Adobe Photoshop Tutorial Part 2: Working with Colors and Painting

Working with Colors and Painting

Setting the Foreground and Background Color

The Photoshop toolbox contains four color controls you can use to set foreground and background color:

The large box to the left represents the foreground color, and the large box to the right and beneath it represents the background color.

The foreground color is applied using the Paint Bucket , Pencil , Brush , and Type tools, as well as when you drag the Smudge tool while holding down the Alt key (or the Option key, for Mac users). In addition, the foreground color is used to begin any custom gradient you create, and fills any shape created with the shape tools. It’s also used to fill a selection when you choose Fill or Stroke from the Edit menu.

The background color is applied using the eraser tools and ends any custom gradient you create. In addition, you can apply the background color to a selection by pressing the Ctrl and Backspace keys (for Windows) or Command and Delete keys (for Mac).

To change the foreground or background color, click the appropriate box and select a new color from the Color Picker dialog. You can also quickly reverse the foreground and background colors by clicking the small two-way arrow between the two boxes:

To quickly restore the default colors (black and white), click the small black and white boxes in the lower left-hand corner:


You can move the mouse pointer over any area of your image and click to “sample” or select a color from the image.

Using the Color Picker

When you click on the foreground or background color box on the Photoshop toolbox, the Color Picker opens. This dialog lets you specify a color out of a range of 16 million:

Use the vertical color slider to choose a color. The slider displays 256 colors, and represents the range for the field that’s selected on the right side of the dialog. For example, below, hue (H) is selected, so the colors in the slider represent hue:

The large color field to the left of the color slider represents the range of variations for the selected color. This range is based on the unselected attributes—in this case, saturation and brightness, with saturation displayed horizontally and brightness displayed vertically. The white circle in the upper left-hand corner of the color field represents the specific color selected. You can use your mouse to move this circle to a new area in the color field, thereby adjusting saturation and brightness (in the example above). The slider and color field work the same way when choosing Lab (luminosity), RGB (red, green, blue), and CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) values.

As you change the color, the preview box to the right of the color slider displays the new color on top and the original color on bottom. If the new color can’t be printed in Photoshop, the alert box is displayed. This is the triangle to the right of the preview box. You can click the triangle or the color box below it to adjust the color so that it’s printable.

The cube below the alert box appears when a color is selected that isn’t Web-safe. You can click the cube or the color box below it to use the suggested Web-safe color.

You can also enter specific values directly into the fields. The # field at the bottom represents the hexadecimal value of the color, which you can also enter directly.

The Color Picker also gives you access the predefined colors, like Pantone, Focoltone, and Trumatch, among others. To access these colors, click the Custom button. This opens the Custom Colors dialog:

From the Book menu, select the brand of colors you want to see. Then use the color slider to choose a range. From the menu of specific colors on the left, select the color, or type a color using your keyboard.

Once you’ve chosen a color from the Color Picker or Custom Colors dialog, click OK. The color now appears in the foreground or background color box on the toolbox:


As with the color boxes on the toolbox, you can move the mouse pointer over any area of your image and click to “sample” or select a color from the image.

Using the Color Palette

The Color palette is similar to the Color Picker, but because you can keep it open, it’s often more convenient to use. To display the Color palette, if it isn’t already displayed, select Color from the Window menu. Notice that the palette has three tabs: Color, Swatches, and Styles:

The Color tab displays, and lets you adjust values for, foreground and background colors. By default, the Color palette displays RGB (red, green, blue) values, but you can choose different types of values by clicking the arrow button in the upper right-hand corner and selecting different sliders from the options menu:

The color boxes on the left side of the Color palette are like the color boxes on the toolbox; the upper left box displays the foreground color and the lower right box displays the background color. A double frame around the box,
as shown around the foreground color box above, indicates that box is selected.

When you click the selected box, the Color Picker opens, letting you select a color as described in the previous section. To select the other box, simply click on it. The color value sliders to the right change based on the selected color box (foreground or background color).

You can use the sliders to adjust the individual values for the colors, or you can enter values directly into the fields.

When a color falls outside the CMYK color range, as shown above, a triangle alert icon appears, just as it does in the Color Picker dialog. Photoshop displays a new color box next to the alert, with a suggested “safe color.” You can click on the suggested color to accept it.

In addition, if Web Color Sliders is selected in the palette options menu, the Color palette will display a Web-safe alert cube if the color falls outside the range of Web-safe colors. You can click the suggested color next to the cube to accept the suggestion.

The color bar along the bottom of the palette displays the colors in the selected spectrum. In the last screenshot, the CMYK spectrum is selected, so the color bar displays these colors. You can change the color of the selected color box (foreground or background) by clicking on the color you want in the color bar.


Here, too, you can “sample” an image by moving the mouse over the image and clicking the color you want.

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