How to Change the Colour of an Object in Photoshop

A question that I’m often asked is “how do I change the colour of an object in Photoshop”. So, when I received another email last week asking just that, I thought it was time to write this tutorial. I’m going to look at three ways you can use to change the colour of an object using simple Photoshop tools. These are the:

  1. Color Replacement Tool (brush)
  2. Replace Colour adjustment, and
  3. Hue/Saturation adjustment layer together with a “Color Range” selection.

Each of the tools has its strengths and weaknesses so you may need to find the one that suits your image best. Also keep in mind that when trying to change the colour of an object, you may need to use a combination of tools to achieve the best result.

Using the Color Replacement Tool

You will find the Color Replacement Tool or brush in the Photoshop Tools Palette, on the left of the interface. This tool is part of a group of Brush tools so you may find the regular Brush tool displayed instead. If it is, click and hold your mouse button to expand the tool group. This then shows the Color Replacement Tool which you can select.

Selecting the Colour Replacement Tool from the Photoshop Tools

After selecting the Photoshop Color Replacement tool, you can set the new colour that you want to change the object to. Do this by clicking the colour swatches at the bottom of the tools palette to pick a new foreground colour.

selecting a new colour for an object

Configuring the Color Replacement Tool

Having selected the new colour to use for the object, you should spend some time configuring the brush options. These are in the context sensitive toolbar at the top of the Photoshop interface. As with all Brush tools you’ll find a drop-down to control the size and hardness of the brush. But to the right of this are several other options that are particularly important to creating a good colour replacement.

Setting the options for the color replacement tool in photoshop

The screenshot highlights three of the most important controls which I’ve numbered 1 to 3:

  1. The “Mode” drop-down has several options. When changing the colour of an object with this tool, you should set the mode to be colour. This creates a believable colour change for most object but there are a few limitations which we’ll discuss later.
  2. The Color Replacement Tool uses the colour sampling mode to determine which colour to replace as you paint. You select these different sampling modes with the three icons in this section (most of the time you only need to use the first two options). The first option on the left is for “Continuous Sampling”. When you select this and paint over an area, the brush will continuously sample the colours you paint over. It then replaces that colour with the new colour you selected. The other option is a single sample which is the middle icon. When you select this, Photoshop takes a colour sample when you first click with your mouse to begin painting. The samples then retained until you release the mouse button.
  3. Tolerance controls the accuracy of the colour sampling. At lower tolerance levels, a colour needs to closely match the sampled colour before it’s replaced. If you move the tolerance to a high level, you reduce the accuracy of the colour matching. This means the brush replaces a wider range of colours when painting.

I should also mention the anti-alias option. When checked, Photoshop applies an anti-aliasing effect to the colour replacement. This helps to blend the new colour with the existing for a more believable adjustment.

Colour Replacement Example 1

A quick example will help to better understand these controls.

The first thing to do before applying any changes is to create a duplicate image layer to work on. This is because the Color Replacement Tool is a destructive edit. It is therefore best to work on a new image layer in case you make mistakes.

You can duplicate an image layer by pressing command + J on your keyboard (Mac). If you’re using a PC that’s Ctrl + J. If you have multiple layers that make up your image you may want to make a new “Stamp Layer”. A Stamp Layer consolidates all the visible layers into a new image layer. You can create one by pressing “Shift + Option + Cmd + E” on your keyboard (Mac). On a PC that’s “Shift +Ctrl + Alt + E”.

Now you can select the new layer and begin to paint over the colour you want to replace. I would suggest starting with the sampling mode set to continuous to change large areas of a similar colour . As you paint you will see the old colour of the object replaced by the new colour.

changing the colour of an object by painting with the color replacement tool

In this example you can see the post-box has changed from red to gold where I’ve painted. Unfortunately, my brush has spilled over into the snow in a few areas. This highlights one of the problems of using the Continuous Sampling option. Photoshop has sampled the snow and then changed its colour to yellow.

When this happens, the best solution is to change the sampling to “Single sampling” by clicking the icon in the context sensitive toolbar. You can then click on the area which represents the colour that you want to replace. This allows you to paint freely even over areas of different colour without affecting them. Photoshop only uses the initial sample to change colours until you release the mouse button.

Limitations of the Color Replacement Tool

Whilst it’s easy to change the colour of an object in Photoshop with the Color Replacement Tool, it has a few limitations to be aware of. As you’ve already seen in the example above, it can be easy to make a mistake. When this happens, you should immediately use the “Edit | Undo” command in the menu. There isn’t an easy way to delete or clean up the new colour you just applied. You should undo and make the brush stroke again.

You also need to refine and change the brush controls as you work. It’s difficult to keep the controls unchanged when you’re changing the colour of a large object. Unless you adjust the controls as you work you will find your results are less convincing. This is a simple tool to use but difficult to master.

Finally, it’s not always obvious what colour you will create when you paint over an object. If you look back to the above example you will see that I used a light yellow to create a deep gold colour on the post-box. Where the yellow mixed with the white snow, it looked a quite different colour.

If you make a colour change using this brush but then decide you want to refine the colour, it’s not easy. You will need to paint over the area again with a different colour selected.

Changing Colours with the Replace Color Adjustment

The next option we have for changing the colour of an object in Photoshop is one of the image adjustments. You find these under the “Image | Adjustments” menu. As with the Color Replacement Tool, this is a destructive edit so you should work on a copy image layer.

After creating an image layer to work on, select “Image | Adjustments” in the Photoshop menu and then “Replace Color…”. This opens the Replace Color” dialog.

The Replace Color dialog in photoshop

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In this screenshot you can I’ve numbered the key controls:

  1. Top left are the Sampling option icons. You use these to sample the colour you want to replace. The left-hand icon of the three is a single sample option. When you click on a colour it’s sampled to create a selection. If you then click another point, that’s sampled to create a new selection. Next to this is the “Add to sample” icon. When you use this option, each colour that you sample adds to the selection. To the right of this is the “Subtract from sample” icon which you use to remove colours from the selection.
  2. The Fuzziness slider controls how accurate the selection is. Move the Fuzziness slider left, and colours will need to match more accurately with the sampled colour. Move the fuzziness slider to the right and the colour matching becomes less accurate, meaning you select a wider range.
  3. This small black-and-white thumbnail preview shows the selection you’ve created. The preview displays the selected colours in white. By using the Sampling tools with the Fuzziness slider, you can create an accurate selection to change the colour.
  4. You use the Hue, Saturation and Lightness sliders to change the colour of the selection you’ve created.

Colour Replacement Example 2

Initially, use the eye dropper tool on the left of the Replace Color dialog. Click on the colour you want to replace, and you will see the selection thumbnail updated.

With an initial selection made, try adjusting the fuzziness slider to check the accuracy. It may be that a single sample together with the fuzziness slider is all you need to create an accurate selection.

If this isn’t sufficient, try using the “Add to sample” eyedropper to improve the colour selection. Each time you add a sample, return to the Fuzziness slider to check if there’s an improvement. Avoid adding too many samples before checking the Fuzziness slider. It can cause poor selections.

If the selection becomes to wide, try using the “Remove from sample” eyedropper.

Sometimes it’s difficult to judge the effect of the adjustment using the black and white preview thumbnail. It’s often better to set a new colour using the Hue, Saturation and Lightness sliders whilst using the sampling tools and Fuzziness slider. You can then see the effect of the colour change on the object as you work.

In the following screenshot you can see that the selection thumbnail shows a wide area of the image selected. But when you look at the image, the colour change is only obvious in the post-box.

changing the colour of an object using the replace color adjustment

Once you’re satisfied with the result click the OK button to change the colour of the object.

Improving the Result with a Layer Mask

It’s also possible to refine this colour change using a layer mask. Because we applied the Replace Color adjustment to a separate layer, we can add a layer mask so that only the targets the post-box.

By using the Rectangular Marquee tool, I can select a rough outline of the post-box.

In the Photoshop Layers window, I can click the icon to “Add a new layer mask”. This adds a mask to the layer by converting the active selection.

adding a new layer mask to restrict the colour change

In the screenshot of the Layers Window, you can see the “Add mask” icon indicated at the bottom. Clicking this converted the selection to the new layer mask.

Changing the Colour of an Object Using a Hue/Saturation Layer

The third and final option for changing the colour of an object also uses layer masks and is probably the most flexible method. It also benefits from being a non-destructive adjustment but does require a two-step process.

Step One – Make the Selection

The first step is to create a colour range selection. You do this using the Photoshop menu “Select | Color Range…” This opens the Color Range dialog.

Selecting the colour to change using the Color Range dialog

You should already recognise some of the controls from the “Replace color” adjustment dialog we’ve already looked at.

  1. At the top is the Selection drop-down. You can use one of the predefined colours in the drop-down, but this is less accurate than using the “Sampled Colors” option. Using “Sampled Colors” allows you to use the sampling tools to select the colour you want to replace.
  2. The Fuzziness slider works in the same way as the Fuzziness slider for the “Replace Color” adjustment. Move it left to make a narrow colour range selection and move it right to select a wider range.
  3. There are three sampling options as before, which you can use to click on the colour that you want to sample. The sample shows as a greyscale preview on the image and as a thumbnail in the dialog, but you can also change these options.

When you’ve created your selection, click the OK button. This closes the dialog, showing the selection surrounded by marching ants.

Step Two – Changing the Colour of the Selection

With the selection in place, add a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to the image. You can do this in the Photoshop Adjustments window by clicking the icon to add this new adjustment layer. Alternatively, you can select “Layer | New Adjustment Layer | Hue/Saturation” in the Photoshop menu.

This adds the new adjustment layer and at the same time converts the selection made with the “Color Range” into a layer mask.

In the properties window for the Hue/Saturation layer you can use the Hue slider to change the colour. This changes the colours of the entire image whilst the layer mask restricts the change to the selection.

changing the colour of an object using a hue saturation layer

Here you can see the Hue slider used to apply yellow to the red post-box ,changing its colour to purple. In the layers window you can see the layer mask restricting this change to the selection made with the Color Range dialog.

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Changing Colours in Photoshop Summary

It’s not always easy to understand written instructions so I’ve also created a YouTube video which will find below. This demonstrates each of the three ways we’ve discussed for changing the colour of an object in Photoshop.

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I hope you’ve found this tutorial and video helpful. As with most things Photoshop there are multiple ways to achieve the same result. The best method to use is often the one you find easiest and which gives acceptable results.

If you have an easier way of changing the colour of an object in Photoshop please share it in the comments below. Also, if you have any tips when using the methods described, it would be great to read them.

Oh yes, and please take a moment to share this tutorial with others if you found it helpful.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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