Changing Color in Photoshop

Changing Color in Photoshop

Sometimes in post production you will want to change the colors of an object in your photos. Photoshop has a number of tools that you can use to change the color in an image, and in this post I’ll show you some of these which you can use without having to make a selection on the image.


Before I begin, a word about the photographs I’m using. They were shot by Jacinta Oaten, a 15 year old Australian sports photographer with a promising career ahead of her as you can see. Jacinta kindly let me browse her photo collection to select some images to use for this post – thanks Jacinta!

Color Replacement Tool

On the Photoshop toolbar sharing a position with the Brush tool is the Color Replacement tool. For this tool you’ll need to select the color that you want to paint with and then click and paint over the image.


The tool reads the color immediately under the cursor as you start painting and looks for similar colors to paint over. This allows you to paint somewhat outside the lines and still replace only the color that you want to replace.

Using the Tool Options you can set the Tolerance to so, for example, if you are recoloring an area that is a fairly solid color, you can use a low tolerance to isolate the color. On the other hand if you’re recoloring an area where there is quite a bit of variety in the color because of shadows or texture, for example, you can increase the tolerance to recolor a wider range of colors similar to those under the cursor.

As you paint, you can let go the mouse button and click again somewhere else to change the sampled color so you can replace a different shade of that color, for example.

This tool is handy for detailed work as it allows you to resample and paint a number of times so that you can get in around certain areas avoiding other areas if you don’t want to paint over them.

The options with this tool include the Limits option which allows you to specify whether only areas of color contiguous to those under the sampling point of the brush are altered or if all matching areas under the brush are painted over. The Find Edges option attempts to preserve edge detail as you paint. Here I used Discontiguous to ensure the yellow inside the advertiser’s names on the bike was changed too.


The Color Replacement Tool must be used on a layer that has colored pixels in it so it’s best to duplicate the background layer and work on the duplicate layer. Then, if you make a mistake you can mask out the changes that you’ve made to the duplicate later to recover detail from the image layer underneath.

Selective Color

The Selective Color tool lets you adjust the colors in the image by selecting which colors to adjust and then adding more or less of another color to them. To use it, select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color. Using it as an adjustment layer fix lets you later remove the recoloring from any part of the image by painting on the adjustment layer mask.


In the dialog you can select the color to alter from the Colors dropdown list. In this image I wanted to change the Reds so they are selected.

The color sliders below this show Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. It helps to understand these colors and their opposites; Cyan is opposite Red, Magenta is opposite Green and Yellow is opposite Blue.

So, for example, if you drag the magenta slider to the right, you will add magenta to the image but if you drag it to the left, you will add green – its opposite. The other sliders work in the same way.


This tool works well when you have an image such as this one where most of the color that you want to change (the reds) only appear in the area that you want to change and not elsewhere in the image. To change the color, drag the sliders to add more of the colors you want to add and to remove the opposite color.


Sometimes multiple colors contribute the color to the image so here I’ve knocked out some of the pink tones in the bike windscreen by adjusting the Magenta color too.

Replace Color

Another tool that you can use to change color is the Replace Color tool. To see this tool at work, select Image > Adjustments > Replace Color. This tool must be applied as an adjustment and cannot be used as an adjustment layer so, again, apply it to a duplicate of the background layer.


With this tool you click on an area in the image that you want to change the color of. Click the Add to Sample eyedropper and then click to select more of the color to change.

You’ll need to click on all the colors in the image that represent the color that you need to alter. You can test the result by dragging on the Hue slider at the foot of the dialog to see if the selection is accurate and that the color change is affecting the area you want to affect.

The Fuzziness slider lets you add more or less adjacent pixels to the fix – use it to obtain a smoother change from one color to the next. When you’re done, click Ok. Use the Saturation and Lightness sliders to tweak the effect.

The Localized Color Clusters checkbox can help refine the color selection so it’s worth testing to see if it makes a difference. Here it isolated the selected colors and removed a problem that I had with the number and the silver metal of the bike being recolored where it shouldn’t have been.


When you apply this fix to a duplicate of the original image layer you can add a layer mask to the top layer and use it to mask out any areas that are affected by the recoloring which should not be affected.

Choosing the right tool for the job

There are just some of the tools you can use to recolor an image. You will find one may work better than another depending on the image you are working on so experiment to see what works best for you.

Read more from our Post Production category

Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Martin December 3, 2012 07:55 pm

    Nice tutorial. Thanks!

  • SID October 23, 2012 05:42 am

    Very clean and perfect write-up. liked it and understood so well. Thanks

  • fourmi4x March 29, 2012 04:15 am

    Great tutorial.

    However, I didn't manage to get an exact color replacement of a grey color to a green precise color, each time the green I obtained was a bit different that what i entered in hexa value.
    For instance, Hue doesn't fonction on grey colors. Color replacement tool and Selective color give me a darker grey than the one entered.

    The only method that worked for me was : Layer > Layer Style > Color Overlay, which gives the exact color. I think you should add this method and precise how to get an exact color replacement, that would be great!
    But still, thanks for this article, I learned a lot :)

  • Fawlett Farci July 18, 2011 09:53 pm

    what do you do if you try to replace the color with the brush tool and the color is not exactly what you want. when replacing a dark color with light, its hard to get exact color match!?!?!?!?

  • Dan July 13, 2011 01:09 pm

    @rollerblading Atleast they know how to change color.

  • rollerblading May 24, 2011 01:07 am

    Finally a pro description of color corrections for Photoshop !!!
    I am tired of all those youtube amateurs tutorials of how to change color in photo shop.

  • James April 11, 2011 01:58 pm

    Much appreciated - you saved by bacon!

  • Helen Bradley September 18, 2010 02:43 am

    @dotiv - most of these techniques have been around for years in Photoshop so you should be able to complete these tasks in most versions say from CS onwards. Some dialogs may look a little different but the basics are pretty much universal.

  • dotiv September 17, 2010 01:57 pm

    Very nice.....
    butt please tell me this photoshop version please....

  • Waseem Nawaz May 16, 2010 10:01 pm

    Good article. Can you please tell us how to do it in GIMP 2 please?

  • Ravi December 27, 2009 02:36 am

    Very good article, I am new to photoshop, it saved my time.

  • Savannah Brentnall December 11, 2009 10:06 am

    Any ideas on how to replace color while maintaining color, when the new color MUST be a specific pantone color? I can't play around with adjustment layers and getting things to "look" right--my client wants a specific color match.

  • chiara November 6, 2009 02:38 am

    thanks a lot! very clear and straightforward! perfect even for people like me that have just started to have a deeper look at Photoshop

  • Adrin September 4, 2009 05:53 pm

    Wonderful tutorial. Short and concise but very helpful and easy to understand.

  • William August 8, 2009 11:26 pm

    I'm enjoying all of your tutorials but I'm also one who is not completely able to follow your instructions clearly. I'm not asking you to break it down any futher I will catch up, but maybe keeping it to a later verson of photoshop (PS-3) for maybe 6-8 months would be a good idea allowing users to learn one photoshop verson completely without confusion of where are these tools located.

  • camille August 8, 2009 11:52 am

    Hello.i'm just starting to shoot as a hobby. I have a canon eos 400d. Just would like to ask in photoshop how do you say you took a picture (black & white) and in that pix you just wanted to color one thing like the background is black and white and there is a flower you just wanted that flower to have a color say yellow. How do you do that? Please advise. Thanks so much

  • Linda July 31, 2009 11:09 am

    It would help if tutorials listed which version of Photoshop is being used and maybe give directions for at least the one version before the newest one. Not everyone can update their photoshop as quickly as the instrutors can ;). I am assuming this is version PS4 because a couple of the options are not available or located in the same place in PS3. I did manage to find my way though and found this tutorial to be very helpful.

    Thanks so much.

  • Eileen July 31, 2009 06:07 am

    Thank you for a great article. I've been a heavy Photoshop user for a couple of years now and still feel like I've only touched the tip of the iceberg.

    I'm enjoying Digital Phtotgraphy School very much!

  • Scott July 31, 2009 05:48 am

    Learning to use LAB mode can also be a powerful way to alter color.

  • My Camera World July 31, 2009 05:46 am

    Changing colour change really help to punch up some images by changing to complementary colour schemes for key areas.

    In the article below I show how you can fine tune the settings down to specific colours not just the primaries.

    Adjust any colour of rainbow with blend-if sliders

    Niels Henriksen

  • Anthony July 31, 2009 02:48 am

    Great tip. Thank you.

  • Jason July 31, 2009 02:34 am

    Nice write up - straightforward and to the point!