Controlling Photoshop: Color Picker

  Using Photoshop can sometimes overload new digital painters with options, while stripping away some of their basic instincts. Still, my philosophy with software is to dig deep into it and play with all the options available. The more familiar you are with your tools, the better decisions you will make while creating a work flow.

 There is a lot out there about fighting the lack of texture and achieving better brush handling, I find that there is not a lot about color, so thats what I'm going to focus on.  The color picker seems fairly technical, but if you familiarize yourself with it, it can really help you find that exact color your looking for while painting, saving you time and allowing more flexibility when you are guessing and checking.

The color picker that is default for Photoshop is the "hue" mode, seen here

There is noting wrong with Hue mode. But when painting traditionally, I rarely lay out a color with a drop of pure black and pure white to mix with. This picker doesn't work with how I want to think about colors while working, but luckily there are other options. So first lets label the color picker so I can talk about specific parts:

Here in the color picker we have three major areas, the color field, the color slider, and the mode buttons. To change the color picker around, You'll be playing with the mode buttons. Generally when I suggest this to people, they click the mode buttons and find the new spectrum extremely confusing. The first thing to understand is that the mode buttons are applying themselves to the Color Slider, and modifying that subsequently effects the color field.

To express this visually, I want to explain what each one does. Lets break down the default mode, Hue:

In hue mode you are controlling the spectrum of color with the Color Slider. Once you pick a pure color from the spectrum, your Color Field controls the brightness from top to bottom and the hue saturation from left to right. The top right color is the pure color which is a value of 255. When we are looking at pure Red, R is at 255 while both the G (green) and the B(blue) will display values of 0. Pure white is always all three colors at 255, and black is all of the colors at 0. 

Put your color picker at pure red, and then move your cursor around in the window while looking at the values. You will notice that the G and B values are remaining the same (give or take 1) as you change the red. 

The two next modes are saturation and brightness, which apply themselves to the color slider.
Looking at the two of these should start to explain how the picker is truly functioning. I personally don't use either of these modes very often, but I find myself clicking over when color I already have picked isn't dark enough, and I need to better see both its brightness and saturation so I don't muddy my colors.


Under the hue, saturation and brightness options are RGB mode buttons, which I use a great deal. Much like H/S/B this will apply your selected color to the Color Slider. If you are used to mixing colors with paint, this wont exactly replicate that, but if you get used to this mode you might find it slightly easier to find colors you want.

Heres how the mode works:
Red will be 255 across the entire color field, and can only be adjusted by the slider in Red mode.

Here in red mode, you can now work with green and blue and modify your colors based on that. I find this the most convenient way to deal with "This color I just put down is not quite blue enough." Working in the color field gives you a larger plain to work with the spectrum than have every color laid out in the slider. If you are particular with your colors, its worth your time to give the RGB modes a shot.

 The modes to the left of H/S/B are "Lab Color". Lab color is supposed to approximate human vision. L is for luminance (light) while A controls how red or green a color is, and B controls how blue or yellow a color is. This mode, admittedly, is too odd for me to use while painting, but perhaps you will find them intriguing. Heres the picker in Luminance mode:

This is cooooonfusing

That.... is probably not a good way to chart it out. I will spend some more time with it and try and explain it again later. Soon, I will add some visual examples that practically apply the different color pickers in painting situations.

On to Part 2!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for trying to explain this. I, myself am trying to write a similar tutorial and have turned towards yours for further clarification.

    I appreciate the difficulty in trying to explain this with the multiple modes and color models.

    Thanks for your illustration.

    If you come up with more explanations I would be grateful and thankful to view them.

    my email is: michebres@gmail.com

    thanks again for your time and efforts.