simply turn the hue, saturation, and lightness dials in the bottom part of the Replace Color menu screen. Hue, as we talked earlier, is about the color tone. Saturation is the color intensity, and the lightness is color exposure. An important thing to note is that unlike in the Camera Raw color change, here the color change happens only in the selected regions of the image.

4. Use Select Color Range To Change Any Color in Photoshop

Select Color Range is a mega tool for any type of color change to your photos using Photoshop.

Consider this, the above discussed Replace Color tool can be done in the same way in Select Color Range. And that is just one of the features of this amazing tool.

Similar to the Replace Color Tool, we can use the eyedropper, eyedropper +, eyedropper -, etc when you have ‘Sampled Colors’ in the Select option. Here, instead of giving options to change the color directly, it will create a selection.

Once you hit hue/saturation effect with the selection as in the menu, you can do the same changes as in Replace Color. However, there is one more option – to colorize. The colorize option helps in changing the color tone entirely while preserving the gradients and the differences in tones. It means if you colorize an image, you can change the color, not just by margins but in its entirety. This is one of the fastest color replacement tools that also allows a natural color gradation and doesn’t make it appear clearly edited.

Selection by Color is also possible via the Select Color Range.

In the Select dropdown, you can select either of the RGB (Red, Green, or Blue) or CMY (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow), covering the entire range possible. After the color is selected, you can again use Hue/Saturation to change the colors.

Another way would be using the color balance. Since we know, for example, that we have selected only the Reds, we will know which option to choose in the color balance.

There are color sliders in the form of Cyan – Red, Magenta – Green, and Yellow – Blue, the three pairs of opposite colors, exactly as in Select Dropdown of Color Selection.

You can, select Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows separately from Tone Dropdown. This allows you to differentiate between three major zones of an image and help provide different tones to each of them.

In the Select Color Range, when we are in the color selection directly (RGB or CMY) in the Select Dropdown, the options of fuzziness and range don’t appear, which is one reason why selecting by eyedropper provides a more comprehensive selection.

Select Color Range also provides selection on the basis of exposure tone. So you can select highlights, shadows, or midtones separately. You can also adjust the fuzziness and range like in earlier options to refine your selection. There’s also an option of inverting selection directly in the menu (which can also be done separately with ease). So if you want to change everything other than highlights, you only need to select highlights and then invert the selection.

This menu also has an almost magical selection tool to select skin tones. An option pops up to detect faces too. This can help us change skin tones, lightness, and add, remove, or refine skin texture. The possibilities are, as in every other menu of Photoshop, quite endless.

5. Levels and Curves to Change Colors in Photoshop

To change color tones in Photoshop, levels and curves are perfect. Levels and curves are very similar.

The difference is only that curves offer a more intuitive process of doing the tweaks, while the levels offer a more definitive process with exact values. In that sense, levels are more binary and accurate. In tweaking the colors of the images, both help in a similar way.

Both levels and curves in Photoshop help in changing the tones by separating the red, blue, and green tone values. Like in a normal image, or under the RGB settings, we alter highlights, shadows, and midtones. Here we change the highlights, shadows, and midtones of particular channels in Red, Blue, and Green. There are also available presets like cross-process, negative, etc, which help us in getting the required color tone directly.

Use level or curves to change colors in Photoshop
Change in Reds via Curves

6. Color Balance

Photoshop’s Color balance tool works by helping us changing colors between the opposite pairs of Cyan – Red, Magenta – Green, and Yellow – Blue.

The three sets of sliders help us in making the image appear more towards one side of the color, or balanced, as the need may be. For example, if you want the image to be warmer, you will move the cyan-red slider towards the red side, and yellow-blue slider towards the yellow side.

The color changes will affect the entire image, unlike as discussed earlier in Select Color Range, where only the selection showed changes. There’s a checkbox of preserve luminosity, which prevents a change in the exposure of the color when you change them. Color balance can help us tone an image

Use color balance to change any color in Photoshop
Color Balance Turning the Colors.

7. Photo Filter

Using pre-filled templates, photo filter helps in giving a warm or a cold tone to the image. There are 20 filters already in Photoshop. These are:

  1. Warming Filters in 3 options – 85, LBA, and 81.
  2. Cooling Filters in 3 options – 80, LBB, and 82.
  3. Color Filters in RGB, CMY, Violet, and Orange.
  4. Deep Colors like Deep Red, Deep Blue, Deep Emerald, Deep Yellow, and Underwater.
  5. Sepia Filter.

Photo filter allows you to color tone an image in Photoshop
The Various Photo Filters

Another option is to select a color, and the tone will be applied. We have an option to directly apply the filter or change the layer blending mode to fine-tune the effects. For example, if we don’t want our highlights or brighter parts of the image to be affected, we can choose the mode to lighten. The lighter parts won’t be touched because the color tone is in Midtones by nature. A mode like Hue or Color will make sure the effect of the color tone is only on the portions where there is color saturation. Hence, the lower the saturation value, the lower will be the effect of the filter. Whites, blacks and grays will be completely untouched.

8. Gradient Map

Perhaps the best color grading or toning tool available in Photoshop, gradient map, in simple terms, can affect shadows, Midtones, and highlights in different ways, thus providing us more of a Hollywood style grade. The control provided by Gradient Map is more than the Split Toning because here we are defining the color tone at each level. Using the gradient map, you can turn the images into black and white or sepia, or do the color toning and grading for the images.

A Black and White Gradient turning the image Black and White

Take any image you want to tone. Add gradient map effect over the layer. Use ‘Create Clipping Mask’ in case your image size is larger than the layer and you are trying to tone only a particular part of the image. Select a gradient map you want to apply using the ones available.

Alternatively, you may create your own gradients as well. Just select any gradient in the list, add a Name and hit New. Now edit colors by clicking on the lower side markers to change color and position. Click on the empty area in the below portion of the gradient to add a new position and select color thereafter. Hit Delete key to delete any color. The upper row is where you can change the opacity of the color. This is useful when creating a gradient that goes from 0% to 100% to create a gradation in an opacity mask.

A Reduced Opacity Blue to White Gradient, and How it Changes the Image

You can also add new gradients downloaded from the internet. Various photographers and graphic designers create and allow you to download their gradient packs for free, or for a price. You can look at them at various sites like behance.net. Photoshop has various gradients by default, which you can add by clicking on the list on the settings. For example, if we click Photographic Toning, we have to hit OK or Append. Append will add the gradients from that particular library to the list while OK will replace them. You can always reset gradients to the default ones.

Use gradient tool to change colors in Photoshop
A Blue to Orange Gradient with Color Mode and Reduced Opacity

Once you’ve selected the gradient you wish to use, select it and change the layer mode to Hue or Color. This will provide you the toning for the image. You can control it further with the opacity slider. If you wish to change the colors entirely, and not just as a tone, you can try other modes like Normal, Pin Light, etc. To affect only dark portions, use the Lighten modes, while to affect only light portions, use the Darken modes.

Options for Adding in-built Photoshop Gradient Packs

Photoshop is the perfect master tool to change colors where you can achieve anything. If nothing else works, you can just make accurate selections with Pen Tool and use Solid Color with the layer mask. Thereafter, you can select the color you want in each of the parts selected, and use layer modes to effectively apply them. This is also the technique used to convert Black and White images to Color.  

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Author Details
I’m Raghav Gautam, a professional photographer and cinematographer who specializes in products and fashion. My primary ability is to help sell products via visuals, and more recently, I’ve entered into filmmaking too, hoping to get a big break some day. Till then, happy making short films and videos.
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I’m Raghav Gautam, a professional photographer and cinematographer who specializes in products and fashion. My primary ability is to help sell products via visuals, and more recently, I’ve entered into filmmaking too, hoping to get a big break some day. Till then, happy making short films and videos.
Do you want to change the color of an object in Photoshop? There are many different ways of changing colors in a photo in Photoshop. Learn them here!

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