Using Color Range & Masks to Separate Colors in Adobe Photoshop

  • Thread starter KodyWallice
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May 7, 2021
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There may come a time when you need to separate out colors in a photograph for some reason or another. This may be because you want something to stand out in an image or because you simply want certain areas to fade into the background. Whatever the reason, it’s oftentimes far too tedious to sit there with your selection tool of choice or your painting tool in Adobe Photoshop and work things pixel by pixel. For complicated images, that’s just too much work. If you’re facing a photo that’s got big, broad colors that are easy to select, that’s one thing, but if you’re facing a complex photo, that’s quite another. Nobody wants to work on something all day long. Especially if that something is only one part of a larger project in Photoshop.

In today’s post, I’m going to work through a quick project in Photoshop that will hopefully give you some ideas for your own projects in the future. I’ll show you how to apply the Hue/Saturation adjustment and then how to use the Color Range tool inside the Masks panel to choose just the color you either want to keep saturated or make desaturated. I’ll then show you how to desaturate the colors you want to fade away, which will make the other saturated colors really pop. This will be a fun post and again, I hope you learn something from it.

Demo Photo​

Take a look at this image. I’d like to make it so only the pinks, reds and oranges are saturated, while everything else is desaturated. Can you imagine trying to select or paint these colors for use with a mask to change their saturation values? That’s not something I’d want to get myself involved in. Luckily, there’s a better way.


Adding the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer​

I’ve already got the image I’ll be working on open in Adobe Photoshop. The next step I’ll take will be to apply the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. To do this, I’ll click on the Hue/Saturation icon in the Adjustments panel, which will, in turn, add that adjustment layer to the Layers panel. Take a look.


Choosing the Color Range​

Now, I’ll click on the Masks tab in the Properties panel that appeared after I applied the adjustment layer. And then from there, I’ll click the Color Range button.


When I click the Color Range button, the Color Range dialog box will appear.


In the above screenshot, you can see that I already clicked on the color pink. Basically, when this dialog box appears, the mouse turns into a dropper that selects the color you want. Since I already clicked on pink, I’ll need to switch from a “one use” dropper to a “cumulative” dropper.


By using this cumulative eyedropper version with the small + (plus) mark next to it, I’ll be able to select one color and then another and another. It adds to what I’ve already selected. I’ll go ahead and click on the pink, red, and orange squares in the photo now. If I need to, I’ll move the fuzziness slider to make my selections more sharp. I’ll then click on the OK button when I’m happy with my selection.

NOTE: If I see that random areas of the image are being selected as I click, I can check the Localized Color Clusters box to limit the reach of each click (selection).


Inverting the Selection​

Okay, this is the tricky part. If I look at the mask thumbnail that’s in the Layers panel, I’ll see that my selected areas are white while the areas that weren’t selected are black. Since this is a mask, that means that the white areas will be affected by the adjustment layer and the black areas won’t be. Since I’m using this adjustment to desaturate, I’d like to reverse the effects of the mask. I want the selected areas to stay saturated and the areas that weren’t selected to become desaturated. To make this happen, I’ll click the Invert box in the Properties panel.


If I return to the regular Hue/Saturation Properties panel and push the Saturation slider all the way to the left, I’ll see everything in the image become grayscale while the areas I selected will stay saturated. Pretty cool.


This is what I have as a result so far.


Cleaning Up the Mask​

While the Color Range selection method can save tons of time, it’s not perfect. Sometimes when using this method, it’s necessary to go back into the mask afterwards and clean things up. This is what I’ll do now. As you can see in the image directly above, there are some squares that need filling in or color removal.

To see a larger view of the mask, I’ll hold down the Alt (Option on Mac) key on my keyboard and then click once on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel. Check this out.


Next, I’ll use my Brush Tool that’s been sized appropriately with the colors of white and black to either remove black from areas it’s not supposed to be and to add it to areas it is supposed to be. Basically, anything that’s gray and supposed to be black, I’ll color over with black so I get the full saturation I’m after.

This is the cleaned up version of the mask.


And here’s the final version of the photograph.


As you can see, the Color Range selection tool can help out a lot when it comes to making selections based on color. Also, if you want to get creative with your selections like I did today, you can combine the Color Range tool with a mask and completely change the appearance of a photograph.

I hope I taught you something new in this post. If you have any questions, please ask in the comment section down below or in the Photoshop section of the user’s forum. Thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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How to Use Color Range Selection & Masking Together in Photoshop​

The Color Range selection tool and masking go hand in hand inside of Adobe Photoshop. I actually just wrote a post on this topic yesterday, so if you think you’d be interested in making a selection based on the color of something and then refining that selection by way of a layer mask, please click through to read the post. I think you’ll learn a lot from it. Today, I’d like to recap what I wrote in that post, so please continue on below.

Basically, I used an example image of a hot air balloon that was made up of a bunch of very colorful patches (the balloon). My goal was to separate out the pink, red and orange colors so only they showed saturation, while desaturating all of the remaining colors in the photo. Those colors happened to be yellow, green and blue. Again, please click through to that post to see the photo I’m referring to and to see all the screenshots thereafter.

Anyway, separating out colors like this can be a real hassle and it would most likely take hours if you were to use a mask in conjunction with the Brush Tool or some sort of desaturation tool. Tracing detailed lines like this isn’t fun at all. This is where the Color Range selection tool comes into play. This selection tool allows you to click your mouse pointer around on a specific color and as you do that, that particular color is selected. If there are different shades of that color, they’ll be marginally selected. If you’d like to switch from the “one use” eyedropper to the “continuous select” eyedropper, that’s very simple. You can do that too and that allows you to continuously click to accumulate colors, one after the other. Basically, if you click everywhere, you can select all of the colors in an image as opposed to clicking once, selecting something and then clicking again someplace else and having that new selection replace the first one. You’ll need to experiment with this tool to see exactly what I’m referring to.

You’re probably wondering how you can go about using the Color Range selection tool as I did. To start off, open up your image in Adobe Photoshop. Then, click on the Hue/Saturation icon in the Adjustments panel. Then, once the related Properties panel opens up, click on the small Masks icon at the top of that panel. This icon looks like a rectangle with a circle inside of it. Then, click on the Color Range button. When you do all this, the result is that the Color Range dialog will appear and your mouse pointer will turn into an eyedropper tool. Inside of this dialog are three eyedropper choices. Click on the middle one to use that. This is the one with a plus sign next to it. It will allow you to choose more than one color.

Once you’re all set up, you can begin clicking on your colors. You’ll see that when you do this, they turn white inside of the sample window in the Color Range dialog. Use the Fuzziness slider to accentuate the edges of your selection. Also, if you find that the colors you’re choosing are elsewhere in the image and are being selected, and you don’t want those far away colors involved at all, you can check the Localized Color Clusters box to limit your selection to only the nearby area you’re working in. After you’ve finished your clicking, you can click on the OK button to return to the Properties panel.

What you just did was to hide everything other than the areas you selected earlier. So, if you were to now return to the traditional Hue/Saturation portion of the Properties panel and then push one of the sliders around, you’d see that specific selected area change in relation to where you pushed the slider. If you meant to affect everything but the area you selected, you can simply push the Invert button in the Masks portion of the Properties panel. That would make the area opposite of what you selected active.

At this point, you’ll need to clean up your selection. You can close out of the Properties panel for this part. Look inside of the Layers panel and take a look at the mask thumbnail there. Then, hold down your Alt (for Windows) or Option (for Mac) key on your keyboard and then click once on the thumbnail. You should see a much larger version of the mask on top of the image itself. Use your Brush Tool and the colors of black and white to refine the edges of your selection. You can keep jumping back and forth from the large version of the mask to the regular photo if you wish. I did that and it helped me see what I was masking out.

That’s pretty much all there is to it. The Color Range selection feature inside of the Hue/Saturation adjustment is a great way to make a selection based on color in Adobe Photoshop. After the selection is made, use the accompanying mask to refine all the edges and to make things perfect. Then, make your adjustments as you see fit. Please let me know if you have any questions below. Thanks!

PS – Please make sure you read my previous post so you can see all my fancy screenshots.